In January 2014, I had the pleasure to be in a group of 100 people invited to spend an evening in London, in the company of Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu. And it is just now over a year since he passed away, on 26 December 2021.
That evening had a significant impact on me. The topic of his talk was generosity.
I don’t remember much of what he specifically said that evening, but as Maya Angelou so wisely said, “People won’t remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.”
I do clearly remember how he made me feel: privileged, inspired and entertained by his humour and wisdom. I was deeply touched by the power of his wholeheartedness and humanity. He he’d been on the sharp end of such incredible lived experience of hatred, violence and prejudice, and yet was talking to us about generosity, love and kindness.
What I came to realise was that through the practice of forgiveness he had transformed much of the grit of his life into pearls of wisdom for us all. I was in the presence of someone who’s wisdom was derived from his own inner transformation. He had transformed some the pain in his life into wisdom and that gave him a natural authority.
Many religious people seem to lack a sense of humour. But not him! And he made me feel that as a representative of God, then God must have a sense of humour
He spent the first five minutes telling jokes and making us laugh. He then spent ten minutes delivering more serious spiritual messages and how amazing each of us can be, and how interconnect we are. He told us that we are the hands and feet of God, how we flourish through what we give to each other, and how generosity is at the heart of our divinity. Then he finished with more humour.
My abiding memory is of generosity, laughter and humour.
He was man of incredible spiritual power coupled with an amazing and engaging humility
I joked with friends afterwards that maybe he had actually missed his calling – he could and should have been a comedian!
That evening a seed was sown in my consciousness – to lighten up a little more, and to see the funny side of life! He inspired me to explore my own sense of humour more fully, to take things seriously and also be able to laugh and find humour.
He was clearly demonstrating how comedy and humour can act as an enzyme, helping us hear and digest ideas and messages more readily.
I was reminded of that seed last year, when I watched Mission Joy on BBC iPlayer: BBC iPlayer – Mission: Joy – With Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama
It documents a week that he spent in conversation with his friend the Dalai Lama in 2015, in Dharamshala in India, talking about joy. Those conversations became The Book of Joy.
Some of their week together was spent in prayer and contemplation, there were tears, but much of it, it seemed, was spent giggling and laughing. If two spiritual icons spend some of their time giggling, count me in!
I have come to believe that one sign of spiritual wellbeing is to have a healthy sense of humour. When we can simultaneously take life seriously and also be able to laugh at the unnecessary dramas and ridiculousness of aspects of our life, I think we may well have reached a healthy level of maturity.
Thank you, Desmond Tutu, for your gifts of life, love and laughter