Look Up for Joy

One thing I hate about the internet is the flattening of affect. At home, I’m funny. Like so hilarious that my kids stay up later and later if I’m busy, just so I can joke with them. I do voices in all the books we read, and if there’s a passage that’s a bit too bland or too serious or if the child is anxious, I add a silly voice or mispronounce a word on purpose to make them laugh. I can and do engage in dance-offs and spontaneous sung odes on the regular. Part of my daily life is humor. Humor is mundane here.

            Laughing with people heals them. My kids need me for autism intervention not in some formal or boring way, but as a person who loves them and can make them laugh. If I laugh with them, they are going to be okay. They will learn everything in the joy that we share.

            One of my favorite things about preparing Christian ed materials and classrooms is that I get to set up moments of joy and connection. I love helping people connect, to set aside the bad habit of mistaking intentional dullness for reverence, and encouraging joyful and playful engagement with God in learning. Accessible Church School is a dull name for a fun pattern. Building a cave in the classroom is fun. Painting eyes is fun. And it’s only these hands-on, gross motor, whole body and alongside learning practices that teach us anything lasting. A cave we build to learn about a cave dweller or a cavern nativity or a burial cave is a cave of memory and truth. The eyes we paint with their irises and pupils touching the top lid reminds us of the universal humility and love of God and all His holy ones. The eyes are always looking up at us, the way we look up at little children when we teach them, from below, as servants. The God who made everything, the eyes that see everything, look up to us from below, and those hands that formed our clay reach up and touch our faces.

            At night after the stories and the laughter, I take a turn about the house to pray for each person and to make the sign of the cross over them (or outside their doors). It’s 1am, and I ask the saints to pray for them and pray for all of us to Christ our God that we may be saved. But I also beg them to help me reach them and love them better. This is how it’s answered: My mouth is filled with laughter, my playful heart pours out myrrh and gladness to lift them up with joy. It’s the joy of the Lord that’s our strength.

            My dog can sense this mood even when I don’t. Sometimes he leaps around in puppy play when all I’m doing is praying, like he knows that prayer is playing, too. I don’t think of myself playing at prayer, but maybe that’s how it seems to wiser creatures like my dog; to him maybe I’m a little kid wearing my mother’s shoes, her slip on my head, the prayer book too big for me. I think he sees, though, that prayer is a joy like playing. There’s healing in it that makes me not alone, that looks up to me and shows me who I am and in whose company.

            There’s a moment in playing when the ancient fear of being alone releases. We know ourselves to be a part of a group, to not be alone. St. Augustine called this our social nature. He said that all of our evils are due to a twisting and corruption and misdirection of our basically social nature into attempts to dominate each other and to make others serve us. But we aren’t supposed to have mastery over each other. We are supposed to enjoy each other because God made us for that kind of love. When we have love for God and each other, our real freedom starts to show up right here in the midst of broken social systems. There’s no mastery in kneeling and looking up to a child so they can hear you. But you will only see such an action in someone who has mastered herself, someone who has the lay of the land enough to know that love and joy are the real treasure and goals here.

            Maybe I will be brave enough to be myself everywhere, to generalize my humor in the whole world. But in the meantime, I’m going to keep making my children laugh. There’s nothing better for their hearts or mine.

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