There was once a traveling circus in Denmark that caught fire. The manager, seeing that the clown was already dressed and made up for the performance, thereupon sent him into the neighboring village to fetch help, especially as there was danger that the fire would spread across the fields of dry grass and engulf the village itself.
The clown hurried to the village and requested the inhabitants to come quickly and help put out the fire. But they thought that it was meant to attract people to the performance and they clapped their hands and applauded the clown.
The clown tried to get the people to be serious, to make it clear to them that it was not a trick but it only increased their laughter. They thought he was acting out his part splendidly.
They did not realize their mistake until the circus burned down and the village was engulfed in the flames.
To be salt of the earth and light to the world in these times is to feel very much like the clown in the story above as told by Soren Kierkegaard.
You have to talk about justice and the common good in a country where 32 million Filipinos earn only 38 pesos a day; in a world where 85 individuals control wealth equal to that owned by the lower half of the world’s population—more than 3.5 billion people.
You have to persuade people to turn swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks in a world where $1.3 trillion is spent for nuclear weapons, fighter planes and battleships.
You have to work for a sustainable future for coming generations in a global political economy where unending growth in the GDP is valued more than a healthy biosphere.
And yet, you have to go on being a voice in the wilderness even as others laugh at you because it is not the voice of the dying children you hear, it is the gently compelling voice of the Nazarene who whispers in your heart, “You are the salt of the earth,” and “Your light must shine before others.”
The cloud of unknowing
Where our passion for justice, peace and the integrity of creation intersects with the misery of the least, the last and the lost of this world, we will find ourselves immersed in a great cloud of unknowing.
We have to leave behind ideas, images, and symbols and learn how to approach the divine humbly in fear and trembling, even as we are laughed at and often not believed.
Our intense longing for the transcendent must come face to face with the incomprehensible mystery of the triune God in the squalor of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the homeless, the stranger and the imprisoned.
And in the encounter with the cloud of unknowing, we will discover hope.
In the midst of the cloud of unknowing, hope believes that the holy and triune God is deeply engaged in all of human history in the context of a dynamic, emergent cosmos.
It is only in this cloud of unknowing that clowns can live in wonder and creativity, in mystery and ambiguity, in openness and flexibility, in expectation and hope for a future beyond all imagining.
In the light of worldwide poverty, widespread terrorism and environmental degradation, this hope challenges us to become salt of the earth and light of the world. Clowns have to keep questioning the basic assumptions of the prevailing, predominantly Western worldview that is destroying our world today: the assumption that human beings have the right to completely subdue and dominate the whole of creation, the myth that material possessions equal happiness and fulfillment, the unbridled avarice that victimizes people who are already oppressed and disenfranchised, and the unquestioning belief that technological innovation and greater production are inherently good.
Hope for a planet in peril
Human beings have to live in hope to enter into higher dimensions of consciousness, towards integral development, towards justice, peace and the integrity of creation. We have to extend our compassion to all those who are struggling to survive on the planet, especially the poor, the deprived and the oppressed. That is the way our brains are wired. Our spirits are oriented towards mystery and meaning.
In his encyclical Spes Salvi, Pope Benedict XVI declared that, “Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present: the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal, if we can be sure of this goal and if this goal is great enough to justify the effort of the journey.”
Without this kind of hope, human beings would cease to build the earth, and in the chilling prophecy of Teilhard de Chardin, humanity would perish either through nausea or revolt.
The ultimate ground for our hope is the one and triune God ever hovering beyond the horizons of time and space, beckoning all human beings and the whole universe ever onward and upward towards the new heaven and the new earth. We remain secure in the hope that our life in the end will not be swallowed up in unending darkness.
We are what we are because of what we choose to become. We choose to become according to the hope that we have. Hope is a choice, a moral imperative necessary for commitment and making a significant difference.
Hope remains wishful thinking if it does not bear fruit in the face of trials and difficulties, in the face of concentration camps and garbage dumps, in the face of melting polar caps and suicide bombers, in the face of the sneers of those who do not believe our proclamation of a transcendent Reality and a more abundant life that will never end.
We have to take the future seriously because tomorrow is our responsibility – we are morally bound to care for the future whether others listen to us or not. We mortgage the future if we shirk from this duty to build the earth and defend life.
And so, even if we sometimes feel like the clown in the story, in the midst of bloated, gorged blandness, we dare to become the salt of the earth.
And in the midst of flashing neon darkness, we dare to become the light of the world.