By Marcy Hall, Abbey of the Arts

Today’s Bible reading

For who makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! You have begun to reign—and that without us! How I wish that you really had begun to reign so that we also might reign with you!

For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in  Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored! To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless. We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. — 1 Corinthians 4:7-13

More thoughts for meditation

So much is made of “identity” these days — and for good reason, since the world plasters labels on us, puts us in restrictive boxes accordingly, and then persecutes us if we don’t stay there! Let’s spend a week trying on some “identities” that are gifts of God and serve to free us and fulfill us, not exploit our desires or restrict our fulfillment. For instance, try on the “holy fool” today. If you are filled with the Spirit, you’ve got that “fool” in you.

In today’s reading, Paul names himself and other apostles as “fools for Christ.” Francis of Assisi wore the title proudly, as do many of the members of Circle of Hope. Francis stripped off his clothes in public and handed them back to his parents; he renounced all his wealth; he befriended creatures (like a man-eating wolf, one time); he walked beyond Crusader battle lines to speak to the Egyptian Sultan! All seemed foolish to almost everyone.  Isn’t that why he is a saint?

The holy fool in all of us longs to turn things upside down and helps us see things from God’s perspective. The fool in us dismantles the wisdom of our times — like Paul says, “Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?” (1 Corinthians 1:20). Shouldn’t we knock “gods” off their pedestals: productivity, progress, consumption, speed, virtuality, capitalism, individualism, etc. etc.? If we do that, the world will likely confirm our identity as fools, if not holy.

Most fools, like Jon Stewart and other late-night hosts have become, reveal the hypocrisy of the powerful. They point to the possibility of truth beyond normal conformity. Through playfulness and humor, or just being kindly bizarre, the fool tears down treasured illusions and illuminates new paths.

Suggestions for action

Have you ever demonstrated this movement of the Spirit? If you did, it might have been the time you appeared most like Jesus, who declared his kingship by entering Jerusalem with an “army” bearing palm fronds instead of pikes.

Most of us never want to look foolish; we have a knee-jerk reaction to the shame we feel when others look at us funny. We may have lived by the “rules” or been very concerned with how we or how things appear. It might be hard to play, or laugh at ourselves. (By the way, humor and humility have the same Latin root humus, which means earth, or ground.) What does God say when you two talk about not wanting to look foolish in the eyes of the world?

Do questions about your hair, clothes or living room furniture get in your way of praying about being a holy fool? The word is: a fool has no possessions, no family, no position, and so can speak with prophetic boldness. Doesn’t that sound like Jesus in you?

One more thing to act on: take an inventory of whether you activate the “shadow” fool. When the fool is not inspired by God, or the calling is suppressed, the energy can come out in destructive ways. The shadow fool uses humor to tear people down or to get attention for how “wild” they are, or how “rebellious.” We can find ourselves moving toward cynicism rather than constructive criticism of the world’s problem, adding to the confusion rather than the hope. What’s more, the shadow fool can end up breaking rules for the sake of the breaking, rather than to reveal a truth. They can ignore all the norms of behavior at great cost to themselves and those who follow their recklessness rather than balancing tearing down with building up.

Pray: I receive what you give me. Give me courage when my prize is mocked and my praise misunderstood.