Dearest monks and artists,
In spring of 2016 my ninth book will be published through Ave Maria Press titled Illuminating the Way: Embracing the Wisdom of Monks and Mystics. I am very excited to offer this set of reflections on the 12 dancing monks that have become the patron saints of our Abbey and connect each of them to an archetypal energy we can discover within ourselves.
Today is the Feast of St. Francis, beloved by many for his passion for creation, his commitment to service and the poor, and his embrace of the inner Fool – that part of himself that turns the world on its head.
Here is a brief excerpt from my forthcoming book exploring the Fool in relationship to Francis:
“We are fools for the sake of Christ” (1 Cor. 4:10)
There are many aspects of Francis’ foolishness, from stripping his clothing publicly, appearing naked in the church, renouncing his wealth, befriending all creatures, and calling his community of brothers “fools for Christ” reflecting the words of St. Paul above. He tames a wolf and during the Crusades he walks unarmed across the Egyptian desert into the Sultan’s camp where he had every reason to expect his own death, a foolish act indeed.
We are always being called to new revelation and to see the world from another perspective. The inner Fool is the one who helps us to see things anew and to dismantle the accepted wisdom of our times. Paul also writes “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Cor. 1:20b) Productivity, striving, consumption, and speed are some of the false gods of our western culture. A life committed to following the Divine path is one which makes the world’s wisdom seem foolish, but conversely, the world looks upon those with spiritual commitment often as the ones who are “fools.”
This can be a challenging archetype for some of us as we often try to do everything possible so as not to look foolish. However, this archetype is the one which helps to subvert the dominant paradigm of acceptable ways of thinking and living. The author GK Chesterton, in his book about Francis of Assisi, explores the idea of Francis seeing the world upside down, which is really seeing it right side up, because we get a totally new perspective. There is a subversive act of truth-telling through the Fool’s humor and playfulness.
The Fool risks mockery by stepping out of socially acceptable roles and asks where are you willing to look foolish? Through the fool we find vicarious release for much we have repressed in ourselves. If we have always lived according to the “rules” or been overly concerned with how things look, the Fool invites us to break open and play. The Fool encourages us to laugh at ourselves, reminding us that humor and humility have the same root as humus, which means earthiness.
We activate the fool when we do something that others have a hard time understanding or accepting. I remember when John and I first began our move to Europe and we sold off or gave away our possessions, various family members and friends couldn’t understand different things we had let go of – how could we release our library of treasured books? How could I burn years of journals? How could John quit his secure job? To some, our choices appeared “foolish” because they didn’t fit their way of thinking about how you move through life. To others, they seemed liberating precisely because it was a different path chosen.
How does Francis call you to your own path of holy foolishness? What have you been longing to do but afraid of looking “foolish” to others?
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
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