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Joy Good for the Soul!

Psalm 126 (MSG)

It has now been two weeks, and I am happy to report that my abdominal muscles have, indeed, recovered!

Two weeks ago, I met up with three of my friends from seminary. The three sisters grew up in Geneseo and all three of them went to Colgate Rochester Crozer Seminary, my alma mater, and all three went on to be ordained ministers in the American Baptist Churches. We rented a guest house in Houghton, located right on Houghton’s “bustling” Main Street, and the purpose of our gathering was simple: play games all weekend.

These sisters are fierce game players. Along with two other siblings, they grew up in a household where games were absolutely central to their family life. To this day, my friends and their spouses, children, and grandchildren love to find new games to play, get nostalgic when playing the “old” games, and never hesitate to make up a new game along the way. When we all arrived, they unloaded all the games they’d packed in their cars. I unloaded the fruit and yogurt I brought for Saturday morning’s breakfast…

We got down to game playing right away on Friday afternoon. No time to waste! Every game they brought was a game I had never played before, so when it was a game that required us to split into two teams, you can bet my sister-friends negotiated to NOT have me on their team. No offense taken. Sort of.

At some point on Friday or Saturday, a game that was unfamiliar to all four of us was pulled out. It was called Poetry for Neanderthals. Google describes it as a word game where you work to get your teammate to guess the word or the phrase on a card simply from your verbal clues. The trick to the game—and where the name, Poetry for Neanderthals, comes from—is this: When you are the teammate describing the word or phrase on the card so that your teammate can guess it before time runs out, you can ONLY use one syllable words. Oh, I forgot to mention this crucial element of the game: while you are the one giving the one syllable clues to your partner, someone from the other team stands directly next to you, looking over your shoulder at the word or phrase written on the card, ready to bop you on the head with a 2-foot long inflatable club if you use a word with more than one syllable, or start gesturing wildly instead of using words at all.

Around the table sat four women who all have Master degrees (one even has her doctorate), who all write sermons and articles and speak in public for a living, reduced to using one syllable words! We sounded like Neanderthals! And we all got hit on the head…a LOT.

So, what happened to my abdominal muscles that weekend? I laughed so hard for so long that they absolutely ached! I have not laughed like that in a long time.

I have not been able to stop thinking about this game-playing event. Images of my friends doubled over in laughter, tears streaming, trying to catch their breath keep popping up in my head.

When was the last time you laughed like that?

The phrase, “Laughter is good for the soul,” also kept coming to mind, so I went to my bible to check it out. It’s not there! I guess I always thought this was a biblical phrase. It’s not, but I think it could be.

Even so, here’s this wonderful Psalm, a community song of trust or confidence that skillfully employs metaphor to proclaim God as the one who brings joy out of sorrow, laughter out of tears, and good out of evil. Psalm 126 is one of the more comforting ones. It is by no means clear whether it is recalling history or foretelling the final events in the history of the world, but its message of ultimate trust in God's power to save has reassured generations of Jews and Christians alike.

It feels to me like we’ve been living in a time of sorrow, of tears, of evil. The joy, the laughter, the good seem like a distant dream. There is so much happening in us and around us that troubles us. And yet, it has long been known that laughter is good for our bodies. Laughing reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine and dopamine, and it increases endorphins. Researchers suggest that children may laugh as much as 400 times a day, while adults may laugh 15. Maybe. It just seems like there hasn’t been much to laugh about, to be joyful about, lately.

And yet, the mingling of joy and tears in Psalm 126 reminds us—as it must have reminded the Hebrew people—that life is a mixture of joy and sorrow; but just as the Negev springs to life with the gully-washing grace of God’s winter rainfall, and as surely as the harvest follows the time of planting, God can be counted on to complete the good work already done. When you are going through a time of sorrow or dis-ease, Psalm 126 can be strong medicine for your soul. It carries a powerful message of hope that I pray we never forget.

So my friends, today I recommend laughter, wherever, however you can come into contact with it. It may challenge your abdominal muscles if you haven’t used them in a while, but I can attest to the fact that they will, indeed, recover.

“And now, God, do it again—bring rains to our drought-stricken lives so that those who planted their crops in despair will shout “Yes!” at the harvest, so those who went off with heavy hearts will come home laughing…” Amen!

Rev. Lisa Drysdale, February 12, 2023

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