Friday, June 3, 2011

Jokes that had once been funny

“I may be 62,” my dad said with a wily twinkle in his eye after he blew out his birthday candles on Sunday, “but I can still pass for 61.”

The joke is always funny to a few non-family members in the room as it might have been to us the first several times we heard it many years ago. At this point for the family members who have heard him say it year after year, however, who have adapted it on their own numerically smaller birthdays (after all, though I am 28, I do not feel a day older than 27!), the joke is not funny as much as it is comforting. It is part of the liturgy of the family, the repeated phrases and jokes-that-had-once-been-funny that let us know that, while so much has changed around us over the decades, some things have remained the same.

“I’m deathly allergic to zucchini, and anything else I can’t spell.”

“It’s as I always say: feta makes everything betta!” (my joke, to which my dad’s response is “Gag me with a spoon!”—he is allergic to a great many things).

“Ahhhhhhhhh...choo-choo train!”

Once upon a time, these jokes had been funny in their own right. Now they produce laughter not because of the joke, but because of the teller. We laugh because the words have somehow molded into our image of the speaker himself, because the words have combined vacuous ideas with a living, breathing person whom we love. We laugh because we love.

And as we grow in the faith of a God who has revealed himself to us as the Word made flesh, the rereading of Scripture and the repetition of liturgy has every bit as much vitality as my father’s predictable jokes. We repeat words we have spoken when our hearts were breaking or when they rose in exaltation, and we are connected to the person from whom we first heard them, the person who spoke them to us time and time again, the person of Christ and his Church. The Word was made flesh in the Incarnation, and words are still a part of the person from whom they are born. Repetition becomes an expression of love.

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