|Painting by Fr. Sieger Koder|
There is a very colourful painting by the German priest-artist, Fr Sieger Koder which depicts a clown putting on a mask. The mask is placed in such a way that it hides half the face of the person who holds it. Koder called it “The Real Me.”
A clown of course is one of the oldest figures in the world. We love clowns, we laugh at their antics, we believe that they are real persons. But they aren’t. Clowns are essentially tragic figures, or sad figures, or figures of derision.
Why is this, I wonder? Probably because they hide the real person behind the mask. They press down their worries, their fears their loneliness, their psychoses behind a funny, painted mask. They spend their entire professional lives on stage, in circuses, in entertainment – yet they are rarely seen as they are. They are poseurs.
Jesus once asked the apostles “Who do you think I am?” The answers came out as “John the Baptist”, or “Elijah” or “one of the prophets.” Only Peter said “You are the Christ.”
And Jesus recognised that Peter could only have known who he was through the power of the Holy Spirit who guided him to the truth. The others recognised Jesus in part, but the ideas that were current then about the Messiah dominated their thinking, and they wanted Jesus to be a conqueror, a success figure, a man of property with a court, where they of course would be leaders and men of success. That was Judas’s downfall. He really believed that Jesus was to be a human success, get rid of the Romans, make the Jews a nation which could conquer the world. And the reality was so different that he couldn’t take it. We all like to be part of a success story, but perhaps we need to look more closely at what we mean by success!
But where does all this lead us? We were talking about being real. In order to live a happy life – we might call it a successful life – we must recognise who we are, what our gifts are, how we can use them to help others, not just ourselves. As we get older we tend to know ourselves more. Experience has taught us what makes for true happiness, or it should have done. The world around us seems to be populated with so many who seek power, money and adulation of one kind or another. We must belong to the A team, we must make a lot of money, we must be beautiful, chic, trend-setters etc. But not all of us can do that, and we begin to think of ourselves as failures. In Liverpool they call that being “not much kop!”
But Jesus told us that it is in our weakness that we are strong. He proved it on the Cross. It was in that hell-hole of pain, humiliation, derision, blasphemy and hatred that he won the battle for us – gave us life, hope and salvation through his Resurrection.
But to avail of this stupendous gift, won for us through the weakness, pain and humiliation of Jesus, we too, like him, have to learn to be real. When we come to eternity, we will know for certain whether or not we have become real, and have fought against the temptations to outward success, power, too much money and lust. Not necessarily in that order!
Have you ever read a child’s story called “The Velveteen Rabbit?” Like all tales supposedly told for children, it has an adult meaning. It is all about becoming real. Margery Williams tells the story through the eyes of a stuffed rabbit who finds out that to be real you have to give and receive unconditional love. This is the conversation he has with the skin horse:
“What is REAL?” said the rabbit one day. “ Does it mean having things that buzz inside you, and have a stick-out handle?” “Real isn’t how you are made,” said the skin horse. “it’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time; not just to PLAY WITH. BUT REALLY LOVES YOU , you become REAL.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the rabbit.
“Sometimes.” said the skin horse, for he was always truthful.
“When you are real. “ he added, “you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up, or bit by bit?”
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the skin horse. You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be ‘carefully kept’. Generally, by the time you are REAL, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out, and you get loose in the joints, and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because, once you are REAL you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
All reality has to do with love. Unconditional love. It is about learning to love others unconditionally, warts and all, and it is of course about accepting that we are loved unconditionally by an infinitely loving God. It isn’t easy to do that, but, In the words of the skin horse, “when you are real, you don’t mind being hurt."
It’s what discipleship is all about.
Watch the Velveteen Rabbit as told by Meryl Streep