April’s Fool’s In You and Me

My little sister was born on the first of April. She was the one in our family who easily laughed at herself. Once as a kid, she tried to climb up my parent’s chest of drawers, tipping it over on herself. The crash had my mom and me in the bedroom in seconds, and there was Julie, laughing under the big chest, just her head and hands showing. She wasn’t hurt, not even her feelings, but she sure looked foolish.

The ‘Fool’ is figured in art as a man (or woman) enrapt in the scent of a flower in hand, walking along a mountain track with one foot about to step off a cliff he blissfully, ignorantly can’t see. The meaning of the Fool is that in fact, ignorance is bliss, but as a blessing, not a warning: though he will fall, he will also be saved. The Fool reminds me of that painting many of us slept under as kids, the one of little children playing on a bridge with rocks and water below, no railings, no parents in sight. Their Guardian Angel hovers over them, and we know they’ll be safe. The difference between the Guardian’s charges and the Fool is that his angel is not visible, and not likely to prevent his fall. The similarity is that in both cases, all will be well. What can that mean?

I think the answer lies in the fact that both the child and the Fool are innocently, fully engaged in the present. Neither the child not the adult is distracted by the dangers all around them; they are single-minded. The child holds the Guardian’s hand, the Fool has his dog keeping pace. Angels and animals: we walk in good company. Our inner gyroscope–the soul, ready to orient us–is visaged in the Messenger and the Dog, each with a single task of keeping us moving while utterly present and alive. Perhaps fear is the only real obstacle to our fullest contemplation of the Sacred.

Judaism has a saying, ‘All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the task is to cross without any fear at all.’

Many years ago I spent ten days on a spiritual retreat on the theme of opening up to what God has for us, in spite of doubt and fear. Among us was a Fool who spent the days making balloon animals to hand out to us, or plucking his guitar in a corner. He seldom spoke and had wild frizzy hair that bothered me. I felt annoyed by him; his childlike presence seemed intrusive and distracting on this retreat dedicated to cultivating the devotion to surrender to what is meant to be in life. I was not the only person commenting on this oddball. But on the last day’s morning service, he astonished all of us with a thunderously rich voice and lyrics powerfully attuned to the natural cycles of suffering, redemption and joy. He’d fallen off a few cliffs, and he lived to sing about the value of standing again, bloodied on rocks but not destroyed. He’d been overtaken by an angel or a big dog, had a talisman in his pocket, had something: a foolish faith. I petition God: Grant me a foolish faith in You, that I might not worry so much, not dread looking foolish before my peers, and not miss so much of the life You have set before me.

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