Burkes delights readers both in column and 2006 book

It’s fairly easy to coax a laugh out of someone if you rattle off some choice expletives or an off-color joke. But to be graceful and also funny is a rare talent. And when that amusement comes with a reassuring spiritual message, it’s divine.

Readers of chaplain Norris Burkes’ syndicated column – which began at the Gannett-owned Florida Today and now runs in 30-plus newspapers, including this one, on Tuesdays – are familiar with the messages of hope and strength he dishes out with a spoonful of irreverence. For anyone not in that flock, his 2006 book, “No Small Miracles,” is baptism by immersion. In it, he shows his halo, his humanity – and his press pass.

Burkes has had plenty of opportunities for angelic behavior as chaplain for hospitals and the U.S. Air Force. He’s been the comfort to families of seriously ill children, to grieving widows and widowers, to parents who find death at their door, in uniform.

As a chaplain, Burkes is trained to speak the spiritual language of the listener, whatever it may be. “I’ve done some fairly unorthodox things,” Burkes writes. “I’ve taped crystals to wrists, turned a bed eastward, put a healing blanket under the bed and garlic under the bed.” It’s rich material for the book’s stories.

Burkes puts his humanity right out there for the universe to see as well, which may help us non-clergy cut ourselves some slack. While looking for a new church to attend, he ponders the common charge that churches are full of “hypocrites”: “I tell them that church is a place where people gather on a weekly basis to acknowledge their imperfections. … Indeed, I hope to find a church that will be something like an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, where I can introduce myself by saying, ‘Hi, I’m Norris. I’m fairly messed up, and I’m going to need a place to worship.'”

The chaplain also amusingly shows his columnist’s card: “… if I weren’t a columnist, I might have been completely distraught when I backed my SUV into a wall. But the silver lining was that at least I had something new to write about that week. Describing that experience allowed me to share with my readers a sense of the suffering I had to endure each week to come up with new material for my column.”

Fortunately, though, it’s not the suffering so much that comes through in Burkes’ book or his columns. It’s the silver linings – in small things such as fender benders and big things such as life and death.