Every Friday evening, the community here at the temple eat together. The people who live here are more or less involved with the Buddhist activities here, and so this meal gives us all an opportunity to meet at least once a week, in this big space where we might go from one week to the next without bumping into each other. People take turns to cook delicious food, and I traditionally fail to refuse as second portion.
The conversation tends to be light. We tell each other bad jokes and make up puns. We tease each other with fondness. It has somehow become a tradition that we play a game where we all guess the answer to a question – how long does it take frogspawn to turn into frogs? How many billionaires are there in the world? How many flavours of crisps are there? – before asking Google for the answer. This can lead to quite intense competition…
I sometimes experience moments of self-consciousness when we have guests. What will they think of us? Should we be discussing the Dharma, checking our behaviour against the precepts, or eating in contemplative silence? Should we be a bit less silly and a bit more, well, sacred?
It was a relief to read in Jean Vanier’s beautiful book about community (Community and Growth) that when they finish their meals with oranges, it has become a custom to throw the peel at each other. He speaks of the delight of suddenly finding a curl of orange peel on one’s nose. This once even happened when a Bishop was present. He says:
“True belly laughs are important in community life. When a group laughs in this way, many pains are swept away. Laughter is something very human. I am not sure if angels laugh! They adore. When human beings are too serious they become tense. Laughter is the greatest of relaxations. And there is something funny about humanity. Little as we are, poor as we are, with all our ‘animal’ needs, we are called to become more than angels; brothers and sisters of God, the Word made flesh. It seems so ludicrous and wonderful, so crazy and yet so ecstatic. And the most rejected are called to be at the heart of the Kingdom. Everything is upside down. No wonder some people at sacred moments have the giggles.”There is plenty of seriousness here. The Dharma is at the heart of everything we do in the temple. We bow to each other in the shrine room, and we greet each other warmly in the hallway. The shrine room flowers are arranged with care, as are the plants watered, the guest toilet cleaned and the carpets hoovered. We touch into these sacred moments when we eat too – when we say grace at the beginning of the meal, and when we ask each other how we are doing, or help each other to clear away the dirty dishes.
But if they throw orange peel at each other in Jean Vanier’s communities, then I shall continue telling bad jokes without compunction. I will continue to take photos of our stripy socks before we start our serious meeting when we all turn up wearing them. I will remember fondly the time in service when the celebrant got something wrong and we all broke into giggles and couldn’t stop. I shall trust that there is a time for lightness, and that belly laughs leaven our community here. One of the things that most attracted me to my teacher, Dharmavidya David Brazier, was the frequency of his hearty chuckle. Maybe others will be drawn to the Dharma by our silliness. Have you heard the one about the chicken that…
(PS if you have any favourite bad jokes, please do share them in the comments and I’ll share them at our next Friday meal!)
Image: author’s own