The best medicine
“ELIZABETH,” an older member of our congregation, confided, “ever since last week, my wife’s had me walking round the house being a hen.” You’ll be pleased to hear I haven’t taken up marriage guidance, but the avian antics are, most definitely, my fault.
When we first arrived in the benefice, the local Women’s Institute invited me to give a talk. Because the proposed date was then a comfortable 18 months away, I agreed. “Speak to W.I., March 2019” was duly entered into my diary, and, largely, I confess, forgotten about — until I was asked for a title for my 40-minute talk. “‘Life as a Vicar’s Wife’ would be great,” my contact suggested, “or ‘Midwifery Tales’?” Given that both have the capacity to be a little, shall we say, unsettling to the uninitiated, I plumped for “Laughter Yoga”: a form of exercise which combines intentional laughter with pranayama (yogic breathing).
Several years ago, I became intrigued by research showing the short- and long-term effects of laughter on physical and mental well-being; even laughter which is faked can lift mood, relieve pain, and improve cardiovascular health. In short, as Aristotle once opined, “Laughter is a bodily exercise, precious to health.” I subsequently trained as a laughter-yoga leader, and have used it in many settings, but never, before last month, as a speaker at a WI meeting.
So it was that I arrived, slightly apprehensively, at my first ever WI meeting. Would there be jam? Would there be Jerusalem? Would they laugh? The answers, my welcomer told me, were: Yes, on the scones; No, not usually; and, as for their laughing, Only time would tell. Encouragingly, I was told that a packed house was expected, as several non-members had asked to come, their interest piqued by the topic.
Formal business concluded, I was introduced to the meeting. When I asked whether anyone had heard of laughter yoga, I was pleased to see one woman raise her hand. I then made the mistake of asking whether she’d ever taken part in a session. “Yes,” came the deadpan reply, “and I hope this one is better.” Even as I smiled and said that I hoped so, too, my heart was sinking faster than one of my leaden cheese soufflés.
Thankfully, once we got started, everyone threw themselves into the exercises (including the one based on my hens, which had caused the aforementioned marital mayhem) with such abandon that my husband later claimed to have heard the laughter from our garden, although I suspect he was only being kind.
Even those who had to remain seated joined in with gusto, and, by the end of the evening, everyone was smiling — even the woman who had been so dubious. “It’s not my cup of tea,” she told me, “but it was more fun than the other one.”
I expressed my delight that she had enjoyed herself, and she gave me a considering look. “You were very” — she searched for the right word — “enthusiastic.”
I’ve been called worse.
LAUGHTER was the response from my sons when I announced the roles I had been allocated in a community Passion play devised and directed by Emma Rucastle of Elart Productions (www.elartproductions.co.uk). They batted not an eyelid at being told that I was to play several parts in the Passion, including Chief Priest, Nard Seller, Roman Soldier, Bloodthirsty Mob Member, and, eventually, Jesus. When told that I was also playing the Virgin Mary, however, they dissolved into unchivalrous chortling.
I am well aware that I’m a tad on the aged side for any angelic announcements of impending motherhood, but, as I pointed out to them, the whole idea is that the cast of 24 are all ordinary people from a variety of backgrounds, faith traditions, and age-groups, retelling a quite extraordinary story — a little like the original film of Jesus Christ, Superstar, but without the hippy bus.
So far, we’ve performed in two churches and at Lancaster Priory; at the time of writing, we are looking forward to our final performance in Lancaster’s Market Square on Good Friday. I say “looking forward”, but I confess to a slight feeling of apprehension. Our audiences so far have been very receptive, and hecklers are (usually) few and far between in Anglican churches, but the crowds in Market Square may not be quite so kind. We shall see.
Finding my Saviour
NOT that the lead-up to the performances has been without incident. Each member of the cast was issued with a “Jesus” label to wear around his or her neck at appropriate moments during the performances. Because we have been responsible for our own labels, most of us have had the experience of losing “Jesus”. Once, on a train from Lancaster, I hadn’t even realised that it had fallen from my folder until a young man handed it to me with a shy, “Is this your Jesus?” I’d like to tell you that we then had a profound and life-changing conversation, but, in truth, I had time only to smile “Thank you!” before jumping off at my stop.
FOR all involved in leading worship, ensuring that the many Holy Week and Easter services and events run smoothly can be exhausting. I’m hoping that you are now enjoying a relaxing post-Easter break and are satisfyingly full of all the things you’ve denied yourself during Lent. In our house, this holiday usually involves falling asleep randomly and often; and copious amounts of coffee, chocolate, and, unsurprisingly, much laughter. Happy Easter!
Elizabeth Figg is married to the Vicar of Warton and Borwick with Yealand, in Lancashire.