Thursday, September 07, 2006

The Wise Fool and other Uncomfortable Thoughts

Today I saw a van full of Flannery O'Connor characters. The side of the van read, "N. E. Dream Center." I'm still not sure what to do with this image.

There's this literary archetype of the wise fool, which is a character who seems crazy to everybody else in the story, and sometimes to the reader, too, but who actually has a better idea than anyone about what's going on. The other week when I said God must be crazy, I started thinking about that, and about how uncomfortable it would be if that were true.

I mean, you kind of have to like the fool in King Lear. The construct works really well as a story-telling device. Even O'Connor's eccentrics, who you wouldn't really want to have to deal with in real life, are somewhat manageable due to the distancing effect of the fact that they're fictional. But what if it were really true that "crazy people" know something about the world that the rest of us are missing? Sometimes I say, and other times I actually even believe, I must be crazy, and sometimes I affectionately tell my friends they are, and we laugh hahaha and carry on with whatever we're trying to do at the moment. Probably it's true that we're all a little insane, but most of the time we can find at least one person who's a little worse off in the grasp-on-reality category, to make us feel better. (I should probably confess here that I have, in the course of my life, been on what is commonly referred to as "meds." I may well be one of said people worse off than you in the grasp-on-reality category. I'm just saying, I can probably also find people worse off than myself. Or I can pretend I can.)

There's this lady who comes into our store almost every day. All of us rush to fill her order even before she asks, not because we are filled with such great respect for her, but because we can't stand to look at her full beard, and we keep hoping against hope that if we serve her quickly enough, maybe, just maybe, she won't say, in her completely monotone and unnaturally low voice, "I want a venti coffee; don't fill it all the way." It never works. She always says it. Then she takes her not-quite-full cup of coffee to the chair she has adopted, if it's available, and sits, staring at her hands, picking the skin off of them, and talking almost inaudibly to herself.

I don't really want to think that she might have some insight that I'm missing.

Not that she should have to stay like that or that people like her shouldn't be assisted when and however possible. But I don't know. I don't think God leaves Himself without some sort of handhold in anybody's life, and I guess it's not totally beyond the realm of possibility that He reveals certain things about himself to "people like that" (whatever that really means) that those of us who are more at home here miss. It might explain why certain things in the universe seem so upside-down. I don't think it resolves the problem of pain or evil, but if I can't even fathom what's going on in the mind of our resident bearded-lady, I don't think I can really hope to explain what's going on in God's.

I don't really like thinking, either, that God has anything in common with Flannery O'Connor characters (although apparently she did, which is why she wrote about them). It's scary, especially because He's continually asking me to trust Him and I don't know how to trust someone who is, apparently, nuts. I'd rather think of Him in what seems like more respectful terms--loving Father, Lion of Judah, Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world--stuff like that. And all those things are true. But, as C.S. Lewis hinted in his "He's not a tame Lion" assertions about Aslan, God, though unchanging, can also be unpredictable and frightening, and maybe He really is crazy--at least from the vantage point of us finite "normal" people.

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