We had one of those times in church Sunday that will go down in family lore. Our great-grandchildren will recount the tale around dinner tables for generations to come. OK, that may be an exaggeration but it was an interesting moment. Our nine-year-old granddaughter, Sarah, has been coming to church with me to the first service at 8:30 because it’s contemporary and I suspect because she enjoys time alone with her Granny. I have ended up going to both of our services each week because I’m on a committee charged with changing our worship at the early service but I’m not ready to give up the more traditional worship at 11. I’m just a worship junkie and I love the chance to do both. So Sarah comes along with me then joins her parents later. She’s in the process of becoming independent; feeling and acting very grown up.
I’m not sure exactly what constitutes “grown up” in Sarah’s mind but clearly attendance in church is on the list because our laughter came during the 11:00 worship—Sarah’s second worship of the day. This “church attendance as a sign of maturity” has clearly missed her Aunt Elizabeth, our oldest daughter, who seldom joins us in worship even though she probably lives closest to the church building than any of us. Elizabeth falls into the category of Christians who wouldn’t think of missing Easter or Christmas but who also don’t feel the need to call upon the Lord at other times and then comment that the church always sings the same songs.
We had three generations sitting in a row. Beaven and myself on the left with Sarah to my right, then our daughter Emily on Sarah’s right. Like most churches we have cards in the pews for prayer requests. We have a place to notify the church staff of any pastoral needs of the congregation in the form of “Does the church know that “___” and there’s a long blank for you to insert a name followed by a series of boxes that you can check like  is in the hospital or  is sick. There’s a box for just about every conceivable thing you could have wrong or right, including that your friend has been released from the hospital and is home now.
So we’re all sitting here in a row and Sarah takes one of the pew cards and a pencil. She carefully fills the card out and I see that she’s written her aunt’s name in the blank and checked one of the boxes so that it reads “Is the church aware that Elizabeth Thomas is [x] at home?”
When I saw this I passed it to Sarah’s mother who started laughing and anticipating the gloating she’ll be doing at the next family gathering that she was in church and Elizabeth wasn’t and, best of all, Sarah caught her AWOL. When Emily started laughing it made me laugh. I passed the card to Beaven who started laughing. And, of course, as usual, these things ALWAYS begin right as we enter the Prayers of the People, the longest prayer of the service and to make it even worse, this day the preacher inserted a looooong silent prayer time. By this time we were shaking and heaving with short gasps of air coming in and out. Fortunately, we were the only people on the pew and nobody was sitting in front of us. My own prayers at that moment were that nobody knew we were all laughing like heathens but then Beaven made a short little snorting noise and it got even worse.
I’ve had this happen to me enough times that I know there’s no way out of one of these spells. You just have to try to keep your mouth shut and not to move your lips and hope you don’t have a stuffy nose that day. If you can prevent any kind of air passing over your vocal cords you can usually get away with just silent, shaking shoulders.
One time several decades ago when I was much younger and less mature we had a laughing spell in the middle of this same prayer at church and it ended up spreading to the pew behind us when they saw our pew shaking and our shoulders heaving.
But the worst time of all was the year a whole bunch of us arrived at Christmas Eve worship slightly influenced by the spirits of the season after a party I must admit we hosted at our house. Thanks be to God, the sanctuary was full that night and we ended sitting not only in the back of the church but in a glassed off section they called the “Cry Room” because it was sound-proof. Because that year there was no way we could stifle our spasms of laughter and whispered shush-ings.
I also need to insert a disclaimer here that I’m talking about a group of adults. For once, Elizabeth was not only present in worship but was serving in a leadership role as an acolyte. She was as innocent as a babe that year.
The choir had elected to not wear their robes that night and one of the stuffiest, most dignified men in our congregation had worn a beige turtle-neck sweater. I’m sure he thought he looked very festive but from our view he appeared to be sitting there on the back row of the choir stark naked. We started laughing the minute the choir sat down and were laughing until the end when they rang the church bells welcoming Christmas. I’m sure we all were due lumps of coal in our stockings that year. But it sure felt good,
It’s time to laugh. Even if you don’t feel like it, if your checkbook is thin or empty or if your job is iffy or gone. Find something to laugh about. Laughter is one of the sounds of Christmas like the bells or zimbalstern. Christmas is a time of magic in the air and laughter is one of those magical sounds that announce your confidence in God’s Amazing, Irrational Love.
If you can’t find something to laugh about come sit behind my family next week.
On another note: Ever vigilant for new trends, especially in the food category. I was so taken by the newest food sold at the Texas State Fair this fall I decided to try it myself. The tasty tidbit is Chicken Fried Bacon. Remember, dear-hearts, this is Texas. We fry just about anything that will sit still long enough to grab it and throw it in the pan. I didn’t waste my time with the breading. I just filled up a pot with vegetable oil, heated it to 350 and dropped in a slice of bacon. It fried in about two minutes flat and was delicious. I’m telling you this, friend: Yes- Do try this at home.