US Catholic Faith in Real Life

USC Book Club: Between Heaven and Mirth

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March 2012:

Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life

By James Martin, S.J.


If you ever got in trouble as a child for laughing in church, prepare to be vindicated. In Between Heaven and Mirth, Jesuit Father James Martin reveals that God never intended for us to take ourselves, or our spirituality, quite so seriously. Joy and laughter aren’t contrary to a life of faith, but as Martin demonstrates, they are integral to it.

“Humor shows your trust in God, who will ultimately make all things well,” Martin writes. Though we’re bound to feel pain and sadness, too, he shows readers the value of laughing at ourselves and finding the humor in any situation. The ability to do so, readers will discover, is truly one of God’s greatest gifts.

 —Scott Alessi, Assistant Editor, U.S. CATHOLIC

Between Heaven and MirthHarperOne says: From the author of the bestselling The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything, comes a revolutionary look at how joy, humor, and laughter can change our lives and save our spirits.

Hardcover: $25.99

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General Book Club guidelines

Study Questions

1.) Have you found joy to be present in your own religious upbringing? If so, how has it influenced your spirituality? If not, what do you suspect caused this lack of joy?

2.) Early in the book, Father Martin offers five reasons for the disconnect between faith and joy. First, our understanding of God is a joyless judge. Second, the aim of religion (salvation, etc.) is often seen as one of overriding serious. Third, many religious groups seem more concerned with sin. Fourth, some religious organizations seem to reward the more serious types. And fifth, what many clergy deal with is in fact sad: illness, suffering, death. Which of these reasons resonates with you?

3.) Father Martin defines joy as "happiness in God." Does that make sense to you? How might that different from the more secular understanding of joy?

4.) Jesus, according to this book, was not only a joyful person but someone who must have had a sense of humor. Father Martin shows this with an analysis of some of the parables and other New Testament writings. Do you agree?

5.) Psalm 65 is presented as a joyful text, in which the "hills are girded with joy." What other Scripture passages do you find joyful?

6.) Many of the saints, often seen as gloomy types, are revealed to have been lighthearted--like St. Philip Neri and Blessed John XXIII. Which of the stories of the saints told in Between Heaven and Mirth most surprised, or delighted, you?

7.) The superior general of the Jesuit Order told Martin, when he was a young novice, that to attract others to the Jesuits he must "Live his own vocation joyfully." What ramifications might that advice have in your own life?

8.) Love, vocation and service are supposed to lead to joy. Is that your experience? In what way?

9.) Father Martin introduces the idea of God's "playfulness," and uses the analogy of the parent being playful with a child. For example, he suggests that God might be being "playful" when God encourages us not to take ourselves so seriously. What moments in your life were like that?

10.) Can you smile with God in prayer? Have you ever shared your joy with God? How might God want to share joy with you?

11.) How might gratitude lead you to joy?

12.) Which joke did you like the best?