Like the ringmaster who enthusiastically introduces the clowns’ act between the trapeze artists’ and lion tamers’ daring stunts, contemporary culture is heralding the entrée of clowns into the circus of today’s world.
The clown, the harlequin, the unlearned, the madman, the tramp, the fool: the common denominator here is a wisdom which transcends the limits of rationality.
I will not dwell long here on the prophets of old, who would do all sorts of foolish things to convey elusive truths to their contemporaries. Isaiah, for one, walked around naked and barefoot to warn of the impending doom this fellow countrymen were drawing on themselves if they do not change their lifestyle. Neither will I recount the hundreds of anecdotes of men and women – the fools for Christ’s sake, as they were called – who over the ages acted as fools to grow in humility and to mock the over-clerical society of their time. Rather, I want to prove that they, the fools, are the heroes of our over-rationalised world.
Gone are the days of searching for rational truth. Scientific developments seem to be beating round the same bush yet failing to produce results which really quench man’s thirst for Truth. Men and women are now finally after something else: models of an authentic life.
The red nose, once described as the world’s smallest mask almost magically unmasks humanity to its authentic nakedness, calling for as much courage as simplicity. In any circus show or comedy, the clown – or fool – is an absolute failure and incompetence in persona. Yet, he emphasises the best of the human spirit, relying starkly on silliness, ineptitude and absentmindedness. In so doing, the clown connects with the innerother vulnerability of the other who is so often bound with the conventions of society which value success over failure.
Though not identifiable by a red nose or spotted pants, the fool sports a willingness to play – a forgotten verb in today’s productive culture – and an eagerness to connect with other people, hopefully luring them into play. Functionally speaking, the audience interacting with the fool is suddenly aware of their own limitations and failures, which the fool seemingly empathises with and outdoes. Incidentally, this happens to be one of the mechanisms responsible for the effectiveness of hospital clowning.
Francis of Assisi, the son of the well to do merchant who renounced all belongings to live a begger’s life for Love’s sake never ceases to be a shining example of the wise fool. The life he lived, in search of dishonour and contempt cannot be judged as successful because of any achievements, or even because of his effects on his brethren. Rather, the Christ’s Fool is celebrated for his tender love for God and God’s creatures, big and small.
Could it be that before us now lies the open road of a hope characterised by selfless, non-manipulative love for truth, formerly tainted by manipulation, domination and mistrust? Perhaps the folly of the Cross, the laying down of one’s life for one’s own enemies, can point to wisdom afresh.