Clowning in Rome, Henri J. M. Nouwen, Image Books, Garden City, NY, 1979.
I have known of Fr. Nouwen for many years, however, I did not learn of this book until 1996.
In the introduction, He relates how he came to be in Rome, and how he, as a Roman Catholic priest, was affected by his stay.
He then makes a statement that resonated with me, and gave me cause to pause:
"Clowns are not in the center of the events. They appear between the great acts, fumble and fall, and make us smile again after the tensions created by the heroes we came to admire.
"The clowns don't have it together, they do not succeed in what they try, they are awkard, out of balance, and left-handed, but...they are on our side.
"We respond to them not with admiration but with sympathy, not with amazement but with understanding, not with tension but with a smile.
"Of the virtuosi we say, 'How can they do it?'
"Of the clowns we say, 'They are like us.'
"The clowns remind us with a tear and a smile that we share the same human weaknesses" (pg 2).
As a child, I loved horses, and wanted very much to be a cowboy, and ride in the rodeos. I did all I could to make sure I was at the big rodeo that came to Denver every year. I could spend hours and hours among the animals and the events and not sense any boredom.
As I thought on the passage from Fr Nouwen, I was reminded of the clowns at the rodeo. Many of the clowns are former event riders that perhaps have been busted up too much, and can no longer ride. So, they go into the arena, dressed up as clowns, to bring some relief to the audience in between the bull riding events.
But even more important they are in the arena to hopefully keep a cowboy from getting hurt.
Numerous times I have seen a cowboy thrown off a bull, and the bull starts to attack him while he is down, only to have three clowns come running at the bull to distract him, to give the cowboy time to get up and out of the arena.
You know, at the end of the rodeo session, we are told of the stats of the cowboys and the animals involved; but we never hear of how many lives the clowns have saved.
Fr. Nouwen goes on to say: "Between the frightening acts of the heroes of this world, there is a constant need for clowns, people who by their empty, solitary lives of prayer and contemplation reveal to us our 'other side' and thus offer consolation, comfort, hope, and a smile.
"Rome is a good city in which to become aware of the need for clowns. This large, busy, entertaining, and distracting city keeps tempting us to join the lion tamers and trapeze artists who get most of the attention.
"But whenever the clowns appear we are reminded that what really counts is something other than the spectacular and the sensational. It is what happens between the scenes.
"The clowns show us by their 'useless' behavior, not simply that many of our preoccupations, worries, tensions, and anxieties need a smile, but more important that we, too, have white on our faces and that we, too, are called to clown a little" (pg 110).
A year or so later, I read The Humor of Christ, Elton Trueblood, Harper & Row Publishers, New York, NY, 1964.
Between these two books, I came to see that the Christian life is not all straight and narrow, fear of doing wrong; but instead is a life lived knowing that God enjoys a little humor also.
So much of our life is spent in trying to get ahead, trying to keep our head above water.
When I was actively studying psychology, one of the ideas I came to embrace was: "A sure sign of good mental health is being able to laugh at yourself."
I cannot begin to tell how many times I have been walking, and tripped over my own feet, or over an uneven sidewalk, and had people laugh at me. My usual response was to get angry and perhaps yell something at them.
But after seeing other people trip, and stumble, I came to see that there is humor in it, and began to learn to laugh at myself when I would trip, or stumble.
In fact, I came to the point where I would trip, and then say, "Wow! what a trip!" And at times follow up by saying "It wasn't a trip it was an adventure."
In our world today we are surrounded by "preoccupations, tensions, worries, and anxieties" and we are losing it.
A popular song some time ago used the words, "send in the clowns". To my way of thinking we need the clowns right now.
We need to see the humor in the things that so many are trying to corral us over.
Except, it ain't realy funny, when every elected official is doing all they can to gain more power over the individual.
Why do we have high gas prices? Elected officials like it when they can control our freedom, and tell us how to live our lives.
Why are we experiencing high grocery prices? Yup, elected officials again, trying to control our lives.
I think I have said enuff for the time being. Where are the clowns; where is the fun to break the ice and return us to living a life we love?