I’m a serious person and it’s easy for me to forget the power of humor. Just over a year ago, a mentor and good friend of mine passed away. The message of many of Tom’s sermons, writings and, especially his life, had to do with the holiness of humor. He was my advisor for a project in graduate school. Our weekly meetings mostly consisted of spending our hour together cracking each other up.
When I went to his funeral and saw his widow crying and so many of his friends and family gathered, I almost went home. I thought, “This church full of people who loved him is too sad. We’ll never make it.” But then, one by one, various people got up and delivered portions of the service. As we did, we each told a short story about Tom and our times together. Before long, we were all laughing so hard our eyes broke water. Our laughter made it possible for us to get through a painful, painful loss. It turned out to be a joyous gathering, which is exactly what Tom wanted.
A few months later, I preached a sermon about humor and dedicated it to Tom. At the beginning, I spoke about Tom, got choked up and started crying in front of the congregation. Tom was a longtime, beloved member of our community and, although I was the only one doing so on the dais in front of everyone, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one choked up and crying at the mention of Tom. Again I thought, “I shouldn’t have done this. It’s too much. We’ll never make it.” But Tom started preaching to me right from the grave that Sunday morning. Before long, we were all laughing and I convinced a large percentage of the congregation to don the red clown noses that had been passed out with the bulletins as Friends entered the sanctuary. Sometimes it is our spiritual duty to be silly because it is the only way to endure the most painful moments of our lives.
Lately I’ve been catching up on the food/cooking shows I like. Food is often presented in literature and movies to represent passion. The most dramatic example is the movie “Like Water for Chocolate,” but it is something you see (and read) a lot. I even see it in the Bible a great deal, which is the subject of the book I’m writing.
Last week, two of “my” food shows got passionate in a way that intrigued me. It wasn’t a Chef-Ramsey-screaming-and-turning-over-tables passion (Hell’s Kitchen = Sarah Palin = gross), but food bringing out deep emotions in very cool, very handsome, very excellent cooks of men. Finding chinks in emotional armor is endlessly appealing to me. I love cooking and feeding others because food reveals passion. When you sit someone at your kitchen table and give them food, you can just watch him or her melt.
OK, so I don’t like the question, “How are you?” (except from good friends), but I’ll tell you what question I LOVE. “What are you reading?”
The first time I was asked this question was when I was working in a bookstore and the owner came to visit (he had six stores). Instead of asking his front desk crew, “How’s business?” or “What are you names?” he asked us, “What are you reading?” (The unspoken rule is that everyone in the store read at least three books a week, a pace to which I no longer aspire.)
Recently, when I was going through a time of being particularly adrift, my mother, my fiancé and several other friends asked me, “What are you reading?” They knew reading was something I was certainly doing, even if it was only the back of cereal boxes, so they were relatively certain that was a subject I’d enjoy talking about.
That question makes me feel so cared for. It assumes that no matter what is happening in my life I am still engaged in intellectual pursuits. It is also a recognition of how important reading is, which is music to the ears of writers. I just read Henry Nouwen’s biography and now I’m reading a memoir by Kathleen Norris. What are YOU reading?