Send in the Clowns
Theology for the Imaginative and Vulnerable
A Process Theology of Clowns
Clowns walk on stilts, revealing the precarious side of life. They remind us that all things are contingent, that all things could be otherwise. This is what Whitehead calls the ontological principle. It is the idea that the very being of an entity -- the essence of actuality -- is an act of cutting off certain possibilities in the moment and actualizing others. Nothing has to be as it is, as if preordained by a cosmic blueprint. Life is fragile. Sometimes catastrophes occur. Often clowns are enacting catastrophes with a lower case "c" so that we can cope with catastrophes of a larger order: violence, climate change, death, and disaster. Amid all of this clowns are vulnerable and beautiful, with faces both happy and sad. When things are too ordered they create eddies of chaos which destabilize predictable habits of thought; and when things are too chaotic they offer pockets of order -- often in the form of humor -- which provide consolation for troubled souls. Clowns are smart, too. They outmaneuver their assailants, not by killing them, but by discovering novel possibilities for escape. Sometimes they even return, offering bouquets of flowers for reconciliation, thus overcoming the law of retribution with the freshness of grace. They are all about relational power. As they juggle their many balls, they are playful but serious, reminding us that life itself requires a contrast of lightheartedness and tears, neither to the exclusion of the other. In circuses they often function as transition figures, coming on stage between acts to make way for a new event, thus reminding us that we ourselves are always in transition, always in process. Fortunately God, who is also in process, sends clowns to us all the time. Sometimes they are people who invite us to share in playful resilience, sometimes they are animals who make us laugh or give us examples to follow; and sometimes they are fresh possibilities we discover in our imaginations. Process theologians call them initial aims. However they arrive, clowns lighten our loads and help us take another step in life. Admittedly clowns cannot wave magic wands and eliminate the larger catastrophes of life. Even after the clowns are sent, there will be a hardness in life. But clowns invite us into small but meaningful forms of resilient play which are sufficient grace for the moment at hand. Our calling in life is to receive the clowns we are given with gratitude and, as best we can, to become clowns for others. We, too, can send in the clowns.
Some Ways to Become a Clown
Sing Along with Send in the Clowns
Isn't it rich?
Consider the emotional impact
Go to a circus
Indeed, the circus can be theologicum gymnasium...And the clowns — don’t let them make themselves the kinds of fools that don’t matter. Because as some very old Christian theology knew, and as Harvey Cox’s book Feast of Fools: A Theological Essay on Festivity and Fantasy first taught me, Jesus has been pictured as foolish from the Christian scriptures forward, and Christ the fool or clown continues — to the embarrassment of many — to reappear in the tradition at interesting intervals.
Wear green eye shadow
Don’t take yourself too seriously. Wear green eye shadow, dance while you cook, laugh until you cry, climb trees as an adult, always take time to see things through the eyes of a child, wear leopard-patterned hats. Remember that play is a way of praising God.
Brush the dust off your jacket
Clowns can be seen as enacting catastrophe with a small “c.” They are experts in “failing better” who perhaps live on the cusp of turning catastrophe into a metaphorical whirlwind while ameliorating the devastation that lies therein. They also have the propensity to succumb to the devastation, masking their own sense of the void with the gestures of play....
Sweep light into darkness
Dimitri enters the brightly lit and empty circus ring with a broom in hand. The audience at this point have accepted the signal that Dimitri’s interludes prepare the ring for the next attraction—to sweep, as it were, the sawdust back to neutrality. He surveys the circle for a moment and then takes a position on the periphery to begin what appears to be a regular clean-up. The initial brushes over the sawdust, however, produce an unexpected result—the light rather than the sawdust responds to his broom stokes. Bafflement swiftly passes as an idea takes hold: the diminutive figure trots off to the other side of the ring and, after a deep breath and a quick glance to see if anyone is looking (we all are), nudges the next edge of light. Triumphantly, the pattern is pursued with increasing nimbleness, until the figure with the broom stands before a pin-spot of light at the ring’s centre. He hesitates, checks again about unwanted surveillance, and then, in a single strike (poof), sweeps light and the world into darkness.
They are at sixes and sevens here on earth but in tune with the stars, buffoons of time, and heroes of eternity. In the petty cogs of the causal, they appear foolish; in the grand swirl of the universe, they are wise, outmaneuvering their assailants and winning the race or the girl against all odds or merely retaining their skins and their dignity by nightfall.
Make pancakes out of sawdust
Chaplin is human not because his are the anxieties and frustrations of a man unable to realize his destiny, but because Chaplin—nearly starving, nearly homeless, a ghost in the machine—cannot not resist “the temptation to exist,” the giddiness of making something out of nothing, pancakes out of sawdust. In some sense the clown can survive every accident because s/he is an undead immortal, demiurge of a world without history. (ibid.)
Put on some weight
All you really have to remember about Fat Soul Philosophy is that a fat soul is a beautiful soul. In the process world view, God is the very Soul of the world, the ultimate instance of The Fat Soul, the One who lures us and all creation toward widening circles of Beauty. God yearns for beautiful relationships of earth and sky and people and turtles. God yearns for us to know that we are all of a piece, all deeply interwoven and wholly beautiful in our differences.
Become a carrot-headed, dirty-eared