Enriched by the Spiritual Practice of Joy-Laughter-Humor

Dr. Dick Olson

Dr. Richard P. Olson
Distinguished Professor of
Pastoral Theology

An important concept to aid the spiritual growth of individuals and congregations is that of “Christian practices.” Dorothy Bass and Craig Dykstra note, “Christian practices are things Christian people do together over time in response to and in the light of God’s active presence for the life of the world.” Christians do these in ever deeper measure because these practices are a means to “create openings in our lives where the grace, mercy, and presence of God may be made known to us.”

The “Practicing Our Faith” group have identified twelve basic Christian practices, some predictable such as Sabbath, forgiveness, testimony; others a bit more unusual, such as singing our lives, hospitality, and honoring‐caring for our bodies.

While I have a high regard for their work, I believe they missed a very important Christian practice and would like to add one more – humor and laughter as part of the expression of joy – a “ fruit of the spirit.” (Gal 5:22)

As I attempt to be a good Christian and spiritual leader, I have been enriched, healed, and empowered in so many ways by humor –

  • Hope/hopefulness in the face of depression or despair,
  • Perspective on otherwise daunting problems
  • Balance in priorities and concepts
  • Breathing space  and respite in conflict and criticism
  • Softening of the lines in conflict, sometimes steps toward reconciliation and civility
  • An invitation to the possibility of forgiveness of self and other
  • Reactivating of joy in faith, in the Christian life, in Christ.

Over time I have learned that this spiritual practice of humor needs attention, study, time, and yes “practice” as part of my self-care.  I also commend to you growth in practicing humor and joy, and I will provide some steps and resources to help you do so.

What we can do in our own communities

If you are not acquainted with spiritual practices, secure the book edited by Dorothy Bass, Practicing Our Faith (Jossey-Bass, 1997), which includes a chapter on each of the twelve practices mentioned above.  The website www.practicingourfaith.org provides further information on practices, specific resources, and discussions.  By following the insights and suggestions,  a group could explore spiritual growth.

If you would like to investigate my suggestions about humor as a spiritual practice,

  • You might want to start simply.  For example, have a “Smiles” bulletin board and invite people to put up cartoons, jokes, quips, quotes that they enjoy on it.
  • Or, perhaps start meetings with an invitation for all to finish a sentence that says a bit about their own humor and resources (self-humor is one of the safest and kindest types of humor).  Select one of these starters, finish it yourself and invite others: “A person that helps me lighten up is. . . When I need a good laugh I. . .  A time when humor came to the rescue for me was . . .  “ You get the idea.

  • Or perhaps you would like to “get serious” about this kind of humor.  If so, while one could study it individually, two or more would be better. The resources section will give you a number of places to start.


  • Capps, Donald. A Time to Laugh: The Religion of Humor. Continuum, 2005.
  • Darden, Robert. Jesus Laughed: The Redemptive Power of Humor. Abingdon, 2008.
  • The Joyful Noiseletter. www.joyfulnoiseletter.com
  • Martin, James, SJ. Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life (HarperOne, 2011).
  • Sparks, Susan. Laugh Your Way to Grace: Reclaiming the Spiritual Power of Humor (Skylight Paths, 2010) – written by a woman who is both an American Baptist pastor and a standup comedian.
  • Olson, Richard P. Laughter in a Time of Turmoil: Humor as a Spiritual Practice. – my full development of this view of humor as a spiritual practice. The book is designed as an individual read or group (SS class, small group, or church staff) resource with discussion and community building questions at the end of every chapter