Under the Radar: <em>Between Heaven and Mirth</em>

EAST LANSING, MI – Lev Raphael has a book that might help you through the post-holiday letdown. He spoke with WKAR's Melissa Benmark.

LEV RAPHAEL: It's called Between Heaven and Mirth by James Martin, and I brought it in because I think this will make you laugh and make you think about life in a much more positive way. And we could all use that at this dark time of the year. Especially since the holidays, in which we're supposed to feel happy, don't always turn out that way.

MELISSA BENMARK: So what is the premise of the book? What does it cover? Fiction, non-fiction?

RAPHAEL: Well, it's part memoire and part prescriptive. The subtitle is, "Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter are at the heart of the spiritual life." And Martin's a Jesuit. And he's written a number of bestsellers. He's a very funny guy. He writes as if you and he were sitting on some wonderful back porch somewhere having the drink of your choice, and you've got the whole afternoon ahead of you just to shoot the breeze. He is witty. He is funny. And what he wants to point out is that, in his view, too much of people's religious life is pretty grim. People just don't understand that religion should be about joy.

BENMARK: I can see, though, that even that sentence could freak some people out, that religion is serious business. Why, in particular...what does he feel in particular does he feel causes us to excise joy from our spiritual practice?

RAPHAEL: Well, he thinks a lot of people are embarrassed. They're not also in tune with their own traditions, because he quotes great figures from Christianity, Judaism, and other religions, who are joyful, and talk about joy being something that we need to feel. I mean, he's not talking about euphoria and jumping up and down and screaming. He's talking about quiet happiness, contentment, enjoyment.

And he gives great examples and tells wonderful jokes all the way through. And what I liked about it most is that you do not have to be religious in any way, shape, or form, to have fun with this book. It does help, however, to have a sense of humor.

BENMARK: Is there anything in there about gratefulness? Because I think that so much of at least our society's end is to strive, and to keep trying for more. Does he handle the topic of being grateful for what we do have?

RAPHAEL: Absolutely. Thanksgiving and joy are two inseparable components of the spiritual life, and really any life. I mean, you don't have to be spiritual or religious to be thankful for what you have. And that doesn't mean you can't want more. But one of our problems as a culture is, as you say, we keep wanting more, so that we feel that there is no such thing as enough. And he says there is enough, if you come at life from the right perspective.