Given the nature of our ministry here at St. Anthony’s, some might believe we spend our days in somber silence, but nothing could be further from the truth.
When we have a silent retreat in the house, as we did this past weekend, we are respectful of our guests’ need and desire for silence. In fact, we are so respectful that Adele even left herself a large, fluorescent-colored note taped to the doorframe of her office, so that every time she got up from her desk to go out into the hall, she was reminded, “Silence. Shhhhh!”
When we do not have a silent group in the house, we can be a raucous and rowdy bunch at times. Tuesday morning, the rowdiness started at prayer, as Marge had misplaced her prayer book and had to use a spare that was not set up as her own book was. Then, after prayer began, she realized she was so befuddled by having to borrow a book that she forgot to turn on the chapel lights. She got up to turn on the chapel lights, found her book lying on the kneeler by the vigil lights (where she left it after Monday Evening prayer), and returned to her seat to continue. Someone noted the rapid response to our prayer, as we had just prayed that God would “enlighten our minds”. That comment evoked the first round of laughs. The second came when Marge responded that we got two enlightenments for the price of one, adding that prayers are not always answered quite that quickly, though.
The laughter continued when the staff gathered for lunch on Tuesday. If a stranger had walked into the dining room, they might have thought the staff had swallowed a bunch of feathers. Jackie K.’s dad joined us for lunch, but luckily he had been here before and was not surprised by what transpired. There were many comments and quips from many sources, but none were particularly memorable. It was just one of those days where whatever someone said, it seemed to tickle everyone who heard it. The laughter was almost non-stop; it was a wonder anyone got enough to eat.
The laughter was so contagious it even carried over to Evening Prayer on Wednesday. Wednesday was the feast of St. Elizabeth of Hungary. For those not familiar with our Morning and Evening Prayer rituals, on “normal” days, all of the liturgy is in one place. On feast days and holy days, the prayers are found in multiple places in the prayer books, which means we have to flip back and forth throughout our prayer time (that’s when the ribbons in the books come in very handy). Those who are new to the ritual can find it confusing at times. To compound the problem on feasts and holy days, Morning Prayer is often found in different places than Evening Prayer.
As we gathered Wednesday evening and began to talk through the information needed for that feast’s prayer, we got lost between Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. Then as we began to pray in our customary way, “Be with us, God of glory, assist us as we pray”, Marge quipped, “And tonight we mean that more than ever.”
After such a whimsical week, is it any surprise that “someone” put the welcome message on our sign out front in advance of hunting season opening on Saturday?
To an outsider, it may seem disrespectful to laugh at a holy place devoted to fostering spiritual life, and even more disrespectful to laugh at prayer. But laughter and a sense of humor are God’s gifts, too, and joy is a Franciscan charism. To be able to laugh at our own flaws, missteps and mistakes keeps us from taking ourselves too seriously. And it is not hard to imagine God watching us fumble through our days and chuckle along with us.
For the gifts of joy and laughter, for a sense of humor and the ability to laugh at ourselves, we say Deo Gratias!