The Rev. Susan Sparks, pastor, comedian and former attorney, was the featured speaker July 25 at the Ninth Triennial Gathering of Women of the ELCA. Recalling Isaiah 58:12, which serves as the gathering theme Bible verse, Sparks told the more than 2,000 women in attendance that laughter can help repair and rebuild the breaches in life.
“The words are so beautiful. I mean, what more honorable thing can be said of a person than that they are the repairer of the breach? We all in our own way try to be the repairer of the breach, the rebuilder of the ruins. In my own life, I try to do this through the power of humor.”
Sparks said one of her core messages is the ability to laugh at oneself. “If you can laugh at yourself, you can forgive yourself. And if you can forgive yourself, you can forgive others.”
Sparks described her experience in Calcutta, India, working with Mother Theresa’s mission and of meeting a young orphaned girl named Anna, who although blind and deaf, could feel the vibration of laughter.
“So I laughed, she put her ear here,” said Sparks pointing to her chest. “She laughed, I laughed, we went back and forth like that for hours it seemed like. And it was in that moment that I realized the connection. You know, it’s like God dropped a neon sign, yes, humor, joy relates to the spiritual path. It relates to religion. Here is this little girl with basically nothing in western standards, no family, no home, probably very little life expectancy, yet she just exuded humor and joy from this deep, deep place.”
Sparks talked about repairing brokenness in oneself, in relationship with others and during times of crisis.
“We all carry brokenness in our lives from whatever source. We can get beaten down pretty easily in so many different ways. We all carry 3700-page to-do lists, and especially as women, we manage so much in our lives that sometimes we can lose perspective. We can lose perspective of where we fit in the big scheme of things, how our problems, our issues, our to-do list fits in the big scheme of things.”
“But we can tend to beat ourselves up so much. And here’s where humor comes in. Because when you can laugh at a situation, when you can laugh at yourself, you are able to step back and get some perspective on things.
“I mean, we’re all just human beings under construction. We’re just doing the best we can, and we’ve got to cut ourselves a little bit of a break. We may chase a lot of stuff in this life, big houses, fancy cars, money, titles, whatever. None of that matters because — you ready? — the size of our funeral will depend solely on the weather,” said Sparks.
Sparks told the gathering that humor also helps to “mend the breach with us and others.” This brokenness, she said, can be created by small differences between people but at times “the breach goes to much more difficult things, things like race, nationality, religion.” Sparks said in the midst of these divisions, it’s important to remember that “we all laugh in the same language too.”
Sparks said that as a breast cancer survivor, she also understands “healing the breach in times of tragedy, in times of loss. But it doesn’t have to be breast cancer,” said Sparks, saying crisis comes in many forms including “the loss of a job, the loss of a marriage, it could be depression, it could be standing in line at the DMV (department of motor vehicle). It doesn’t really matter. We all feel pain in our lives, and my point today is simply that in that place of pain, we have two choices. We can stay in that place of pain, or, like Anna that I spoke about earlier, we can access that deep gift of joy that’s right here,” she said pointing to her heart.
In closing, Sparks shared with the audience the lesson her parents taught her about leaving the world better than she found it. “Leave things better than you found them. Leave your family better than you found it. Leave your community of faith better than you found it. Leave your denomination better than you found it. But don’t wait too late.”
“Every single person here and on this earth, is given wonderful, unique gifts, and it’s our duty, it’s our responsibility as human beings, as Christians, to live that gift to its fullest, no matter where we find ourselves. When we live those gifts, when we grab onto those and live those gifts, it’s in that moment that we transform. We blossom into our possibility. We become, as individuals and as people, healers of the breach.”
Photos: Top left: Women in Friday’s plenary laugh at Susan Sparks’ message. Right: Hazel Wentzell, Brimingham Ala., Faith Lutheran, gets her book signed by Susan Sparks.
Candice Hill Buchbinder (ELCA News Service)