Are you a fool? I am.
As proof of that, here I am in my Fool’s Hat, acquired shortly after I helped with the founding of The Faithful Fools Street Ministry in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. My UU clergy colleague, the late, great Rev. Kay Jorgensen and Sister Carmen Barsody of the Franciscans, had a vision of a “ministry of presence” to the homeless in one of the most depressed parts of the city. After almost 20 years, this powerful community ministry is still going strong.
The Faithful Fools vision didn’t make sense to many people. It was neither a shelter nor a food kitchen, with fresh socks and the occasional blanket being the only items handed out as Kay and Carmen walked the Tenderloin streets by night, simply mingling with and companioning the people who live on the street. Their building, dubbed “The Fools Court,” was (and is) a center for drop-in counseling, Bible study, poetry readings, movies, art and dream classes (a couple of which I taught) and more. It has been a community center that brings the homed and the homeless together in ways that transform both, including a great many UU lay leaders and clergy, me among them.
I am probably the least street-smart person whoever walked a day of ministry as a Fool in the Tenderloin. I could not bring myself to carry nothing with me, as I had been instructed. I brought $3.00 for a cup of tea and my driver’s license, so that my body could be identified. I blustered my way into using the locked bathroom in the lobby at the Marriott Hotel by shamelessly putting on my “game face” and asking to see the manager if I was denied. This was actually a humbling experience, as I had to face how dependent I am on the privileged ways I habitually move through the world.
My favorite memory of the day is of a large, burly, heavily tattooed man with a mohawk, sporting spikes on every article of apparel including his brass knuckles, who approached me purposefully. As I backed up as against a nearby wall, he gave me a friendly smile. “Did you know you have something green stuck in your teeth?” he said.
The Fool, the archetypal Trickster, brings in the edgy wisdom that no one is ready for, but everyone needs. The art of being a Fool involves moving adroitly between worlds, witnessing and proclaiming truth with wisecracking humor, calling forth the awakening of those who are ready to be ready.
The Fool takes risks. The Fool is not only willing to fail, but understands that for anything transformative to happen, some yawning moments of failure are built-in.
Shakespeare’s Fools – think Lear, Twelfth Night, As You Like it – stand outside the social norms. They are the companions of leaders who can’t marshal the wisdom to meet the times they live in. They are the ones to trust.
Once in a while I wear my Fool’s Hat to the grocery store. I always get looks and sometimes questions, “Is that a costume?” someone will ask. “I think maybe being human is a costume,” I respond.
This week, just as I felt moved to dig out my Fool’s Hat and write to you, I changed the “job description” for my counseling and consulting ministry of spiritual guidance, The Path of Joy, on Facebook. My new self-created job title is “Wise Woman.”
How can you be a Wise One if you’re not also willing to be a Fool? It’s paradox. The two sides seem incompatible, yet both are true. We live in the tension.
I know of no better way to call forth the energy to grace your life in the coming year, especially in the times we live in, than to lift up the energy of the Holy Fool.
Where are you called to be a Holy Fool in your ministry? Where do you need to take risks, tell hard truths, move into new possibilities that require you to live on the edge, face the chance of failure, but also embrace a vision that will not let you go?
May you find the courage to claim both your inner Wise One and your inner Fool this year.
I are with you. Blessed be.
With You on the Path,