I've always been afraid of clowns.
Ever since I could remember I hated birthday parties where leering goons would get in my face trying to force me to laugh; I despised carnivals and fairs where over-sized balloon pants and polka dots would be lying in wait around the carousel or the ferris wheel; and I cried the night at Bible camp when the counselors dressed up as clowns as part of our kids' fair… after we'd learned about how we were going to hell.
In my mind, clowns are all like this:
Stephen King's "It" is, believe it or not, one of my favourite stories of all time and the (sort of) cheesy made-for-TV adaptation is a beloved classic sitting on my DVD shelf. The whole premise is that a group of bullied kids from a quaint town in Maine are terrorized by a child-eating monster posing as a clown.
The clincher is: they're the only ones who can see It. Adults are too old to believe in their fear anymore, but remain powerless to stop the murders because they can't see the true cause. Thanks to the faithful record-keeping of one member of "The Losers' Club", they are all drawn back to their hometown as adults for a final face-to-face showdown with the brilliant Tim Curry as "It".
It wasn't King's story that sparked my fear, although I have no doubt he fueled it when I first read the book. What it did was legitimize my terror of all clowns: creatures with evil hiding behind painted faces, mockery in those posed giggles, strange dimensions in those out-of-proportion clothes and accessories… ugh!
Forgeries! These people are forgeries! If I believe the facades for a second, I'll be ripped to shreds or swept away to some crazy world where I'll never be seen again. (don't laugh! It's called 'coulrophobia')
… I began reading Clowning in Rome.
Clowns are not the center of events. They appear between great acts, fumble and fall, and make us smile again after the tensions created by the heroes we began to admire. The clowns don't have it together, they do not succeed in what they try, they are awkward, 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 [paupers helping paupers, priests feeding drunks on the streets of Rome, nuns washing the feet of shut-ins, poor folk sharing bread, mystics, dreamers, poets, healers] remind us with a tear and a smile that we share the same human weakness."
In my late teens I began to refer to myself as "Heaven's Court Jester" — bumbling around God's throne room with silly antics, frustrated moves and laughable (rather than laudable) attempts at community. No matter what I did, I seemed to end up in deep darkness… failing friends… lonely… unable to please God despite my repeated declarations that I loved Him/Her. I botched life — wasted it, really — and couldn't seem to get it together.
But I wanted to serve.
Oh how I wanted to serve!
Hurting children, neglected youth… having gone through such dark times of my own, I wanted to embrace those who were aching for healing and hope. And I tried, Henri. I really did try. And God smiled. God actually smiled. But I interpreted the smile as one of sneering, not one of deep pleasure and acceptance.
My first thought when I read your words was: "Oh dear God! I am the thing I fear the most…"
I was a clown.
I am a clown.
I am the thing I fear the most.
But if I'm listening to your voice correctly, I have no need to fear bumbling around the world… failing… stumbling… being clumsy. You said nothing of clowns having false faces or gawdy paint. You called people who chose celibacy ("What?? No SEX?!?!"), solitude ("What?? No FRIENDS?!!?"), prayer ("What?? No REAL people?!?!"), and contemplation ("What?? Just what IS that?!!?") clowns.
We are a silly troupe, filled with imperfect crazies who wander the gutters, find Jesus in the eyes of addicts, sit and wait for a word from God (even when people sneer that we're too dumb to realize there is no god), and we practice life in such a way that the great heroes of our time scratch their heads… maybe even flip the bird… and wait for their time again on stage. We are the ones of the in-between. We aren't named, we aren't acknowledged, we aren't discovered and we aren't decorated pleasantly so the audience will cheer for our victory. We're fillers… teasers… distractions… goof-offs. Who knows why we do what we do, but whatever we actually do — whoever we actually are — we are love, are peace, are companionship, are poets, are holy spirits.
But what's even more ridiculous is: we don't seek to be the heroes or the villians. We don't want to gain the certainty of the main stage, preferring to remain in the in-between because this is where people fall through, where they end up, where they hit bottom.
Until today, I had no idea how afraid I was of myself.
Even saying such a thing has me terrified of what people might say ("She's thinking far too much of herself", or "She's really not THAT different from us").
Whatever folks might think or say, believing the know my journey, they have no idea how afraid I was/am of clowns, how afraid I was/am of myself.
For I have been living in the in-between. I was/am a clown without even knowing it. Sure I had an inkling with my Heaven's Court Jester moniker, but it was a name I tried to erase from my identity. Perhaps I should have taken a closer look at how pleased God was with a clumsy inept child, unable to have healthy friendships, but with a big heart, mind and spirit for… whatever my God wanted.
I need not be a child-eater to be a clown.
I need not be a stranger, waiting to kidnap folks to be a clown.
I need not be dressed in polka dots (thank god) to be a clown.
I can be down in the gutters.
I can accept poverty.
I can be celibate.
I can pray.
I can meditate and contemplate.
I can live in solitude.
… yeah, I can be crazy.
I can be a clown… God's little clown with no heroic reason for why I live how I do other than I love my Jesus. Pretty freaky, huh? (did they ever use "freaky" when you were around, Henri?)
I am who I am because the love Jesus infused me with attracts me back to my Creator.
I might not run out to the circus tonight and pay to see a bunch of face-painted lunatics, but maybe… just maybe… I can learn not to be afraid of myself so much anymore.