Artists, Mystics, and Clowns

Authour Brennan Manning explores the need for artists, mystics, and clowns in expressing the transcendent and spiritual:

Fyodor Dostoyevsky passionately believed that he had embodied the soul of the Russian peasant in Marmeladov, the discharged town clerk and disgraced town drunk of Crime and Punishment – a clown, a buffoon, and the father of Sonia, a prostitute.

In a tavern in St. Petersburg, besotted with booze, Marmeladov engages the young rationalist Raskolnikov in conversation. Though the object of derision and mockery by the locals, Marmeladov insists that he is not to be pitied:

But He will have pity on me Who has pity on all men, Who has understood all men and all things. He is the One. He too is the judge. He will come on that day and He will ask, “Where is the daughter [Sonia] who had pity upon the filthy drunkard, her earthly father, undismayed by his beastliness… He will forgive my Sonia, He will forgive, I know it.

Then He will summon us. “You too come forth,” He will say. “Come forth, ye drunkards, come forth, ye weak ones, come forth, ye children of shame!” And the wise and those of understanding will say: “Oh Lord, why dost Thou receive these men?” And He will say: “This is why I receive them, oh ye wise, this is why I receive them, oh ye of understanding, that not one of them believed himself to be worthy of this.” And He will hold out his hands to us and we shall fall down before Him… and we shall weep… and we shall understand all… and all will understand… Lord, Thy kingdom come!”

Dostoyevsky maintained that at the heart of the Russian peasant life existed an unshaken trust in the unrestricted mercy of God… The author’s contemporary, Leo Tolstoy, published his classic novel War and Peace three years after Crime and Punishment. In a dialogue between the saintly Princess Mary and her brother Prince Andrew, she echoes Dostoyevsky’s ethos. Quoting a haunting French proverb, she says, “We should enter everyone’s situation. Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner” – to understand all is to forgive all.

…And what of the human heart’s capacity to understand God? Here we need the help of passionate visionaries such as Dostoyevsky. Sacred scripture is too important to be left exclusively to biblical scholars. Theology is too vital to be consigned solely to the province of theologians. To explore the depths of the God who invites our trust, we need the artists, and mystics.

Selected excerpts from Chapter 5 of Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin’s Path to God by Brennan Manning.

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