An important part of survival for our species whether in good times or in bad—and especially in bad—is humor, and play, which in turn feed our creativity. And gives us perspective including that of taking ourselves too seriously.
This truth is embedded in so many rituals and truths that our cultures and religions teach us—or try to teach us.
Think of the prophet Jonah mocking the prophets. Think of the Day of the Dead ceremonies in Mexico that mock death.
Think of the many comedians in our lives who have tickled us and more but whose life stories are often closer to tragedy than comedy.
Humor heals. (Remember the DM’s we devoted to Ken Feit the spiritual fool.)
So in this time of a global pandemic it behooves us also to stay in touch with our sense of paradox and therefore of humor.
In my recent book on Thomas Aquinas, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, I devote a chapter to his teaching that play and fun are Virtues named by Aristotle as eutrapelia.
He tells the story of how an archer was asked if he could shoot a bow and arrow “indefinitely,” and the archer replied that if he did so “the bow would break.” He then concludes: “In like manner a person’s mind would break if its tension were never relaxed.”
Not only do we need the virtue of eutrapelia for our own health, but we need it for those around us as well. To interfere with or discourage the play of others Aquinas is to act against our humanity, against reason. He says:
Now it is against reason for anyone to be burdensome to others by offering no pleasure to them, and by hiding their enjoyment.
In fact, Aquinas calls people who lack a sense of humor and cannot laugh ungrateful boors:
Anyone who is without mirth is not only lacking in playful speech, but is also burdensome to others, since they are deaf to the moderate mirth of others. Consequently they are sinful and are said to be ungrateful boors.
I invite you to share in the humor in the accompanying pictures and videos.
It is significant that much of Aquinas’s teaching about play is found in his commentary on the prophet Isaiah.
A true prophet is eager to celebrate, love life, laugh at its paradoxes, and turn from seriousness to playfulness. (In fact, as Aquinas notes, the Greek word eutrapelia derives from the word trepein, meaning to turn.)
Ours is a turning time, Joanna Macy calls it a time of the “Great Turning.” Play assists us to turn.
Celebration is integral to compassion, as Eckhart put it: “What happens to another, whether it be a joy or a sorrow, happens to me.”
Laughter assists our deepest transformations both psychological and societal, personal and communal.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, chapter 25.
See also: Matthew Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet.
Banner Image: Growing TP, Monday to Saturday. Internet meme; photographer unknown.
Queries for Contemplation
Have you ever found yourself to be an ungrateful boor out of touch with your sense of humor and paradox? What do you do to keep alive the virtue of eutrapelia in you and around you and especially in hard times?
The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times
A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book! Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit
Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet
Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow. Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, Living in Sin