The Way of Julian of Norwich. Chapter 5 : ‘Laughter is the tonic, the relief, the surcease for pain’.( and Evil?)

Charlie Chaplin

In this film still from The Great Dictator Charlie Chaplin stands dressed in a uniform similar to Hitler , arm raised in a fist pump as a parody of the Nazi leader.
Charlie Chaplin in his uniform as The Great Dictator

I’m not sure if it’s having had my COVID vaccination this week or just general exhaustion but I found I had pretty much no response to this chapter! It left me a bit cold ( again maybe the vaccination!).

I recognised the spiritual struggle ‘nightmares’, ‘ night terrors’ described as visions of Julian. I suffered from these particularly in my early 20s, when I was living in a house where someone else was heavily into the occult. I don’t know if that was co-incidence but do believe there are spiritual realms that in the western world we tend to explain away. On trips to Africa, for example, I have noticed that there has been a much more accepted view that we share our lives with spirits, good and bad. This maybe could create a more integrated, respectful way of approaching all of creation, human and non- human? Also in my experience , in darkest moments I’ve experienced an overwhelming sense of powerlessness and then even terrible dreams have been a strange gift, an outworking or release of the tension/ stress.

The incantation protection prayers of the Celts and Middle Ages also seem to reflect this awareness of powers that can harm us. Julian, being from this time, would have been familiar with this. Julian mentions joy at the fiend being overcome . I am going to go off on a tangent here and suggest that joy is perhaps a way the fiend can be overcome.

To use joy as a method of protection is very appealing. We know today that laughter benefits us psychologically and physically and can even be prescribed by doctors. Humour is used with children who have suffered trauma , in refugee camps, in care homes, in mental healthcare etc. and sometimes even in church! It creates for a few moments a sense of well being which can aid us when we feel hemmed in by grief , by fear , by hate.

I chose the illustration of Charlie Chaplin in The Great Dictator as another example of joy overcoming evil. Chaplin’s , brilliant satire of Hitler in this film helps to emasculate the role of the Nazi leader. By making the dictator look almost believable, yet ridiculous, Chaplin helps the audience see just how weak and ordinary even a ‘great’ leader is. How it would be possible to deny him ultimate power. Similarly the humour in The Screwtape Letters helps the reader acknowledge failings without feeling condemned.

I like to imagine Jesus’s parables were often playful and humorous. That maybe they contained little parodies of religious zealots , pompous officials etc. and whilst there are terrible, inexplicable happenings in our world that can not be overcome with joy I think it can be useful to deflate the darkness that the anti-God wants us to believe is all pervading and inescapable. Here’s to the next chapter then — Joy , a happiness, an endless delight!

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