by Mary Rose Betten
Father Jim Clarke’s book Creating Ritual, A New Way of Healing For Everyday Life (Paulist Press) is a must read for any writer. Every week in our parish writing group, his book holds a place for all to see in the front of the room, reminding us to keep the three rituals we have chosen to practice during our two hour writing class.
First, we keep silence.
Second, when free-writes are read aloud, we comment only on what resonates.
Third, we never conclude our ten minute free-write without including humor. We call that “F.S.F.” (find something funny.)
Of course these are “writer takes” on Father Jim’s encouragement for ritual. Though our writing group gives a writer’s view to Father Jim’s rituals for transformation, since he is a writer, we have his blessing.
I learned the value of finding humor by attending Father Jim’s talks on ritual where I experienced his audience crying one minute then laughing the next. You would never guess anyone so wise could be so witty.
Inspired by his words, I purchased his book Creating Ritual – and then called for an appointment with him for spiritual direction. Of course I had to wait a few weeks to see him within this waiting period I had had a pivotal dream. It seemed providential: I could go to him now and offer him some material for his interpretation.
In my dream I am in a gigantic tank of ocean water, enclosed in glass with George Clooney. The tank is inside a museum, and people stand close to the glass observing us. We are beneath billowy covers and the museum audience is supposed to interpret what we are doing.
When I told this to Father Jim, he listened, cleared his throat, and then asked, “What does George Clooney symbolize to you?”
“Well, uh, I always found dark-haired men attractive and of course he is always doing good things and…uh, he is Catholic.”
Fr. Jim looked at me directly and said, “I think – creativity.”
“Excuse me Father?”
“Well you are…and he is….creativity.”
I still didn’t hear. Or I heard it very clear and couldn’t believe what he was saying….
I didn’t dare ask a third time so I replied, “Yes, I see. Father Jim, would you object if I brought a tape recorder the next time?”
The following month I entered with the tape recorder on.
MRB: Father my favorite passage is Mark 7:24-30 (the story of Jesus and the Syropoenician woman seeking healing for her daughter). Do you consider this a humorous passage?
FJC: Yes, I do. The beauty of a good story is that we can enter the story from so many different angles. One way to see this exquisitely poignant interaction is from the perspective of a woman who will do anything to get her daughter healed, including groveling at the feet of this itinerant preacher. Here she is in a man’s world publicly jousting with Jesus in a masterful way, using his words against him. I picture him laughing at her creative wit! Thus she wins the prize—healing for her daughter!
MRB: This is my favorite passage because the Syrophoenician woman is courageous in facing Jesus and also it involves food and personal identity. Food is such a constant temptation for me and often I feel like the frantic dogs she mentions under the table, waiting to pounce. I see them get tangled in the table cloth, knocking dishes to the floor, growling and baring their teeth while people are trying to eat.
FJC: Yes, indeed. The more we can bring our own life experience and struggles to bear on the Scriptures the more it comes alive. Our imagination then helps to bring meaning to the text.
MRB: Do you think this passage illustrates finding our personal identification as well?
FJC: Absolutely! Where are you in this scene? Do you identify with the woman, the other guests at table, Jesus, the dogs, or the table? How we enter the story gives us a wonderful perspective on how we are dealing with life at the moment.
MRB: This passage has appeared in my dreams twice. First, when I started as a stand-up comic (on stage I was a stranger in a foreign land) and the second time when our daughter, as a high school graduation present, traveled alone to Europe. I feared she would lose her faith, her money, and her common sense…Do you consider recurring dreams a type of ritual?
FJC: No, I see dreams as a commentary on how we are living or not living our life. Often dreams point us in the direction of a good ritual.
MRB: I understand there is a section on humor in your new book. What is the book’s title and is there a point there about humor you would encourage a writer to consider?
FJC: The book is entitled: Soul Centered: Spirituality for People on the Go (Paulist Press). Truly spiritual people have a healthy sense of humor and enjoy developing that perspective. This is what makes them believable, attractive, and balanced. A good sense of humor lightens the load and reminds us not to take ourselves so seriously. Laughter and tears are embodied expressions of seeing life as it is: True and absurd at the same time. The one who cannot laugh is a fool. So keep laughing and share the joy!”
I was tempted to ask him to repeat his conclusion to my George Clooney dream so I would have it on tape but it was far more inviting to keep on laughing and sharing the joy.
Originally published on CatholicFiction.net