“Walk independently of self, and straight to God. What is anything, when you think of Eternity, except a means to get there; so laugh at everything, and go on in God’s name.”
Recently I was made aware of these words of Lilias, as if for the first time. They simply had not resonated with me until now. I must admit, this quote was jolting to my sensibilities. Especially now. A now that is reeling from a world-wide pandemic and a brutal killing eliciting civil protest that erupted into revolt and chaos nationally with ramifications globally.
Laugh? “Laugh at everything?” Laugh when people are dying in massive numbers, alone, banned from loved ones? Laugh when people are separated from each other physically by stay-at-home mandates and/or relationally by ideology? Laugh when livelihoods are at stake, jobs lost or furloughed, economy once perceived stable now in jeopardy. Laugh when any trace of satisfaction in historical gains in racial equality has been shattered by exposure to divides deeper than meet the eye?
These past weeks have been a time of soul-searching for me. Plenty of time to think. Much to ponder. I’ve made some unsettling observations about myself. 1) I don’t like living with ambiguity. It is a kind of virtual “No Man’s Land” with few clear conclusions. When will it be safe to socialize? Who do I trust? How will we emerge – personally, nationally, globally – after the pandemic, after our presidential election? 2) I want to ascribe blame or motive – to someone, something – in the hope, perhaps, of making sense of matters which are, in fact, beyond logical explanation much less solution. 3) I like to be in control. I just want to know how much longer!
Bottom line: One discovers a lot about oneself when alone with oneself – and the media! Fears. . . anxieties. . . inadequacies. . . biases. . . . An article in a recent New Yorker magazine cites one therapist’s conclusion upon working with clients during the pandemic: “. . . what people bring out of a crisis is the strength that they had before the crisis that helped them survive it.” I suspect there is much truth in that observation but does that have to be the only take-away?
Is not “hope” at the very heart of the Christian faith? And does not that hope have currency in the here-and-now as well as eternally? I want to believe – no, I choose to believe that we need not be stuck at any one place in our spiritual journey. . . that there can be a redemptive aspect to crisis: insight, change, growth. Suffering needs not be wasted.
This brings me back to Lilias’ statement, not so much to defend but to understand her. I note these words were written near the end of her life hence bear the full weight of her life experience and faith walk. While she was born into privilege, from youth to the end of her life, she chose to engage with the disadvantaged, the suffering, the “lost sheep.” Her early London years she devoted to the prostitutes at Victoria Station, the working girls with little opportunity for ease much less pleasure; later, in North Africa, she chose to come alongside the marginalized women and children in the Casbah of Algiers, the soul-hungry seekers of the Southlands, Arab families struggling for daily survival – unemployment, epidemics that regularly and relentlessly took the lives of the young and the aged, as well as members of her own mission band. She did not speak theoretically nor were her words without context.
Rather, they were words of hope – and perspective. Laughter, for Lilias, was in the light of an eternal vantage point that was not dismissive of temporal pain and suffering but understood it as part of a journey – a pathway to Eternity – a pilgrimage during we are shaped for our ultimate destination: HOME. Implicit is the understanding that we do live in a broken world. We don’t have answers for suffering. Only the promise that God will be us with throughout the journey – if we invite Him. This eternal perspective shapes how we live today: “walk independently of self, and straight to God.”
Laughter, as Lilias meant it, could be called “holy laughter.” When one is liberated from the petty concerns of self – opinions, fears, pride, greed – we can experience joy, even laughter(!), amidst adversity. Karl Barth stated, “Laughter is the closest thing to the grace of God.” One might say that God established His nation of Israel on the ground of laughter when Sarah, aged 90, doubled over with laughter upon learning she was going to have a baby. It seems God endorsed her laugher as fitting and proper by naming the wonder child Isaac, which in Hebrew, means laughter.
Laughter is therapeutic. Our youngest son called recently to vent his frustration as he, pastor of a church and father of five, attempted to process the overlapping issues that dogged him as a person, parent, pastor. It was grim as there seemed to be no easy solution. Well into the conversation someone (probably said son!) made a comical comment that cut through the angst and left us both, like Sarah of old, breathless with laughter. I cannot remember what was said, only what laughter did. Nothing changed except the spirit atmosphere. “Laughter,” wrote Chuck Swindoll, “is the most beautiful and beneficial therapy God ever granted humanity.”
Holy laughter. Laughter knowing full well the pain of the moment but trusting fully, as Julian of Norwich famously stated, “that all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” – with God in control. We can anticipate a time and a place where “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are are passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
Meanwhile, we fully acknowledge our reality – pain and joy, injustice and rectitude, hatred and forgiveness, mortal loss and momentary gains – and strive to do our part, however small, to shed the light and life and love of Jesus along the pathway Home. We “go on in God’s name” – independent of self and straight to God.