Is a Merry Lent...Heresy?
Dear old and new friends,
If having a merry Lent is heresy, it’s a finger-licking Hershey heresy! Enjoying not only this week’s playful Saint Patrick celebrations and parades but each of these forty days is simply putting divine merriment into old dreary Lent. In that old Christmas classic—“God rest ye merry, gentlemen”— the word “merry” in Old English meant blessed, peaceful or pleasant. The comma after “merry” shows the word isn’t a descriptive adjective of the gentlemen.
In our innovative new Lent we blend together the old English merry as “blessed and peaceful” with our contemporary merry as “cheerful and jolly” to create a new Blessed Merry Lent. However, don’t go to your local church expecting to experience any merriment because it’s forbidden! “If any cleric or monk speaks jocular words such as provoke laughter, let him be anathema!” This prohibition was decreed at the Council of Constance in 1418, with anathema being the most severe of excommunications.
That old law that banned merriment still lingers in our churches like the scent of incense today when grim-faced clergy encourage penance, not mirth or laughter. But I’ll take that risk, and as my old monk confessor would say to me, “Edward, whatever you do, do it with full malice.” And so I will with the following story.
An old friend, Leslie Evans, shared with me this story about an aged Oklahoma
grandfather who told his young granddaughter the secret of a long life: just sprinkle a little gunpowder on your breakfast cereal each day. She did that religiously all her life and lived to be 103. She left behind 8 children, 30 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren, 15
great-great-grandchildren…and a forty foot hole in the ground where once had been a crematorium.
If that story didn’t cause you to laugh or grin, I’ve another—a true story. In September of 1862 President Lincoln called a special session of his closest advisers. When they arrived they found Lincoln laughing heartily as he read a humorous book. He began the meeting by sharing with his advisers what he had just been reading, robustly laughing as he did. His advisers sat grim faced in disapproval of the President’s frivolity. He rebuked them, “Why don’t you laugh? With the fearful strain that’s upon me, if I didn’t laugh I should die. You need this medicine of laughter as much as I do.” Then he told them that he had been privately preparing “a little paper of much significance” and asked their opinion of his draft of the Emancipation Proclamation!
Blessed Merry Lent’s painful dying to self, the indispensable work of not 40 Lenten days but of 365 days, is far too rigorous without some hilarity. If we are to be seriously engaged in the often painful reforming our lives, behaviors and values, then we will need frequent doses of Lincoln’s medicinal laughter.