Come, be a Holy Fool…

by Hilary Horn

By Talitha Fraser

I do not aspire to be holy…

only human.

Holy Fool – I think but do not act, believe but do not live, choose a way but do not walk the way.

I aspire to be human… but I guess a ‘good’ one.

Choices. Time. Needs. Expression.

Who do you say that I am?

         …that is not who I am

Fear and love,

         fear and love.

The Holy Fool then

alone in bed dreaming

yet not asleep

would you have things

as they appear they are

or be what they could be?

lonely fool…

No one is listening.


We follow a fine, radical tradition of human and holy fools.  English royal courts often had someone in the role of Fool or jester – an entertainer – the etymology of that word being from the Anglo-Norman (French) gestour meaning storyteller. Fools would speak truth (exaggerated and satirical but truth all the same), be comedic performers or might give bad news no one else could deliver, their “role” a voice perhaps to say what everyone else was thinking… what no one else dared to say to the seat of power. The Easter story reminds us every year of the invitation, and the challenge, to live our lives playing a role outside of the normal rules.  

Being foolish enough to believe we can make a difference – with our voice, our stories, our truth, where we put our bodies… – is a tradition of our faith and it’s faithful and we have many examples to look to.  The Apostle Paul described himself as “a fool for Christ” (I Cor 4:10, NRSV), a spectacle to the world going hungry, thirsty, beaten, falling into disrepute for the sake of the cause.  Theological animator Ched Myers tells us Paul’s “theology of radical inclusion was disconcerting to both Jewish ethnocentrism and Hellenistic ideologies of superiority.  In Greco-Roman antiquity the cultural, economic and political enmity between Jew and Gentile was profound… But Paul refused to abide by the social divisions around him, instead trying to build bridges called churches.” (Myers & Enns, Ambassadors of Reconciliation, The Mennonite, March 2011)  

American prophet of nonviolence and social change Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was called a fool by some for trying to change centuries of racism. “He built a movement that desegregated our society, yet he didn’t stop there. In a famous speech he made in New York exactly one year before he was shot in Memphis, Dr. King drew connections between the violence in the streets of US cities and the violence of the war in Vietnam…” shared peace educator and activist Elaine Enns, reflecting on walking in a Palm Sunday Peace Parade with some of her students from the Peace and Justice Academy, on teaching a new generation of youth about alternatives to violence to resolve conflict. (Enns, Fools for Peace: A Palm Sunday Peace Parade Reflection, BCM Enews, March 2012).

Travelling arts troupe Carnival de Resistance perform personifying elements: air, water, earth, fire – through music, song and dance – colourfully and creatively giving voice to the natural world to speak for itself. When they come to town they set up a village, stage and school for social change to educate and engage on issues of ecological justice.  Jon and Kim Cornford of MannaGum, a small Australian organisation, work to educate and promote alternative, biblical economic principles. An economist, Jon Cornford writes that, “…there is little doubt in my mind that wherever capitalism has come to dominate that bonds of community have been undermined, people have become more isolated from one another and the earth has suffered. And far, far too many people have suffered unconscionably as casualties of capitalism’s advancement. While capitalism’s capacity to produce wealth is undeniable, its contribution to human wellbeing is much more problematic.” Living simply by the practices they promote MannaGum offer a course in living a Different Way that invites participants to explore slow, sustainable and Sabbath ways of living.

Our peers, elders, and our elders’ elders… we share a common truth and a common story. You may well not have heard of all this work or the workers “Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, so honor is not fitting for a fool.” (Proverbs 23:1). I can’t idealise this way of life, if you are able you might like to consider accessing resources from or supporting the work of these Holy Fools this Lent, they do good work but they don’t make a lot of money at it.  Truth-speaking and storytelling to political powers is a chancy business and rarely are the messengers rewarded.  For many of us who call ourselves Christians we know and understand the way our faith calls us to live differently – we know the invitation and the challenge of it, the impossibility and the importance.  Living in community I ask of myself both: How do you wake up each day and remind yourself to love the other well? and How do you wake up each day forgetting that? From the outside looking in it looks like a fools game and I, I am being foolish too. What stories might you tell? What truth might you speak? Reconnect with the provocation of being Foolish this Lent, or rather, as Paul began his letter “Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.” (I Cor 4:1, NRSV)

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1 comment

barry jung February 28, 2018 - 12:08 pm

foolishness is sub-versive. Thanks for this post Talitha!

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