For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger that human strength.” — 1 Corinthians 1:25
I am fond of the Christian tradition of the Holy Fool. More prevalent in Eastern Orthodox churches than in western churches, the Holy Fools are saints from Christian history who seem to have been a little bit nuts.
|Holy Fool Basil|
For example, in Russia, one of their great Holy Fools was Basil. Basil would walk the streets of 16th century Moscow naked except that he would be weighed down by heavy metal chains. (Think Jacob Marley.) And Basil would throw stones at the windows of the wealthy and he’d steal from dishonest merchants in Red Square. He sounds like the sort of guy who needed to get back on his medications. But the people of Russia knew there was something special about this guy; even something holy in his crazy behavior. And so they named the great cathedral in Red Square after him.
But my favorite Holy Fool comes from the Greek tradition: St. Simeon the Fool from the sixth century. Now, Simeon has all sorts of crazy stories attributed to him. But the best, I think, is this one. One day Simeon went to church. He walked in and proceeded immediately to extinguish all the candles in the room. Next, he began to pull nuts out of his pockets and to throw them at women in the congregation and at the priests. The folks that were there, as you might get imagine, weren’t too pleased with this and tossed Simeon out. But just before he left the building, Simeon knocked over the great table of pastries which I’m sure bugged the heck out of the caterers.
Now, it might seem like Simeon was simply off his rocker. But the reason he threw the nuts was because these priests were eating publicly on Good Friday, which, in those days, was a day for serious fasting. These priests were not honoring Jesus Christ and so Simeon found a playful, if disruptive, way to let them know it.
And so, as crazy as these guys are, I think these fools are on to something. You see, we, in the church, sometimes get a little full of ourselves. We develop an exaggerated sense of our own importance. We have our beautiful buildings and our grand liturgies and we puff ourselves up a little. But the Holy Fools join St. Paul in reminding us is that “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise. God chose what is lowly and despised ... so that the one who boasts, boasts only in the Lord.” When Simeon tossed those nuts, he was reminding those present that all we have comes from God.
While it is right and good to have some pride in one’s self, that healthy pride that comes from knowing that we’re all created in God’s image, nevertheless, at the heart of it all, people of faith are called to a deep humility, rooted in the knowledge that all that we have and all that we are is gift.
And, further, I think this humility, this sense of our deep dependence on God, is something that we in the church right now are being called to reclaim. In this new age in which we live, the church is no longer central in society. Church leaders no longer walk the same halls of power and influence that they did even just 50 years ago. In this new time in history, Christians are being called again to be fools for Christ.
And this is by no means a bad thing! Because here’s the important, if not terribly profound, truth: fools have fun! The fool’s church of the 21st century needs to be a place of joy. In fact, I would go so far as to say that a church without fun is not a church at all. This is not to say that the work God calls us to is never important or hard or exhausting. But it is also to say that it is God’s work and so it’s always wrapped up in God’s joy. It is good to be God’s people because, when we engage in the work of God, we get filled with the very spirit of God. We forget this sometimes.
Sometimes our time in church or temple or mosque feels more like duty than benefit. Sometimes it feels more like it drains us than it energizes us. But what the fools remind us of is that, when all is said and done, to live in a community of faith is a very, very good thing. God says to us all, “Come with me, come with me, work with me, be with me and my people, and you will know more joy that you can possibly imagine!”