Friday, April 1, 2016

Foolish Wisdom

"Thorns and Flowers"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

It’s April Fools' Day – a day devoted to playing silly little tricks on one another, In our own contemporary times, the word “fool” refers to someone who is silly, or does ridiculous things, a “fool” is a “buffoon.” But, historically a “fool” meant something rather different, and in fact, foolishness was often seen as a virtue on a path to deeper wisdom.

Interestingly enough, April Fools' Day has its origins in a quasi-religious medieval festival known as the Feast of Fools during which small children and choirboys would dress up like bishops and sit upon the bishop’s throne, poking fun at the pomposity and arrogance of the hierarchy of the church.  And throughout much of early history mighty kings and monarchs always kept a Jester (a fool) in their courts.  Through the use of  mime and silly antics the “fool” would often challenge and even ridicule the king in ways others would never dare do, often helping the king to see his faults and to develop deeper wisdom.

The more I think about it, by its very nature, all genuine “wisdom” always has an element of foolishness to it.

Herman Hesse put it this way:

The wisdom of the wise always sounds like foolishness
to those who are not wise.

I find great truth is this observation because when it comes to wisdom, especially spiritual wisdom, it is always paradoxical. Spiritual wisdom rarely makes a good deal of sense to those who are not wise.

A few thousand years ago, Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism observed:

The words of truth are always paradoxical

On this April Fool’s Day I am reflecting on some core wisdom found across many spiritual traditions. On the surface this wisdom seems foolish because it appears to be contradictory and it goes against the grain of popularly-accepted ideas.  A few examples immediately come to mind:

We are strong when we are weak

Our mistakes and failures allow us to recognize imperfection as innate to our human condition. When we embrace rather than hide our weakness we allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to reach out to others and find enduring strength.

Be empty in order to be full.

When our minds are uncluttered, free of our own quick and easy answers, we have made a space for a wisdom that is greater than ourselves.

Less is more

The less we crave and desire and cling to all the stuff of our life, our possessions and our ideas, the more freedom we experience.

In order to find your self you have to lose your self

In one sense this is probably the ultimate wisdom from which all other wisdom flows. We find our “true self” when we abandon our “false self.” When we break out of the bonds of a bloated, isolated ego and extend our lives in relationship with everything and everyone, we become our “self.”

Wisdom is foolish and truth is paradoxical – Happy April Fool’s' Day!


  1. Paul,
    Your blog today immediately triggered the thought Michael Card's song God's Own Fool". Thank you! Here are the lyrics and link to his version. Peace. Ken

    Seems I've imagined Him all of my life
    As the wisest of all of mankind
    But if God's Holy wisdom is foolish to men
    He must have seemed out of His mind
    For even His family said He was mad
    And the priests said a demon's to blame
    But God in the form of this angry young man
    Could not have seemed perfectly sane
    When we in our foolishness thought we were wise
    He played the fool and He opened our eyes
    When we in our weakness believed we were strong
    He became helpless to show we were wrong
    And so we follow God's own fool
    For only the foolish can tell-
    Believe the unbelievable
    And come be a fool as well
    So come lose your life for a carpenter's son
    For a madman who died for a dream
    And you'll have the faith His first followers had
    And you'll feel the weight of the beam
    So surrender the hunger to say you must know
    Have the courage to say I believe
    For the power of paradox opens your eyes
    And blinds those who say they can see
    So we follow God's own Fool
    For only the foolish can tell
    Believe the unbelievable,
    And come be a fool as well