By Justin Coleman
“Whoever can cry should come here” ~ Carolyn Forche
We want the United Methodist Church to be a church where no one walks alone – a church where all of its 12 million and rising members walk together across geographies and ideologies – a church where those who come in alone never leave alone – a church that walks out into the community seeking out those who walk alone in order to walk with them – a church where true kinship is known by all who connect with it.
To be such a church means to be a church of embrace. To be such a church means to embrace the celebrations of life – weddings, children born, baptisms, confirmation, sending a member of the community off to seminary. Yet, to be such a church we must also embrace the tears. Tears of joy and pain. It is far more easy to embrace the tears of joy, but we must also have the capacity and the practices requisite to walk with others during times of pain. We have seen much pain in the church and society as of late. Educational pain. Political pain. Racial and ethnic pain. Economic pain. Church polity pain. The list could go on and on.
Teresa of Avila writes: “When we engage in spiritual practice with love, our souls are uplifted, and our hearts softened, which may stimulate a gentle upwelling of tears. Sometimes our tears seem forced; other times it seems like the Beloved is drawing them out of us and we cannot resist him. His Majesty appears to reward us for our small efforts by blessing us with the sweet relief of weeping for love of so great a Lord. This does not surprise me; the soul has ample reason to find comfort in a love that surpasses all understanding. Here a soul finds solace; here she finds joy.”
Ah the blessed “sweet relief of weeping.” I know that the UMC has been this kind of gift for many of you who read this blog, and I hope that it will be a gift for those who may have need to weep in the embrace of God and in the company of others who, with God, weep with and pray for them. We need to be able to weep and lament, but we also need to be able to laugh.
“The two of us collapse in laughter and, suddenly, there’s kinship so quickly…No daylight to separate us.” ~ Fr. Greg Boyle
Laughter is an immeasurable gift. Some have said that laugher is the best medicine – that laughter is good for the mind and for the body. Others say that laughter is an important tool in leadership. I certainly find that to be true. I also think that laughter is good for the soul. Laughter is good for building a sense of togetherness – of kinship.
Many of us have been in new environments in which we were unsure how to navigate the culture – new workplace, new town, a new church, etc. In most new situations we look for ways to break the ice and most of the time we look for shared laughter – a common denominator. Something so simple, yet so profound.
All of a sudden, when we share a laugh with others all the barriers of unknowing that were between us melt away. We realize that they – whoever they are – are not too different from us. It’s interesting to think of laughter – laughter that is not at someone’s expense – as a healing gift from God and a means towards kinship.
I’ve shared before on this blog that Fr. Gregory Boyle’s book, Tattoos on the Heart, has been a formative book for me over these last few years. As the UMC seeks to be a church that embraces – a church begins where no one walks alone, I find that the themes in Boyle’s book speak directly to the hopes that many Methodists that I talk to share for the church. One of my hopes is that the joy that we share in the Spirit – the holy laughter that emerges the United Methodist Church as we enjoy fellowship with God and one another would begin to spill into the streets and places of weeping such that the healing result would be kinship.