I enjoy it when older couples who appear to have done more than endure a long marriage, offer their hard won wisdom. One couple being interviewed was asked,
Have you ever considered leaving your husband?
The wife replied incredulously:
‘Leave him?! Leave him?!….Murder, maybe – but never leave him!’
At any given wedding reception someone is apt to give a list of ingredients for a happy marriage. Invariably the list will include “have a good sense of humour….you’ll need it!” Polite laughter and knowing looks are met with blank stares and silent confessions: “I couldn’t even get the jokes right in our marriage. No wonder we didn’t last.”
We nod approvingly at the advice, “yes, a good sense of humour; we think we’ve got that.” The reality for me is that very few get my sense of humour, my kids included. They groan at an ill-placed pun, or a rehashed story.
Perhaps a better way to put the “having a sense of humour” advice – is “having childlike playful banter.” Once my wife and I took a personal retreat at Kingsfold Retreat Centre. We enjoyed time together, time apart, and Mercy enjoyed getting lots more sleep, especially since she was suffering from Strep Throat.
One evening we were in front of the fire place in the Kingsfold library enjoying a chat between her coughing bouts. A man in the library made a comment that stuck with me. He said he’s been watching and listening to our conversations when we interacted during the meals, and now in the library, and he said he simply enjoyed our playful banter.
It didn’t matter that he hadn’t heard any of our verbal skirmishes earlier in the week, or the argument we may have had earlier in the day. This man shared he was divorced; it took a lot out of him; and he wished he could’ve enjoyed his marriage like we were enjoying our childlike chatter.
I don’t know how to aim at or develop playful banter. I don’t know how to grow in childlikeness – especially since I have always been too serious for my own good. (Churchill once quipped that “if the Germans had a sense of humour, they would’ve laughed Hitler out of office”). Maybe it isn’t growing in childlikeness as much as it is un-growing in agedness (read what G.K Chesterton says about God’s “eternal appetite of infancy” in “Orthodoxy”).
I can safely rest much of the joy of this playful banter on Mercy’s happy disposition: she being perpetually in the present moment, completely unencumbered, as I tend to be, either with baggage from the past, or hooks to the future.
Playful banter is conversation that looks for the fun, the punchline, the laugh. It wants to lighten and be enlightened. Margaret Magdalen wrote:
No wonder Jesus exhorted his followers to become childlike! He doubtless knew that part of that ‘becoming’ would lead to the recovery of the art of losing oneself in wonder, love, and praise…This childlike art of absorption, which most adults have sacrificed in the ‘muchness and manyness’ of life, Jesus seemed able to retrain even in maturity.
Perhaps a secret to playful banter is at least: don’t crush this out of your spouse. I know that’s the low bar to aim at, but what pressure there is to try to invent a sense of humour. Possibly the secret is how Magdalen puts it: “recovering the art of losing oneself in wonder, love, and praise.”
Losing yourself in wonder comes closer to the Hebrew proverb poorly translated as “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).
I prefer to recover some of the Hebrew meaning by translating: “the worshipful awe – the holy wonder – the reverent dread of the Lord – is the beginning of wisdom.” Let it be said that this wisdom is whimsical: childlike, opened eyed, ready to be surprised and unready to be overcome.
This is more enigma than dogma. Enigma is the beginning of the spiritual journey. Dogma is what is written on the sides of the road to inform your travels. It appears that being lost in wonder is the way to find your way – straight to the heart of the One who made you for Himself.