Just over my shoulder, a chorus of laughter broke out that is usually associated with such things as select cuts of Monty Python, or milk passing through a nose at a grade school lunch table. I turned from the party dishes soaking in my sink to see my friend Jerry failing miserably at transferring leftover First Communion-party food into a Zip Lock bag. Standing not five feet from him was my old friend, Sue, taunting him with one-liners, including, “You see why I could never marry you?”
By the time I met Jerry over thirty years ago, he had been friends with Sue for just about four semesters of college life. It would take Jerry and Sue nine more years from that time to finally shift gears from best friends to sweethearts. Two years after that, they were engaged to be married. But, a funny thing happened on the way to the altar. Like a can continually getting kicked down the road, their wedding date was postponed, once, and then twice. Finally, on the way to my wedding, five hundred miles away, Jerry and Sue decided to throw in the towel for good.
To come so close, and end up so far from their intended target led to some inevitable frustrations and hard feelings on both sides of the breakup. It would take several years, and one fulfilling marriage each (Jerry to Dawn, & Lisa to Ray, respectively) for the both of them to be able to comfortably occupy the same space at the same time.
As a clinician informed by contemplative spirituality, I am fascinated by that place in the human soul where the divine Spirit intertwines with the human spirit…that place where the promptings of grace attract the will toward decisions that favor self-transcendence, self-donation, and greater freedom. I am continually fascinated by what cooperation with that deepest part of the self creates.
Listening to the familiar sound of these two old friends laughing together was like catching a few stanzas of a long-forgotten church song from my youth. Together, they transformed my humble, food-stained Linoleum kitchen into a makeshift chapel. From my perch at the sink, I could see back through several decades, observing various versions of Jerry and Sue, in various states of emotional equilibrium and disequilibrium. Being best friends to both of them, I was privy to the hundreds of little decisions that went into the making of this moment.
That commingled laugh of Jerry and Sue was the product of years and years of the Holy Spirit issuing invitation after invitation to deeper self-reflection, leading to more profound self-knowledge, forgiveness, and healing. Both of them had resisted the many temptations to choose self-pity and resentment as their final destinations.
The other unseen graces that served as a prerequisite for this holy moment included the many accepted invitations that the Holy Spirit issued to Sue, and her husband, Ray as well as to Jerry, and his wife Dawn. Both couples had really worked on their respective relationships. Such seasoned, secure marriages served as necessary prerequisites for the reemergence of Sue and Jerry’s old friendship. The miracle of the musical laughter at my daughter’s First Communion party was the fruit and flower of an unseen root system composed of grace, and hard work.
As I stood at the sink at that party three years ago, it occurred to me, that if there is a sound track to the Spirit’s activity in the human soul, it is probably the musical sound of a good, hearty, wholesome, belly laugh. A life lived with a fundamental “yes” to the Spirit’s invitations issued from one’s inner-most core will inevitably lead to a deep, resonant joy.
At one point in the evening’s festivities, the party guests gathered round to join hands in meal prayer with my daughter, Lizzie, and the other First Communicant, her cousin, Luke. As I looked up, I saw nearly forty people who, like Jerry and Sue, had dedicated their lives to following that indwelling, undying source of humor, love, and life. Around that circle of smiling, prayerful, souls was a cancer survivor who had undergone a double mastectomy. There were three who had lost their father to suicide. Two more were in the process of losing their dad to Alzheimer’s disease, and their mom to Parkinson’s.
Looking around that circle, it occurred to me that I couldn’t guarantee my seven-year-old a life without suffering. But I knew that surrounding her, and immersing her in the Body of Christ (i.e. a community rooted in a spiritual life), would give her a life-long opportunity at animating those dimples at the corners of her mouth with a deep-down, soul-satisfying laugh that is stronger than whatever life can throw at her…even death.