Saturday, July 23, 2011

Holy Laughter

"Our mouths were full of laughter and our tongues sang aloud for joy." 
Psalms 126:2

 A little old lady was mailing a family Bible to her grandson.
"Is there anything breakable in here?" asked the postal clerk.
"Only the Ten  Commandments." answered the  lady.

In some Pentecostal Churches, members worship exuberantly, using "holy laughter" as a way to bring themselves nearer to God or to signify being filled with the Holy Spirit. The former Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship, now Catch the Fire Toronto, headed by pastor John Arnott, is a non-demoninational neocharismatic Christian church that has revived "holy laughter," which they contribute to being filled with the Holy Spirit. 

Time magazine (15 August 1994) reported the growing popularity of "laughing revivals" among many of London's religious groups, including the reserved Anglicans. Even in London's fashionable Knightsbridge neighborhood, Londoners flocked to the Holy Trinity Brompton as if headed off to see a rubgy match. The curate prays that the Holy Spirit will "come upon the congregation" and within moments, a young woman begins laughing. Others join in, soon worshipper's are falling on the floor in "spiritual side splitting" laughter. These "visitations" of the Holy Spirit are said to confirmed by the spread of laughter.  

(Warning: Laughter is contagious, watch at your own risk)

Robert R. Provine's book, Laughter: A Scientific Investigation, states that: "Holy laughter has much in common with glossolalia (speaking in tongues), the defining characteristic of Pentecostal churches. Both laughter and speaking in tongues signify being filled with the Holy Spirit."  

These fervent displays of hysteria have powerful psychological and physiological roots. Contagious laughter raises intriguing questions about how our brains' neural circuits are wired. Much like contagious yawning involves the visual domain, contagious laughter primarily involves the auditory regions. Of course, for deaf individuals, I would imagine that seeing someone laugh may have the same effect. 

Provine further goes on to explain that "the ability of laughter to stimulate contagious laughter in another individual suggests that humans have an 'auditory feature detector,' a neurological detector that responds specifically to the sound of laughter."  While this theory has not yet been proven, Neuroscientist VS Ramachandran's work with mirror neurons may provide compelling evidence to support Provine's theory. The concepts are consistent with the presence of a neural generator. 

For those of you not familiar with the scientific aspect of adopting another person's point of view, here's Ramachandran on Ted Talks. 

Philosophers have long defined laughter as a power, of which we should be concerned. Eduardo S. Jauregui, in his doctoral thesis titled: Situating Laughter: Amusement, Laughter, and Humor in Everyday Life, states that "an infinite miscellany of trivialities may trigger off this often explosive and strongly pleasurable bodily reaction, confounding attempts to understand its seeming unity at the subjective and physiological levels. It's evolutionary significance for our laughing species appears equally mysterious. Its association with all things unserious, moreover, relegates laughter to a uniquely ignominious corner." 

However you choose to define humor and laughter, it's generally associated with good times, improved attitudes, and friendly social interactions. Whether you laugh at church or in a comedy club, there seems to be an infinite supply of material from which to choose to help you find your inner chuckle. 

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