Saturday, 22 June 2013

Humour and Humanity

A monk was speaking with Nasrudin. He said, “I have achieved an incredible level of dis-attachment from myself – so much so that I only think of others, and never of myself.”

“Well, I reached a more advanced state than that,” replied Nasrudin.

“How so?” asked the Monk.

“Well,” replied Nasrudin “I am so objective that I can actually look at another person as if he were me, and by doing so, I can think of myself!”

Oh Nasrudin the wise fool, the holy fool. I’ve been chuckling along to this one all week.

There is real wisdom here. Yes it may initially sound like the ultimate in self centredness, but there is more here. When we look at another person do we see them as we see ourselves, or do we see the stranger and does this spell danger?

In my last blog  I recounted a story my father told me of staring into the water and being told that when he gazed at himself he was also gazing into the eyes of God. The priest who explained this to him was telling him that the Divine dwells within him, as it dwells in everyone. These thoughts echo words from the great 19th century Unitarian James Martineau who stated that:

The incarnation is true not of Christ exclusively but of Man universally and God everlastingly. He bends into the human to dwell there and humanity is the susceptible organ of the divine.

Could this be true? Is humanity the susceptible organ of the divine?

I do believe that there is that of God in everyone, but that is not all that we are. Yes we have the potential to do incredible things we humans and I do believe that God lives through our lives. But that is not all that we are, we are also capable of incredible hatred, destruction and evil. I believe that both these potentials lay within each of us. It is important that I recognise this when I look at another and when I look at myself. When I look at another person I must recognise myself within them. This sometimes fills me with absolute bliss and on other occasions it fills me with nothing but agony. Humanity is a myserious duality indeed.

Abraham Joshua Heschel said the following of man...

“Man is a duality of mysterious grandeur and pompous aridity, a vision of God and a mountain of dust. It is because of his being dust that his iniquities may be forgiven, it is because of his being an image that his righteousness is expected.”

It is an incredible thing to be human, we are fascinating creatures. Even the word human itself interests me. It is formed from the same root as humility, possibly humanity’s greatest attribute. It is also closely related to humus (not to be confused with hummus) and exhume. The root for all of these words is “hum” which originally referred to the earth or dirt. Our earliest forbears perceived that we humans originated from the soil – you would think that this would keep us grounded, but seemingly not - this is made clear in the second creation story found in Genesis II which reads “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life.” The ancient Hebrew word for Adam is closely related to the word “toadamah” which means soil or earth. There are other ancient creation stories too which associate the origin of humankind with soil or the ground. Such as the Sumerian myth of Marduk who created people by killing Qingu and mixing his blood with clay. Or the Greek myths of Decallion and Pyrrha who by throwing rocks over their shoulders created man and woman.

Now while each of us is formed from the same substance we are also all unique. We all have our own unique characteristics. We each of us have our own personalities, our own finger prints, our own DNA, our own faces.

Abraham Joshua Heschel said the following about “A Face”

“A human being has not only a body but also a face. A face cannot be grafted or interchanged. A face is a message, a face speaks, often unbeknown to the person. Is not the human face a living mixture of mystery and meaning? We are all able to see it, and are all unable to describe it. Is it not a strange marvel that among so many hundreds of millions of faces, no two faces are alike? And that no face remains quite the same for more than one instant? The most exposed part of the body, it is the least describable, a synonym for an incarnation of uniqueness. Can we look at a face as if it were a commonplace?”

“Can we look at a face as if it were a commonplace?”

I’ve never been a good liar, never had a poker face. There are advantages and disadvantages to this. My face hides nothing. A person can tell exactly how I am feeling by looking at my face. I was recently asked by someone if I was comedian (The man had obviously never heard any of my jokes). I said no to which the man said “Well you have a comedians face.” I’m not sure what he meant by this, but I took it as a compliment. I know I have a very descriptive face.

Now going back to etymology and the word human. It has often been incorrectly believed that the word humour also shares its root with humanity and humility. Now it would be great if it was, but alas this is not true.

Humour is actually derived from a medieval medical term for fluids of the human body. It is has its roots in the ‘old’ French word ‘humor’, derived from the Latin ‘umere’. Physicians of the day believed that we had four different types of internal fluids that they called ‘humors’ and it was these that determined our physical and mental health. Therefore if a person became ill it was believed that their humors were out of balance. I do so love etymology, language has had such a fascinating journey.

This though doesn’t sound particularly funny though does it?

I do so wish that humour, humility, humus and humanity were etymologically linked. Why? Well because in so many ways one of humanities greatest attributes is our sense of humour. It helps us deal with the pain and suffering that accompany life.

It is so very difficult to take yourself too seriously when you are laughing at yourself. There was a period in my life when I lost the ability to laugh. It was a sure sign that I had got lost in myself, had begun to reject life. These days I laugh often, thank God.

We humans, we creatures formed from the earth, cannot live without humour, just as a plant cannot grow from the soil without the essential ingredient of water.

John O’Donohue said that:

“There’s something really subversive in laughter and in the smile on the human face. It’s lovely and infectious to be in the company of someone who can smile deeply.

I think a smile comes from the soul. And I also love its transitive kind of nature—that if you’re in the presence of someone who has a happiness and a laughter about them, it’ll affect you and it’ll call that out in you as well.

Your body relaxes completely when you’re having fun. I think one of the things that religion has often prevented us from doing is having really great fun. To be here, in a way—despite the sadness and difficulty and awkwardness of individual identity—is to be permanently invited to the festival of great laughter."

Please click on the link below to see John speaking of laughter

Laughter has a Divine quality about it. It comes from a person who is fully alive; it enables our growth and our full expression. It comes from that eternal spirit that is a part of our common humanity.

Now this all brings me back to that image in the water, of seeing the divine looking back at us through our own eyes. The Sufi mystic Hafiz wrote that “God wants to see more love and playfulness in your eyes for that is your greatest witness to Him.” God wants to see it in our eyes, looking back at us in the water.

I believe that every day is a day when we can bear witness to a power greater than ourselves. We do this when we love one another, when we are glad to see each other, when we play, when we are light-hearted, when we can laugh at ourselves, when we live with exuberance and enthusiasm, when we grow from dust and become truly animated and live life. When we do this we see God in one another and we see it in our own reflection. We do not need to seek God, for God is already dwelling amongst us in each of our hearts. We just need to bring that power to life. We know God’s blessings in our interactions with one another, when we bless one another through love and laughter. The way we look at one another, face to face has the power to make God’s presence known on earth, right here right now.

It is our task to bring this to life, to allow God to incarnate through our lives; it is our task to let it show in our laughter, our playfulness and our love for life.


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