Thursday, November 01, 2007

Infectious Laughter

A few weeks ago, I was in Montreal, Canada, enjoying a few days with my oldest son, his wife, and their 16 month old son, Joshua. The four of us drove one day to Quebec City and were exploring the Old Town, the fort and city that had been built hundreds of years ago on the Saint Lawrence River.

Joshua was just learning to walk, and I was shepherding him around the tourist-packed cobbled streets while his parents were in one of the shops. As is typical of children that age, he had decided he no longer wanted to hold my hand, demanding to explore freely without grandmotherly restraint. Suddenly, he realized that his mom and dad were not in sight. He began to get anxious. Just at that moment, my son appeared about 25 feet away. He knelt down and opened his arms wide as Joshua moved toward him. A look of delight spread over Joshua’s face and he began to chortle with an uninhibited belly laugh as he carefully balanced himself on the uneven cobblestones and made his way to his father. Nearly everyone on the narrow, crowded street stopped and watched this happy, giggling infant get swept into his daddy’s arms. Joshua’s own laughter infected the entire crowd, and they, too, began to laugh. Truly a contagious moment of light-hearted joy. The son reunited with the father, swept high into the air in those safe and loving arms, all panic gone, replaced with unhampered love and comfort and unrestrained laughter.

What a picture of heaven! Surely it is a place of delighted laughter, infectious joy, and thrilling reconciliations as we are met by the Son, swept into the arms of our Father, and discover the complete fullness of the Spirit. Fear disappears, heavy hearts find complete relief, and from our mouths flow words of praise and adoration.

It all makes me think that those moments of unrestrained laughter serve as doorways to the gracious presence of God. There have been movements around the world when “holy laughter” has taken over congregations. Someone finds himself or herself so infused with the joy of heaven that he or she starts laughing and can’t stop. The laughter leaps from person to person until all are consumed with joy.

I was worshipping with such a group one night. It was a five day retreat where all of us engaged in the disciplines of silence, study, fellowship, and worship on a set schedule each day. After the last worship service of each day, no words were spoken again until the next morning when we gathered again before breakfast. There the cantor would sing “O Lord, open my lips” and we would all respond with “And let me sing forth thy joy.”

This particular night, it was time to begin our final worship time and prepare for the silence to follow. Just before the opening words, someone got the “holy giggles.” Those giggles spread throughout the room. Each time the worship leaders thought things were calm enough to go forward, someone would start laughing again and the whole room would break up. This continued for about 30 minutes. We were simply taken up in the joyous presence of God that night.

Yes, these moments are foretastes of heaven. May we all experience them often!

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