“Between Heaven and Mirth will make any reader smile. . . . Father Martin reminds us that happiness is the good God’s own goal for us.” —Timothy M. Dolan, Archbishop of New York
From The Colbert Report’s “official chaplain” James Martin, SJ, author of the New York Times bestselling The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, comes a revolutionary look at how joy, humor, and laughter can change our lives and save our spirits. A Jesuit priest with a busy media ministry, Martin understands the intersections between spirituality and daily life. In Between Heaven and Mirth, he uses scriptural passages, the lives of the saints, the spiritual teachings of other traditions, and his own personal reflections to show us why joy is the inevitable result of faith, because a healthy spirituality and a healthy sense of humor go hand-in-hand with God's great plan for humankind.
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About the Author
Rev. James Martin, SJ, is a Jesuit priest, editor at large of America magazine, consultor to the Vatican's Secretariat for Communication, and author of numerous books, including the New York Times bestsellers Jesus: A Pilgrimage, The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything and My Life with the Saints, which Publishers Weekly named one of the best books of 2006. Father Martin is a frequent commentator in the national and international media, having appeared on all the major networks, and in such diverse outlets as The Colbert Report, NPR's Fresh Air, the New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Before entering the Jesuits in 1988 he graduated from the Wharton School of Business.
Read an Excerpt
Between Heaven and MirthWhy Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life
By James Martin
HarperOneCopyright © 2011 James Martin
All right reserved.
The MostInfallible SignJoy andthe Spiritual Life
Many of myfavorite jokes are about Catholics, priests, and Jesuits.
TheJesuits, by the way, are a Catholic religious order for men (a
group ofmen who take vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience and
live incommunity) founded in 1540 by St. Ignatius Loyola, a Spanish
It's easyfor me to tell jokes about Catholics, priests, and Jesuits,
since I'mall three. And a self-deprecating joke may be the healthiest
brand ofhumor, since the only target is yourself. The standard Jesuit
joke playson the stereotype that we're (a) overly practical, (b) overly
worldly, or(c) not as concerned with spiritual matters as we should
be. Let meshare with you one of my favorites. (Don't worry if you're
notCatholic or you've never met a Jesuit in your life. As with most
good jokes,you can easily change the details or particulars to suit
your owncomic purposes.)
There's abarber in a small town. One day he's sitting in his shop,
and a manwalks in wearing a pair of sandals and a long brown robe
with ahood. The man, very thin and quite ascetic looking, sports a
shortbeard. He sits down in the barber's chair.
"Excuseme," says the barber. "I was wondering, why are you
"Well,"says the man, "I'm a Franciscan friar. I'm here to help my
brotherFranciscans start a soup kitchen."
The barber says,"Oh, I love the Franciscans! I love the story of
St. Francisof Assisi, who loved the animals so much. And I love the
work you dofor the poor, for peace, and for the environment. The
Franciscansare wonderful. This haircut is free."
And theFranciscan says, "Oh no, no, no. We live simply, and we
take a vowof poverty, but I do have enough money for a haircut.
Please letme pay you."
"Oh no,"says the barber. "I insist. This haircut is free!" So the
Franciscangets his haircut, thanks the barber, gives him a blessing,
The nextday the barber comes to his shop and finds a surprise
waiting forhim. On the doorstep is a big wicker basket filled
withbeautiful wildflowers along with a thank you note from the
That sameday another man walks into the barber's shop wearing
a longwhite robe and a leather belt tied around his waist. When
he sitsdown in the chair, the barber asks, "Excuse me, but why are
you dressedlike that?"
And the mansays, "Well, I'm a Trappist monk. I'm in town to
visit adoctor, and I thought I would come in for a haircut."
And thebarber says, "Oh I love the Trappists! I admire the way
your livesare so contemplative and how you all pray for the rest of
the world.This haircut is free."
TheTrappist monk says, "Oh no. Even though we live simply, I
have moneyfor a haircut. Please let me pay you."
"Oh no,"says the barber. "This haircut is free!" So the Trappist
gets hishaircut, thanks him, gives him a blessing, and leaves.
The nextday the barber comes to his shop, and on his doorstep
there is asurprise awaiting him: a big basket filled with delicious
homemadecheeses and jams from the Trappist monastery along
with athank you note from the monk.
That sameday another man walks into the barber shop wearing
a blacksuit and a clerical collar. After he sits down, the barber says,
"Excuse me,but why are you dressed like that?"
And the mansays, "I'm a Jesuit priest. I'm in town for a theology
And thebarber says, "Oh, I love the Jesuits! My son went to a Jesuit
highschool, and my daughter went to a Jesuit college. I've even been
to theretreat house that the Jesuits run in town. This haircut is free."
A manenters a strict monastery. On his first day the
abbot says,"You'll be able to speak only two words every
five years.Do you understand?" The novice nods and goes
Five yearslater the abbot calls him into his office. "Brother,"
he says,"You've done well these last five years. What would you
like to say?"
And themonk says, "Food cold!"
"Oh, I'msorry," says the abbot. "We'll fix that immediately."
Five yearslater the monk returns to the abbot.
"Welcome,Brother," says the abbot. "What would you like
to tell meafter ten years?"
And themonk says, "Bed hard!"
And theabbot says, "Oh, I'm so sorry. We'll fix that right
Then afteranother five years the two meet. The abbot says,
"Well,Brother you've been here fifteen years. What two words
would youlike to say?"
"I'mleaving," he says.
And theabbot says, "Well, I'm not surprised. You've done
nothing butcomplain since you got here!"
And theJesuit says, "Oh no. I take a vow of poverty, but I have
enoughmoney for a haircut."
The barbersays, "Oh no. This haircut is free!" After the haircut,
the Jesuitthanks him, gives him a blessing, and goes on his way.
The nextday the barber comes to his shop, and on his doorstep
there is asurprise waiting for him: ten more Jesuits.
Now, if Irecounted a second joke or a third joke (e.g., see p. 14),
you mightwonder when I was going to get to the point. But, in a
way, jokesare the point of this chapter, which is that joy, humor, and
laughterare under appreciated values in the spiritual life and are
desperatelyneeded not only in our own personal spiritual lives, but in
the life oforganized religion.
Joy, tobegin with, is what we'll experience when we are welcomed
intoheaven. We may even laugh for joy when we meet God.
Joy, acharacteristic of those close to God, is a sign of not only a
confidencein God, but also, as we will see in the Jewish and Christian
Scriptures,gratitude for God's blessings. As the Jesuit priest Pierre
Teilhard deChardin said, "Joy is the most infallible sign of the
Excerpted from Between Heaven and Mirth by James Martin Copyright © 2011 by James Martin. Excerpted by permission of HarperOne. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction Excessive Levity 1
Chapter 1 The Most Infallible Sign Joy and the Spiritual Life 12
Chapter 2 Why So Gloomy? A Brief but 100 Percent Accurate Historical Examination of Religious Seriousness 31
A Study in Joy: Psalm 65 62
Chapter 3 Joy Is a Gift from God Humor and the Saints 68
Chapter 4 Happiness Attracts II 1/2 Serious Reasons for Good Humor 86
Chapter 5 I Awoke How Vocation, Service, and Love Can Lead to Joy 120
A Study in Joy: The Visitation 135
Chapter 6 Laughing in Church Recovering Levity in the Community of Believers 142
Chapter 7 I'm Not Funny and My Life Stinks Answers to the Most Difficult Challenges of Living a Joyful Life 171
Chapter 8 God Has Brought Laughter for Me Discovering Delight in Your Personal Spiritual Life 193
A Study in Joy: I Thessalonians 212
Chapter 9 Rejoice Always! Introducing Joy, Humor, and Laughter into Your Prayer 218
Conclusion Get Ready for Heaven 235
For Further Exploration 237
About the Author 243
What People are Saying About This
“If you ever got in trouble as a child for laughing in church, prepare to be vindicated.”
“Between Heaven and Mirth is delicious, well-crafted and well-paced. Martin draws on his own experience as a priest and demonstrates both a light touch and an impressive command of his subject.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Looking for the perfect gift for your priest, minister, spiritual director or cranky relative? This informative and hilarious book will delight them. Get a copy for yourself, too. If you're like me, you're not sure sometimes what humor is appropriate, when you can laugh in church or even what's funny. Fr. Jim clears it up with serious reasons for good humor, and he clarifies what's good. Fascinating historical anecdotes speak of the humor of many holy people from various times and faiths. Plus, there are really good jokes and lots of joy, the kind that comes from God. Did you know that God has a sense of humor? Get the punch line in "Between Heaven and Mirth." You really need to know this before the Apocalypse.
This book is something I needed. I sometimes feel weighted down by the serious of life, and I see humor as something necessary that is often set aside and considered frivolous. I love the references and interpretations in this book and many times I felt moved to read parts to my family because they were just so funny. I'm torn between sharing it with my pastor or getting him his own copy. I'm so thankful to have stumbled across this book!
Although this is written by a Jesuit priest, in addition to Catholicism, he looks into other Christian religions, Judaism, and even some Eastern religions, pointing out the attraction and need of some joy and levity in our religions. His premise, with which I found refreshing to hear stated is that if we believe we are made in God's image, that He is with us always, that Christ died for us, then why aren't we filled with joy--particularly in our ritural services. I would suggest that every pastor, seminarian and anyone working in church ministries in any denomination, read this book and take it to heart. He pointed out many saints and other past religious leaders who were filled with joy, laughter and mirth. I am glad to have read it.
this book will make you laugh out loud, no matter where you are. it is humorous and pokes a bit of fun at how stern religious folks can be. i think you will enjoy it.
This is a great book for all those who believe that religion should be a joyful experience
After 3 years of constant health struggles your book helped me to once again find my joy. Thank you!
The nicest compliment I ever received came from a Catholic deacon at a parish in Iowa. My family and I were getting ready to move out of the area (my one-year fellowship at the local Catholic hospital was ending) and he was explaining why our family would be missed: "It's been so nice having you here. You and your family live the faith joyfully."This compliment came back to me while reading Jesuit Fr. James Martin's new book, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, which hits shelves today. Fr. Martin has crafted a wonderful book highlighting the rich tradition of faithful humor and joyful spirituality. He takes dead aim on the gloomy, pessimistic side of Christianity, arguing that it is not only antithetical to the teachings of Christ, but hurtful to the Church's mission of evangelization.If you're looking for a quick summary of Fr. Martin's insights, skip to chapter four (helpfully entitled "Happiness Attracts: 11 1/2 Serious Reasons for Good Humor"). This is a similar list to the keynote talk I heard Fr. Martin give at the 2011 NCCL conference. At the top of the list is the fact that happiness and humor are ways to witness to our faith:"Joy, humor, and laughter show one's faith in God. For Christians, an essentially hopeful outlook shows people that you believe in the Resurrection, in the power of life over death, and in the power of love over hatred. Don't you think that after the Resurrection Jesus's disciples were joyful? 'All will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of things will be well,' as the fourteenth-century mystic Blessed Julian of Norwich said. For believers in general, humor shows your trust in God, who will ultimately make all things well. Joy reveals faith."This may seem self-evident, but the number of dour and humorless Christians would seem to indicate that it bears repeating. Fr. Martin goes to on extol humor's virtues in the area of health, spirituality, hospitality, play, and interpersonal relations.What's more, the book is funny. Fr. Martin sprinkles jokes and humor from the saints liberally throughout the text, including stories about Pope John XXIII; Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ; Dorothy Day; various Jesuit saints; and, of course, Jesus!In fact, I think his look at humor in Sacred Scripture (both Old and New Testament) will be especially eye-opening for many people. As Fr. Martin points outs, it is easy to overlook the humor in the Bible:"We've simply heard the stories too many times, and they become stale, like overly repeated jokes. 'The words seem to us like old coins,' [Elton Trueblood] writes, 'in which the edges have been worn smooth and the engravings have become almost indistinguishable.' Trueblood recounts the tale of his four-year-old son, who, upon hearing the Gospel story about seeing the speck of dust in your neighbor's eye and ignoring the log in your own,laughed uproariously. The young boy readily saw the humor missed by those who have heard the story dozens of times."Besides the Bible Fr. Martin recommends numerous books on humor and spirituality (he admits up front that his book is not intended to be an exhaustive treatment of the subject) and even gives a list of his favorite funny movies. A quick note about the book's intended audience: some Catholics may wonder why a book about spirituality by a Catholic priest includes insights from other Christian traditions as well as Buddhism, Islam, and Hinduism. Fr. Martin writes for a broad audience, and I hope that his Protestant and non-Christian fans from the Huffington Post and the Colbert Report will pick up the book; I think many would be surprised at the relevance of its subject.I heartily recommend Between Heaven and Mirth for anyone interested in furthering their own spiritual journey ¿ or just looking for a few new jokes from their repertoire. The Church's rich tradition of faithful joy is a treasure that deserves to be shared, for humor is a gift from God.Or, as Hilai
Great read for anyone who needs to be reminded that faith is about joy, not suffering.
First I must confess to being a James Martin fan. And this book combines his wittiness and spiritual insights. He begins by noting that some people talk about the vice of excessive levity. Or is it a vice? Next he distinguishes scared joy, happiness in God, from profane humor. Joy he says is a sign of God but many saints had a great sense of humor. This book is about humor and it relates humor to spiritual joy. Throughout the book are interesting examples of mirth such as the "Easter laugh." Many years ago in Germany priests would tell jokes in church. The idea was to laugh at Satan who was unhappy anyway after Jesus rose from the dead. There are stories from the Old Testament with elements of humor. One is Jonah being swallowed by a whale. The author retells the story pointing out what I now see as humorous aspects of it. Father Martin says humor may not be valued as much as it should because of the way Jesus is portrayed in the Bible. He is shown to be clever and articulate but not humorous. Perhaps what was funny then is not seen to be so now. For example the parable of a mustard seed growing into a big tree may have been humorous to the simple people to whom Jesus spoke. To us now not so funny. In the book are various other such example of time bound humor. Humorous stories about the well known saints such as Saint Teresa, Saint Ignatius Loyola and Saint Francis of Assisi as well as other saints witticisms are described. Of particular interest is the humor in the story of Saint Francis preaching to the birds. We tend to focus on the seriousness of the story but Father Martin points out the wit and wisdom in it. And it is not just about saints, Popes are featured as well. When asked how many people work in the Vatican, Pope and now Saint John XXII said, about half! Father Martin points out that over seriousness is not just a Catholic problem. In spite of the well know wit of Martin Luther, Protestant church are serious too. But joking and humor do have a history in churches. Quite a few stories about various priests and saints in various places throughout the world are told in this book. In the end Father Martin says excessive levity is not to be feared. He shows us how humor from Biblical to current times has been part of religion and so should be embraced. He concludes, "So to be joyful. Use your sense of humor."