Between Heaven and Mirth Book Review

Book Review by Ann Jonas, Tradebook Buyer - CSB/SJU Bookstores
this review was published in the St. Cloud Visitor.

Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life by James Martin, SJ; October 2011; HarperCollins Publishers; 263 pp.

"Holy people are joyful people," says Father James Martin, a Jesuit for over twenty years, and a priest for more than ten years.  In his newest book, Between Heaven and Mirth, Martin invites readers to consider the importance of humor and laughter in daily life.

A few years ago, Martin wrote My Life With the Saints, a memoir in which he told of twenty saints who had influenced his life. Soon after, he began to give talks based on this popular book.  He found that no matter where he spoke-parishes, colleges, retreats, or conferences-what people wanted most to hear about was the way the saints enjoyed lives full of laughter, and how their holiness led to joy.  Martin had the feeling these people had been waiting for someone to tell them "that it's okay to be religious and enjoy themselves, to be joyful believers."  These discoveries, along with his realization that he has encountered a surprising number of spiritually aware people who "are, in a word, grim," were the impetus to pen Between Heaven and Mirth.  In the book, Martin makes the case that joy, humor and laughter are parts of a healthy spiritual life and that joyous believers will do more to evangelize than dour, humorless Christians.

Martin uses Scriptural passages, including the parables, to portray Jesus as not only joyful, but even playful.  He shares numerous anecdotes from his experiences as a lifelong Catholic to illustrate the value of joy and mirth.  The lives of saints and the world's great spiritual masters, including Pope John XXIII and Mother Teresa, are cited as examples of holy people who were joyful people.  Interspersed throughout the book are cute jokes and amusing sidebars and footnotes.  Note: Martin is not afraid to poke fun at himself and his fellow Jesuits!

In addition to showing us how joy, humor, and laughter can help us live more spiritual lives, Martin offers some practical advice on how to use humor and happiness to witness our faith. Good humor, according to Martin, is true, helpful, and kind; Martin suggests keeping these three measures in mind when voicing something we may think is funny.  

Practicing an "attitude of gratitude" can help recover a sense of joy when we are faced with adversity, according to Martin.  He describes St. Ignatius of Loyola's examination of conscience-- a simple, five-step prayer in which you review your day.  One of the steps is calling to mind the things for which you are grateful.  Gratitude, Martin states, reminds us of God's gifts in our lives, even during times of sadness.

Between Heaven and Mirth proposes ways we can add joy, humor and laughter into our prayer.  His three main recommendations are to be joyful with God, to share our grateful heart with God, and to imagine laughing with Jesus.  For further reading on joy, humor, and laughter, Martin includes a list of recommended titles.  He also lists the numerous books on the Bible, spirituality, and church history that he used in his research for the book.

James Martin is a Jesuit priest, culture editor of America magazine, and the author of numerous books.  Some of his comments and suggestions in Between Heaven and Mirth we may already know; however, the book is a wonderful reminder to look for and appreciate joy in our life.  Martin has a fun way of getting across his message.  His latest book is a delightful and informative read.

between heaven and mirth