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August 7, 2011

Question: What role does humour play in life?

The genuinely spiritual have learned to laugh at themselves, and this ability is one of the deepest roots in the psychology of humour. One of the first Bahá’í books I read in my teen-aged years was God Loves Laughter, the spiritual autobiography of an eminent and beloved teacher and author, Mr. William Sears. All through his journey of discovery, Mr. Sears emphasized the joy of spiritual life, of which humour formed one of the dominant keynotes. Mr. Sears’ light-hearted approach was wise in the sense that it brought a much needed sense of balance to the subject of religion, a domain which is all-too-often made forbidding and unattractive to seekers and observers by the heavy piety or life-denying negativity of overly serious religious practitioners.

Laughter, the ready smile and the humourous anecdote figured large in the pattern of Bahá’í life of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the son of the Prophet-Founder, Bahá’u’lláh, his successor and model exemplar for the Bahá’í community. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s long but busy days of imprisonment, house-arrest and exile were always lightened by humour. American educator, prolific author and prominent Bahá’í of the 20th century, Stanwood Cobb (1881-1982), met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá on five different occasions. During a talk which I attended, Dr. Cobb gave his impressions of ‘Abdu’l-Baha. I recall particularly this comment: “One of the features distinguishing ‘Abdu’l-Bahá from the other spiritual teachers and gurus I met in America was his keen sense of humour.”

Herbert Putnam, a Librarian of Congress, who met ‘Abdu’l-Bahá in America in 1912 wrote the following: “The dominant impression that survives in my memory of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá is that of an extraordinary nobility: physically, in the head so massive yet so finely poised, and the modeling of the features; but spiritually, in the serenity of expression, and the suggestion of grave and responsible meditation in the deeper lines of the face. But there was also, in his complexion, carriage, and expression, an assurance of the complete health which is a requisite of a sane judgment. And when, as in a lighter mood, his features relaxed into the playful, the assurance was added of a sense of humor without which there is no true sense of proportion.” Well said.
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen August 7, 2011
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