Revelation, Clowns and Ascension when you need it.

Jim Friedrich remembers, and I remember always, an event in 1976 at the General Convention where the vote was taken for the ordination of women to the full range of ordained ministry.

He writes on his Facebook pages, "While watching this performance on tv in Minneapolis (we were there for the 1976 General Convention), the Rev. Mark Harris had the revelation that this was a song about the Ascension (the disciples being the long-awaited clowns doing their best to fill the gap until the Parousia - or something like that - it all made sense at the time!)." (Here he inserted the YouTube of the Song... its later on in this essay, stay close.)

The revelation, as I cherish and remember it was a turning moment for me. Here is what I remembered.

A group of campus ministry types working for the ordination of women gathered at a friends house for a bit of relaxation in the midst of all the work. Friend Bill Teska prepared spaghetti, we had some wine, and Bill said we had a treat on TV - first a concert with Judy Collins and then Bob Dylan.

So sitting there, tired and hungry, and with good friends and companions around, I sat, spaghetti in lap, and heard Judy sing "Send in the Clowns."

It was an astounding performance. But about half way through the song I looked around at my friends and I saw all of us for what we mostly were - clownish players in a divine play, mostly taking parts that involved trying to change the church and ourselves and all creation, and tripping and falling and then getting up again for the next show, the next action, the next step.

Several of us in the group had actually taken some training as clowns, and one of the first things you learn is how to fall, fall so the thump when you fall is great, and thus the joy also great when you get up again all the greater. And Lord knows we fell often.

We were clowns for God, it seemed to me, always trying to leap up and ascend, but then falling back. And it struck me we were all in our way trying to imitate or perhaps follow Jesus, and ascend, but we kept falling back.

This was all very quick, and when I saw my comrades and myself as ascension clowns, I was filled with sense of love for them, and a strange warmth. My eyes filled with tears and the tears ran down into the spaghetti.

And a voice came to me and said, "Now you know what the Ascension is about." And I in my mind said, "what?" And the voice said, "You fight against doctrines you don't understand. You don't have to. Just let them be. They will be there if you need them."

Jim, who cares deeply and with great love, was sitting next to me and saw the tears and said, "Something special is happening to you." Not, "what's wrong?" or "do you need help." "Something special is happening." He gave me permission to think of what happened as revelation.

Something special had happened. Over the next few minutes I told him and several others what had happened. They were glad for me, and a comfort.

Ever sense that time I have not fought against ancient doctrine, I have let those things I don't care about, don't understand, or don't find useful simply be, assured that if I need them they will be there. And if they are never useful again, then they will die out from non-use.

I think the revelation made me a better theologian, and a better pastor. But the report is not all in yet.

Nor can I prove it was a revelation from God rather than a brain fart of tired neurons. But that's OK. The notion of revelation is itself a doctrine, ready for our use when we need it.

And it began, as Jim remembered, with the Song. Here it is:


That wee revelation was one of only two that I have had. There have been dreams and visions of one sort or another, but only the two that "played forward" in my life, giving substance to my belief that connection with the "hints" that arise from the whole gang of people who have gone before is a worth while enterprise. Even the best of these doctrines are only hints until events, and stories and songs of experience make them real for us.

Meanwhile we leap up, and fall again and again. After a while it looks like a dance.

William Stringfellow loved the Circus, not the least I suspect because the clowns reminded him of how often we leap to grasp the feet of the one who indeed did not pass on or over, but passed up. We grab at the divine heel, I suppose, and fall, but one day... one day.

Here's to rising in glory! And dance.

1 comment:

  1. Can I just say how much I love this reflection? And, mention that I never miss an opportunity to go to the circus? Church on Sunday? I confess that sometimes these days, I get out of bed and onto my bike and ride for an hour which seems to do my soul good - better than some hours I have spent in some churches, even where I was rector.

    But, the circus? Ah, inside the three-rings is where one may often find the holy of holies.


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