The Holy Fool

I am in love with the Fool. My Jester, my clown. S/he is my conscience, the constant reminder that the “wisdom of the world is foolishness before God.” The Holy Fool has a long and venerable history in my faith tradition, even heartening back to the deserts of Syria. But the Fool is also a deep archetype in the human mind, one that disturbs us, humbles us, points us to all of the truths of ourselves and our human folly that we would prefer remain hidden from view.

The Holy Fool is a prophet, acting out madness on the stage of the world to point to our own insanity. S/he humiliates those in power by revealing their nakedness. The Emperor has no clothes. S/he shows the ridiculousness of our human “norms” by constantly violating them to show how those norms degrade the truth of human freedom. S/he shows us our vanity, our hypocrisy. And s/he often does so by making us laugh, and sometimes by making us cry.

This statue of the Holy Fool was a gift from two dear friends. It is a curio of unknown origin, and I’m sure they had no idea when they gave it to me that it would become a sacred object for me. That it would come to represent the Holy Fool that is a deep part of my spiritual life. Such is the way of the Divine Life. It catches us off guard and surprises us.

My Holy Fool carries a wooden spoon. The wooden spoon for me hails from my experience with a theater performance called the Fool’s Mass, performed by a theater troupe in New York called Dzieci, which means “children.” The performance is the story of a group of village “idiots” who inhabit a church whose priest has taken them in and taught them to sing. When the priest suddenly dies, this ragged bunch of women and men are forced to conduct the Mass without him, and utter madness ensues. One of the matrons of this group carries a wooden spoon that she uses to conduct, admonish, direct, and discipline the others. It is a simple symbol that for me has deeply feminine roots in hearth and home, but this symbol is transformed during the performance into a shepherd’s crook, a verger’s staff, and in one profound moment even becomes the spear that pierces the side of Christ during the breaking of the bread at the Eucharist.

There is very little doubt after watching Fool’s Mass who the “fools” in the room actually are. This is what the Holy Fool does. Uses their own madness to show us ours. And so, my Holy Fool uses the wooden spoon as a shepherd’s crook, or a conductor’s baton. It is burnt slightly as a reminder that the spoon points to and often comes too close to the Holy Fire of the Divine.

The wooden spoon stirs the pot. It feeds me a taste of holiness as from a mother’s hand. And it occasionally smacks the back of my own unruly hand to admonish me. My beloved and Holy Fool is a teacher, the Matron of the Hearth, the story teller whose tales are about the foolishness of the world and the wisdom of God. S/he upends my certainties by clowning around with them, sometimes loudly and sometimes silently, but always with an eye toward revealing the truth of our dignity by exposing the undignified ways we treat ourselves and others.

This is the story of my Holy Fool and the wooden spoon s/he carries. S/he appears tired because being the Fool is hard and sometimes thankless work. But s/he looks at me with pleading eyes, reminding me to look for folly in a world gone mad, because just beyond our knowing is the wisdom of God that we long for.