I know a person who is so intent upon saving the world that he sometimes forgets to have fun. I know another who is so hounded by the tragedies of life that he, too, forgets to have fun. I know still another who grew up thinking that her sole task in life is to obey the rules and be responsible, such that she, too, forgets to have fun. And I know still another who spends most of her scholarly time trying to convince others that God is not responsible for the evils in the world, and who, along the way, forgets that even God might like to have a little fun.
These people suffer from what might be called Fun Phobia. When people start talking about having fun, the those who suffer from fun phobia get nervous, impatiently waiting for the conversation to turn to more serious matters. And if they have to talk about fun, they quickly emphasize that it, too, is a serious subject worthy of study. The addition of the word "serious" means that fun can only be validated by something besides fun. They can't let fun be fun.
Fun as Relational Self-Enjoyment
By fun I mean the self-enjoyment of being one among many. The enjoyment can be physical or mental or both. Either way it is pleasurable and satisfying, on its own terms and for its own sake if it is, along the way, loving. Here I speak as a process theologian influenced by Alfred North Whitehead's philosophy of organism. We process theologians believe that something like experience goes all the way down into the depths of the universe. And we believe that experience includes what they call subjective immediacy or self-enjoyment. Here's how Whitehead puts the point in Process and Reality.
The organic philosophy interprets experience as meaning the the organic philosophy interprets experience as meaning the ‘self-enjoyment' of being one among many, and of being one arising out of the composition of many.’
Whitehead's point is that even the quantum events within the depths of atoms and even the stars in the heavens,, have fun. In the language of the geologian Thomas Berry, the universe is a celebratory event.
God as Merrymaking
At the heart of this celebration, unifying the many moments of self-enjoyment and simultaneously being composed of the many thus unified, is the very Mind of the universe: God.
Please don't think of this Mind as an object among objects in a visual field. It is not "here" as opposed to "there" but is instead everywhere, but also more than everything added together. See God in Process Theology. When we gaze up into the heavens and feel small but included in something more, we are sensing the living presence of God the Merrymaker. I use the word "merrymaking" to name the activity of having fun together and being enriched by the fun of others. This act does not have to be gregarious. When you watch someone else have fun -- a small child laughing out loud, for example -- and are inwardly enriched by the child's laughter, you are merrymaking. You are having fun with the child even as it is the child, not you, who is laughing out loud.
Merrymaking includes connection, joy, play, imagination, zest for life, and healthy self-affirmation. All are part of the spiritual alphabet of humanity.*
Yes, the spiritual alphabet includes activities such as justice-making and love and forgiveness and kindness. And it includes acts of repentance and an honest accounting of our sins (omission and comission). Everybody knows that acts such as these are important.
But ethics without a capacity for merrymaking quickly becomes oppressive in its own right. It can't let go; it can't laugh with others in playful and loving ways; and, perhaps most importantly, it can't laugh at itself.
We need to be people who can, like Sarah, experience laughter and joy. And we can be thankful that, when God told her she was going to have a baby, she laughed. Part of our calling is to laugh with her, because it's fun.