When I was in graduate school studying to be a psychotherapist, I took a field placement in a group home working with mentally ill adolescents. One resident was a hyperactive brain disordered Hispanic boy named Enriqué. In a different time or culture, Enriqué might have been the King’s Fool, or the holy clown of a Native American tribe. He would caper about causing havoc in small ways, and often his jokes brought brewing unconscious issues to a head. He didn’t do this on purpose. Our hidden feelings made him unbearably anxious, and his reaction was to provoke us. When he did this, there would be a storm of feelings, then a settling, and at the settling he could relax. He wouldn’t have been able to put this dynamic into words; it was just how he was.
He had pet names for all of us counselors. Usually they reflected the shadow side of our characters in an off beat sort of way. He couldn’t really explain the names, but he did think they were funny.
He called me Mickey Witch. When I was on the job – getting kids up and dressed, getting them to do chores, preparing a meal for them and attending to the overwhelming issues that plagued them – he would often scurry along beside me, calling, “bruja, bruja.” It was tough enough getting through all I had to do without this constant irritation. I’d want to kill him.
My supervisor suggested that I try to figure out what the name meant. Since he couldn’t tell me I was forced to ask fellow counselors what they thought. It was an edifying and humiliating experience.
Enriqué loved watching cartoons on TV and thought I acted like Mickey Mouse – always cheerful and friendly. I did this on purpose, trying to radiate calm to a household full of very difficult psychological issues. But, as my co-workers pointed out, below that pleasant surface I was often very angry and resentful, and those feelings leaked out, making residents afraid of me.
After going through a period of sulking and resenting the people who had given me this difficult truth, I got over myself and made the decision to work with my deep feelings. In my own therapy I faced them and suffered them. It was my first experience of facing shadow material. I became a better counselor – and later on a decent psychotherapist – as the result.
The chosen ones of God, like Enriqué, often have unpleasant truths to share with us. They can make us angry – so angry that we may want to kill them. If we can swallow our pride and listen to what they have to teach us, we can learn from them. We can hear God speaking through them and turn ourselves around.
Who is your holy clown today? Who is the messenger of God bringing you a difficult understanding that will open your heart in a deeper way and bring you closer to God?
Laurie Gudim is a religious iconographer and liturgical artist, a writer and lay preacher living in Fort Collins, CO. See her work online at Everyday Mysteries With others she manages a website for the Diocese of Colorado highlighting congregations’ creative ministries: Fresh Expressions Colorado