Well, I’m distraught. What’s with this rash of scary clowns? Below, I offer my reason for creating a book series that features a holy clown.
A clown as a God figure? Seems like an iffy choice, right? As one book reviewer put it, “My only thing is a personal one….I find clowns to be very creepy, so I was not really thrilled that this is the way she chooses for God to present Himself to the characters.” I get it: I find snakes creepy myself. In fact, I created a snake art piece in an effort to face down my revulsion! But I digress. The reviewer makes a good point, and since I’ve chosen to write a whole series with a clown God figure, I’d better explain myself.
First, let’s give clowns their props. After all, they’ve been around in one form or another since ancient times. We have evidence of clowns in ancient Egypt, ancient Greece, and among the Aztecs. In the Middle Ages, court jesters carried scepters and wore tri-pointed, belled hats. Clowns figured as key characters in Shakespeare’s plays. Plus, we have the French Pierrot and the Italian Pantaloon; we have Whiteface, Auguste, and Character clowns made popular by the English & American circuses. And did you know that each clown’s face is her or his property and is not to be copied?
But here’s the thing about clowns: we don’t know what’s going on behind all that greasepaint. Sure, they look jolly on the surface, but that’s painted on; who knows what’s beneath? Could be outright diabolical. What’s hidden tends to unnerve us. And there’s another thing about clowns: they’re supposed to be innocent, much like dollies and puppies and little kids. Folks working in the horror genre have discovered a market in transforming that which we expect to be harmless and innocent into personifications of evil. Nothing sends the heart racing like being ambushed by what you never expected to have the capacity to do harm. Hence, films and books and video games about evil dolls, evil kids, evil clowns. I don’t know of any evil puppy stories, but it’s my idea, so back off. Point is, casting clowns as instruments of evil twists & perverts a clown’s true purpose: to delight us and to speak truth.
In contrast, hiddenness is right in line with a clown’s true nature. Behind the greasepaint, the wig or hat, and the huge, distracting clothing, we really can’t see much of the clown’s self. We have to wonder what his motivation is, what is she really thinking? Well, if we’ve spent any time in relationship with God, if we’ve walked around in the world very much, we are moved to wonder at times what God is up to as well. If your life thus far hasn’t brought up some question about God’s goodness and love, just give it time. That might not sound encouraging, but there it is. Sooner or later we discover that God is in many ways confusing, that God is hidden, that faith is WORK. Sooner or later we choose whether or not to give God the benefit of the doubt. Because we can’t see it all. At least, not yet.
Here’s a third thing about clowns: They’re foolish. It’s a bit iffy to portray God as foolish, right? Well, let’s take a look at that. The medieval court jester’s antics amused crowds at regal gatherings. But the jester had a second vocation: he alone was allowed to speak truth to the king without fear of reprisal. I think the art of stand-up comedy, at least when that comedy speaks hard truths, descends from the vocation of the medieval court jester. Painful truths go down easier with a spoonful of humor.
Plus, what do clowns do? Make fools of themselves. Literally. Whether they’ve cavorting around the ring in enormous pants, being chased by a bull, or throwing a bucketful of confetti into the crowd, they’re just unabashedly goofy. Right out in the open. In them we see ourselves: not the “put-together” image we present to the world, but our whole selves, complete with our inadequacies, our awkwardness, our confusion, our doubts. And we find, smiling at the clown’s bumbling, that those very things can be endearing, even loveable. Clowns invite us to love the whole of ourselves, even the stuff we hide beneath our greasepaint.
And clowns make magic. With their over-the-top wardrobes and wild antics, they delight and entrance. Clowns transport us to a place in which we are free enough to laugh aloud in delight rather than in derision. And, despite her costumed and grease-painted hiddenness, we know that the magicked world the clown creates is the one for which we yearn, because the clown’s world is more powerfully real than any status-quo security. In this world of deepest magic, we can be, at last, who we really are. And so we follow the clown, grease paint and all.
Which brings me to the Clown of my books. Following a Clown—that’s really foolish, right? At least to those who see that Clown as a mere buffoon. And yet there’s an unseen wisdom to our followship, because we are choosing to live in a joy-filled reality that erupts from time to time into the bland status quo, and we can be part of making that happen. To live for anything less is, well, just foolish.
So I hope my readers will see that “creepy” is not in a clown’s true nature, that clowns serve as holy metaphors, because their outward goofiness opens us to an earth-shattering wisdom hidden beneath the greasepaint—that we are loved just as we are, and that God intends to delight us, and to delight in us, for eternity.