I’m used to smiling, even laughing, while watching The Colbert Report. I expect to actually. What I don’t expect is to find myself smiling and laughing (OK, maybe even squealing!) with absolute delight upon seeing spontaneous communal prayer take place on the show - which is exactly how I found myself when Tyler Perry and Stephen Colbert recently bowed their heads to pray together.
It happened innocently enough: while asking Perry what he thought might make the presidential debates better, Perry answered: “Prayer.” He then asked Colbert if he wanted to pray. Colbert laughed, agreed and away they went. Colbert kicked off the prayer and Perry piped in. Of course, being The Colbert Report, the prayer was full of silliness and comedic effect. But that’s what made it all the more delightful.
While certainly plenty of well-intentioned, God-fearing folks will watch the clip and take offense or will see it as mocking God or the holiness of prayer, I believe Colbert and Perry showed a fuller understanding of the nature of God. In fact, their prayer seems to be a lovely example of how God wants us to pray. Not only did they heed Jesus’ instructions for praying collectively (our Father, our daily bread, our trespasses and all that), they lived out James’ words to pray as the mood strikes. Consider James 5:13-14, 16:
“Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. …Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.”
I don’t think it’s too much of a leap to believe that a 2012 James might have added: “Is anyone going on The Colbert Report? Laugh and pray!”
In this world where God is so often seen as a sort of Giant Killjoy in the Sky and where Christians as haters of all things fun, we should celebrate the beauty of two professing Christians laugh their way into and through a prayer. Giggled prayer is a skill any kid growing up in church should master and one that no faithful adult should lose. Going to God with our jokes and giggles is a sure sign of spiritual maturity. Not just because Jesus tells us to have faith like children, but also because it reinforces that we can go to God with anything and in anything. That while we are to revere God, to honor him, to fall before Him in awe, we should also know how to laugh with Him.
God knows (literally) that I spend enough time on my knees (figuratively) in solemn or weepy or lamenting prayers. God sees enough of my anger and my fear, my frustration and my confession. While I’m certain God is good with me coming to Him with all this, I’m also certain God’s good with my guffaws.
This moment on national television shows the faithful and not that Jesus’ words to pray to “Our Father” together don’t have to be dour, that prayer doesn’t have to be a private matter, that a relationship with Jesus Christ doesn’t have to be steeped in seriousness and that talking to God is kind of funny. And wonderful.