Thursday, April 1, 2021

The April Fool

Being an adult is great for some things. I know how to do my taxes, when to take the car in to have the snow tires off, and that even though it looks like spring out there, we have not seen the last of the snow and frost, and it is way too early to plant tomato plants in the garden. I know things about myself- that there will be consequences if I eat dairy, and that I do my best writing in the morning.

But sometimes These same gifts of experience are also the greatest challenge for we who consider ourselves to be grownups. We have seen government leaders come and go, we have seen rampant corruption, we have seen intractable problems continue year after year, decade after decade. I started a fantasy novel recently in which the idealistic protagonists set out to create a utopian society. “we know how well that will turn out” I said to my husband. He looks up from the news and replies “what could go wrong?” It’s easy to become jaded. We put together all those thousands of past experiences, and have trouble imaging a future that doesn’t contain all those same old pitfalls. We create a life based on what we have learned of ourselves, of what we prefer, of what is expected of us, and it can easily become like a pair of shoes that are too tight. The world can become small and predictable. But this pandemic is a perfect example of how things can change so quickly in ways we did not expect. April fool’s day reminds us that there are universal patterns, archetypes, that open doors from our adult confinement. Today we will consider the fool, the trickster and the Child who remind us that the unexpected is not only possible but inevitable.

An archetype is sort of a character that all of us is familiar with, is a character that all humans have encountered at some point in their life. Today I want to describe 3 archetypes, the first archetype is the fool. The fool, at least as it is presented in the tarot deck, is a character of innocence. The one who acts without knowing. The common picture in many tarot decks is of a young person about to step off a cliff onto thin air. Any sensible adult would look at that and say “What is he doing, that’s crazy and dangerous, foolish.” But this archetype contains the possibility that somehow things might turn out okay. Like Mr. Magoo, do any of you remember that old cartoon? That nearsighted fellow was constantly teetering on the precipice of disaster, only to be caught by some accident of fate.

The fool relies on intuition and faith to make his way into the unknown. Even we sensible adults have to do this all the time. Here’s a really mundane example- I just made a vacation reservation for September. What is the world going to be like in September? Who knows! There could be a whole new strain of the virus that our vaccines don’t protect us from. One of us could lose our job and we could be broke. There could be an early cold snap and It will be too cold to put the kayaks in the water. I sat there with my finger hovered over the “reserve now” button for quite a long time, thinking of all the uncertainties, and finally clicked, stepping out past the edge of solid ground, into the uncertainty and the unknown. Any new adventure, any new project requires all of us to be a bit of the fool.

The fool is the archetype of beginnings, and so is perfect for spring. Those beautiful spring days of March invite us to hope, even though we know winter is not done with us. Our spirits need a fresh start with a fresh season, We need to go out in to the spring, enjoy spring, hope for the growing season, even knowing winter’s return is guaranteed. The fool is a helpful archetype for living with uncertainty.

A related archetype is the trickster. Where the fool is innocent, the trickster is wily. Many folk tale traditions have tricksters- like Anansi, or Briar Rabbit. Or perhaps Prometheus stealing fire from the gods. The trickster comes up with the plan no one is expecting, and so can find solutions and outcomes that folks expecting the ordinary will not see coming. This is why the trickster is a popular archetype among folks who live outside privilege, outside traditional power structures. The GameStop stock drama, where day traders drove the stock prices up defying all market expectation [i]- that was an act of the trickster archetype. Banksy[ii], and other graffiti artists are tricksters. The legislator or lobbyist who slips something into a bill that no one reads is a trickster. I will admit to you this archetype is a challenge to me. I like when things follow a plan, but writer Elizbeth Johnson, in her book Ask the Beasts reminds us that nature too is a trickster. She writes:
“if all were law, the natural world would ossify; its ordered structure would be rigid, repetitive deterministic. If all were chance, nature would dissolve into chaos; no new patterns would persist long enough to have an identity. But chance operating within a lawlike framework introduces novelty within a pattern that contains and directs it. Their creative interplay brings forever new living forms. Rather than being an enemy of law, then, chance is the very means by which nature becomes continuously creative” [Johnson p. 170-171]
Life needs both regular predictable things, and new and surprising things- that is what makes nature creative and sustainable, that is how the natural world has adapted and survived all these billions of years.

In fact, the origins of April Fools day may be rooted in the unpredictable nature of spring itself. There’s much debate about the origin of our April Fool’s day, but it seems like folks at our latitude have been celebrating something at this time of year since at least as far back as ancient roman festivals called “Hilaria” to the goddess Cybele. There are foolish traditions around the spring equinox in France and Scotland, and historians theorize that underlying them all is the quixotic nature of spring, a beautiful 70 degree day with sun, followed by an unwelcome wintry mix. I think we’ve all been caught up in mother nature’s spring pranks at one time or another. I’ll never forget the year I preached at Big Flats on Easter, and watched the snow fall thickly all through the sermon, hiding all the eggs hidden for the Easter egg hunt under a blanket of snow. Mother nature the trickster in all her glory.

The Child archetype is one I need the most right now. It’s easy for us adults to lose some inner vitality. When we get stuck in “what will probably happen” the well-worn patterns of how things usually go, how we need things to go to keep the bills paid, the gutters clear, to present a professional persona at work that folks can trust and depend on. In a hard year like this one, we need not only our adult self who can figure out how to make an online vaccine appointment, but we also need the child archetype who has a wisdom our adult self has forgotten.

I loved that story from Susan’s reading, of pioneering psychologist Carl Jung trying to get in touch with his inner child. After thinking about it, analyzing it, with no success[iii], he had to get down on his hands and knees and start building things out of blocks. This is not always easy. Adults are used to being good at things, at being competent and in control, and if we truly take up the inner child, we might appear a bit foolish.

I remember being, maybe 7, and coloring in my Winnie the Pooh coloring book. I remember the satisfaction of just filling in the shapes with my crayons, and enjoying the result. I hadn’t really drawn anything since, because my adult self knows I’m “not good at drawing” and I don’t have any training or experience. Like the child in our Panda story today, I decided to put aside drawing something perfect, and just drawing “my own way” to reconnect with that satisfaction I got coloring when I was little. I don’t post my drawings on Instagram or anything, if I’m really pleased I might show one good friend, because I have made a decision that I’m not trying to make good art, I’m just trying to give my inner child an opportunity to play.

I think part of the reason I like yoga so much is because you get to roll around on the floor. Adults are definitely not supposed to roll around on the floor- unless you have your yoga outfit on and you are exercising, then it is perfectly okay.

I was at the lake with my husband last weekend, and he was throwing rocks into the lake. This was what he did with his grandfather when he was little, he explained, his grandfather took him down to the edge of the Susquehanna and they would throw rocks into the water together. And I was glad his inner child had come out to play.

What does your inner child love? What does it need right now? Our poor inner children have been trapped inside being responsible for so long. Spring is calling us out to play. There are so many opportunities for stomping in the mud, for digging in the dirt. Before long we will be able to pick dandelions and make dandelion chains. I remember endless battles over whose turn it was to swing in my friend’s hammock that lasted all summer long. There are plenty of things our inner child can do inside too- making forts, decorating Easter eggs, playing with play-doh or Legos or Lincoln logs. I invite you to ask yourself, what were you drawn to as a child? What was the activity you could not tear yourself away from when your parents called you for dinner? As your minister, I encourage you to find time this week to check in with the child archetype; what would delight them right now? It doesn’t have to make sense, or be useful or productive. Experiment, try a few things and see what feels most delightful. If you feel foolish you are probably on the right track.

We need our child archetype not only for the health and wholeness of our spirits, but for the health and wholeness of our society as well. When adults lose hope looking back at the history of racist policing in this country, and lose heart that real change is possible, the inner child fills the sidewalk with brightly colored professions of love for black lives and of hope for a better world.

We have all had a challenging year, and even with the days getting longer and the vaccinations proliferating, we are not so naive as to think life will all be smooth sailing from here. The April fool invites us to hope despite the knowledge of winter, to invite our child to play despite feeling foolish, to take that leap forward into an unknown future, knowing life needs both the predictable and the unexpected to unfurl her creativity. Invite the fool, the trickster, the Child out to play. 




[iii] I twice went over the details of my entire life with particular attention to childhood memories; I thought there might be something in my past which I could not see and which might possibly be the cause of my disturbance. But this retrospection led to nothing but a fresh acknowledgement of my own ignorance. Thereupon I said to myself, “Since I know nothing at all, I shall simply do whatever occurs to me.” This I consciously submitted myself to the impulses of the unconscious.

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