The Clown of God

by Howard Hain


Norman Rockwell, “The Jester”, 1939

“Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy.”

—William Shakespeare, Hamlet: Act 5, scene 1

Early this morning, Francesca and I had a good laugh.

The sun was up, we were not. We were out late a few days ago. On Saturday night we visited a friend’s home and didn’t get to bed until after 11. That’s pretty late for all of three of us, but for Francesca, from her six-year-old perspective, it was “almost the next day!”

So this morning, the Monday of a new week, we found the consequences of that shortened Saturday-night sleep still catching up with us.

Francesca had made her way from her bedroom to the couch I guess around five. I sat up just about half past, the sun fully making its presence known, and as I looked toward the couch I saw Francesca propped against some pillows, cuddled up in the corner, eyes open, but still quite in sleep mode. I walked toward the kitchen to hit the coffee button, and as I passed in front of the couch I broke into an overly-exaggerated stroll. As I disappeared into the kitchen I caught a peek of Francesca’s smile.

When I reentered her line of vision, just a handful of seconds after hitting the “on” button, she was sitting up straight, smiling broadly, and said quite adamantly: “Do it again.”

“Do what again?”, I smiled.

“Walk like that again!”, she immediately answered back, moving her little arms in a fashion somewhat like I had moved mine.

“What are you talking about?”, I tried to say with a straight face as I walked the same way back across the room.

“Like that!”, she exclaimed, laughing and pointing at my arms.

And we were off and running, or should I say, “walking”. Over and over again, I would say: “What’s wrong with how I’m walking?”, and then she would point out what was “out-of-order” regarding my gait. Each time I would—with as much seriousness as I could muster— “correct” what she pointed out and then try again, this time adding yet another new “discrepancy”. One time I swung my arms wildly, another time I goose stepped, then I raised my knees too high, one round I walked “perfectly” but made funny noises with my mouth as I moved, and this went on and on, or I should say, we went on and on, and each and every time she was laughing more and more, getting more and more exasperated and adamant about what it was that I was not doing right.

“Just walk normal!”, she would laugh, and I would answer, “I am”, again and again. And then it got really funny. I could barely keep a straight face for even a few seconds. She herself began to illustrate how to properly walk, and seeing her trying to walk “normal”, which only resulted in her walking quite “un-normally”, only added to the Buster-Keaton type ridiculousness taking place in our tiny little living room. And all the while Laurie was just a few feet away still in bed, I wont say still asleep, because I have a hard time believing she could continue to snooze through all that ruckus.

But what really brought the house down was when I began to “really try” to walk right, listening intently to all her instructions, and painfully listing each one, and at the same time actually beginning to get confused. I had to think to myself for a second, “How is it that a person actually does just get up and walk?”. It is amazing what happens, what a mess we can make of things, when we try to understand and take control of what comes so naturally to us, of what comes so easily to almost all of mankind by the very nature of who we are, and seemingly without any effort or consciousness. But this little philosophical reflection didn’t stand a chance, Francesca was still on the scene and a child just wont permit, not even for a second, the antics of self-indulgent adult reflection to get in the way of a good time. She was focused on the action at hand, on the flow, from one act to the next, and she now had herself hysterical about the next and final slapstick scene in our not-so-silent film.

For you see, she discovered something in me that’s just priceless in her estimation. She loved the fact that I developed this little movement, quite unintentionally, as I “prepared” to try again to walk properly. I would kind of slightly waddle in place, lining up and squaring my feet, while at the same time slightly rotating my hips and shoulders, trying to position my feet, hips and shoulders just right. I guess I began to resemble a gymnast right before he launches the big run leading toward a long series of tumbles, or better yet, perhaps a diver in the Olympics right before leaping off the high board. Well, either way, this was more than Francesca could handle. She let out a true belly laugh, and then pointing wildly at my shoulders: “Daddy, do it again!”

At this, she jumped off the stool that she was now teetering upon, trying with all her might to mimic me. We both we’re beside ourselves with laughter. It was an absolute blast. It was creative chaos at its best. All heaven broke loose.

I hadn’t even had a sip of coffee yet. My morning prayers were still in a holding pattern. And then the thought came to me. A thought came to this continually under-occupied, perpetually unemployed forty-four-year-old man who just can’t seem to find his way in this world: “I should be a clown.”

I asked Francesca what she thought about my new career path. She loved the idea!

“Yes!!! Do it Daddy, do it!”

I decided to keep my prayers this morning to a few simple Our Fathers.

God was clearly praying for me since the moment I awoke.

The Spirit groans on our behalf, perhaps He laughs for us as well.

Prayer is prayer. This morning, Francesca’s laugh, and mine as well, was the peal of the morning bell—calling all the world to still attention—before the settling in of the business of another new day:

The Angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.

And she conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Hail Mary, full of grace…





Adolescent Cardinals

by Howard Hain


Adolescent Cardinal

Brilliant Red?

Not quite yet.

The color of martyrs?

That remains to be seen.

A touch of green?

Yes, that’s for sure.

It’s the obscurity of ordinary time.

But what about the shade of gray?

An undyed robe.

One way or another, the ascetic life.

They have to learn to let go.

But they seem so unaware?

Certainly the case.

Too busy with growth.

No time to kill.

Branch to branch.

Tree to tree.



“Let’s find a new field!”

Though they always follow the lead.

Willingly or not.

Of the one bright red.

Hot on his heels.

They tweet and swipe:

“Let me in.”

“I’m ready to fly.”

“Let me lead the way.”

But maybe not yet?

Thinking they’re ready.

Sure sign they’re not.

Blood orange.

The bitter color.

Right before red.

A shade.

A difference.

A single feather.

Off the top of the head.

But avoid the cat.

And their day shall come.


Like the exhausted sun.

About to explode.

End of a hot August day.

Crushing the horizon.

Making it almost disappear.

But there on the cusp.

Just before another world.

We see the spectrum.

All yellow now gone.

The orange too has disappeared.

And the green?

Vanquished for eternity.

Even purple is held at bay.

Only the sincerity of red can sustain.

A pure offering.

A humble heart.

The undyed pigment.

Of a completely different sort.

The deepest kind of red.

Almost a shade of blue.

Blinding even the sun.

For Justice is duly at hand.

And a small bird of mercy.

White as white can be.

Flies incredibly low.

In friendship.

With him who bowed down.

Hand in hand.

A cardinal and a dove.

Into the jaws of death.

Though ever so certain.

There will be at least one more.

Yes, certainly another.

An heir, an offspring, a sturdy new branch.

At least one more.

For the young one watches.

Witnesses the entire display.

He sees the fully mature.

Return to their mother’s nest.

And lo and behold.

Dusk becomes dawn.

The newest day of all.

Rising from the west.

For the brightest color.

Has none at all.

What a display.

Life outdoing death.

The power of meekness.

Gaining the upper outstretched hand.

And with a gentle gesture.

Breaking the gates of hell.

Opening wide.

Heaven’s once narrow door.

Red all a flutter.

Now only joy and peace.

A cardinal is no more.


Mature Cardinal







Three small frying pans. Methodically. Step by step. A young black man behind an omelette station.

“Good morning, sir, what would you like?”

Eyes cast down. Polite.


“Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.”


Fault of our father’s?

Timid. Afraid. Of me? Of the world. Of his story.

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

A good boy. A handsome young man. Strong. Going to be tall. Unconscious potential.

But those eyes. Terribly cast down. That speech. Overly polite. His posture. Shoulders down and rounded forward. All three spoke: “I am not worthy…”

The fear of man. The fear of me. The fear of himself.

“Good morning, sir, what would you like?”

But it’s not my fault. Then again nor is it his. Yet, both are moot points—for at the beginning of the day—he’s still fettered.

He can walk, but he can’t run.

Still the crowd. You coward. Their omelettes can wait. Tell him he’s wonderful. That you want to be friends.

Kiss his beautiful brow.

Tell him.

“Raise your head, son of man, receive God’s blessing!”

“Stand-up straight. Chin toward the sky.”

“You’ve bowed long enough.”


The kiss of peace. One man to another. One knowing he’s been undeservedly set free. One not knowing he is even held captive.

A young black man smiles.

“Thank you, sir.”

Three one-dollar George-Washington bills lay beside a bin of multi-colored vegetables.

Me and my omelet walk away.

A ham-n-cheese garden delight.


—Howard Hain



The Land of Make Believe

by Howard Hain


Andrei Rublev, “The Trinity”, ca. 1411

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for…”

—Hebrews 11:1

Out on Interstate 80 in New Jersey, about 70 miles from Manhattan, is a little amusement park for young children. It’s called The Land of Make Believe. And it is located in the small town of Hope.

I’ve never been to the park before, although I’ve traveled through Hope many times.

Those 70 miles got me thinking:

Without a belief in Heaven, Hell loses it’s significance.

And a life without hope makes Hell very real.


Jesus came to make our lives joyful and full of purpose.

After all, He told us that “the kingdom of God is within”, and that “the kingdom of heaven is at hand”.

From such eternal optimism, which is most certainly and profoundly true, I can see how a temptation may arise. The temptation of thinking—of thinking there’s no other world than the current one we find before us, and that all we need to do is make this world a utopia via the right cultural, political, and economic policies. That it is all a matter of social justice.

Yes, it can be pretty tempting to turn the promise and proximity of Heaven into a man-made agenda. To begin to think that we can create “Heaven” here on Earth, and in the process convince ourselves and all around us, especially those “below” us, that there’s no Heaven or Hell beyond or beneath this current, known, and visible existence.

That of course also eliminates any Godly judgment to come. Which of course is quite convenient, especially when it comes to behavior that God’s Word and Jesus’ Church clearly declares sinful.

But I guess that’s just the point. Many of us want to live in The Land of Make Believe. Pretending. Perverting hope. And via this ongoing state of pretense and presumption, we wish to live in our own self-perceived, self-conceived, and self-serving Heavens, right here and right now, and only here and now—with no “other world” or consequences to come—and this makes many of us feel awfully good, at least for the time being.

Jesus teaches otherwise. For He also told us, through His dialogue with Pilate, that He came into the world “to testify to the truth”, and that His “Kingdom is not of this world”. And perhaps most convincing (and incredibly consoling as well) is what He reveals to the apostles the night before He suffers, dies, and is buried—in order to be resurrected—and eventually ascend into Heaven—to sit at the right hand of “God, the Father almighty, Creator of heaven and earth”:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.”

John 14:1-4

We could list many more teachings of Christ that reiterate the same point. The totality, the oneness, of Sacred Scripture makes it abundantly clear that there is an eternal existence to come, that presently we are mere pilgrims just passing though, and that we are not destined to remain in this world. And Jesus also makes it abundantly clear that where He, the head went, the body too shall go—passing through the same cross-shaped gate.

Jesus came to show us how to love, and how to enter the Kingdom, both the Kingdom at hand and the Kingdom to come; one and the same but not limited to either one or the other. Heaven is here and continues thereafter, eternally. The “Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End”. For He, Jesus the Christ, the Word, the Lord God, “the one who is and who was and who is to come, the almighty” was with the Father before the world began…and He is also the one who “will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead” and whose “kingdom will have no end”.

It is all too much—and like the Trinity itself, and the Incarnation, and the Resurrection— Life Everlasting is beyond our comprehension. We simply can’t understand. It’s a mystery, but not a mystery that should lead us into the belief that this current world, this world of time, of pomp and circumstance, is the only reality, now or to come.

No, to be a Christian is to believe in Heaven, and Hell. And it is also to believe that through the death and resurrection of our Lord and God, our Savior and Redeemer, we can gain entrance to the eternal banquet, the everlasting feast, the never-ending day of love, of joy, of peace. The permanent Land of Belief.

And yet, in some not-so-mysterious way it begins right here on earth, in a very concrete manner, one smile at a time, one teardrop at a time. It begins when we truly believe in Jesus, follow Him and live the way He taught us. Just as does Hell, in some not-so-mysterious way, begin here on earth when we don’t truly believe in Jesus, follow Him and live the way He taught us.

It’s all kind of like The Land of Make Believe, that small amusement park off Interstate 80, out in western New Jersey. It isn’t real, yet it exists. It brings to life many more smiles than most regular, humdrum, midterm school days. And it has a beginning and an end—yet to children created in the image of God, it seems to go on forever…and in some grace-filled way, they’re exactly right.

You just gotta believe.

The Land of Make Believe is more than you ever dreamed it could be.

Oh yeah, and it resides in a place named Hope.


With tears flowing, the child’s father at once cried out, “I do believe! Help my unbelief!”

—Mark 9:24





School of Athens

by Howard Hain


Raphael, “School of Athens”, 1509-11, Vatican Museums, Raphael’s Rooms, Rome of the Segnatura

I see you there

Somewhere near the back


Thinking no one can see

A priest

A prophet

A king to be



A profile

Like the head on a coin

Another good man

Snubbed for what he knows

Can’t see your face

Not fully

Say the least

Though perhaps

We too would die

A drop of hemlock

Is hard to swallow


Like that fine-feathered friend

All philosophers are

Little birds

Not too fat to fly

Aerial feeders

Circumventing the globe

Following truth

Wherever it go




Now you

We see for sure

After all

Like a son

You and Socrates

Your father figure

Setting up shop

Hanging out

A common shingle

Hard to distinguish

In fact

The fiction

Son from Pop

One generation

Stumbles upon truth

The next

All about father’s business

Selling sovereignty

The sovereignty of Good

Not by peddling answers

By asking simple questions




He made the frame

The third person

The younger brother of sorts

In some sense

Stealing the show

A third amigo

A sort of philosophic trinity

Aristotle the great

Teaching emperors to be

A bright bronze star

Mentioned last

Never least

A meta-physician

Looking not to the past

He expanded business

Once Plato left the scene

Pointing the way

He thought it should go

Down to earth

Keep it real

Hover low

Eyes on substance

On the truth below


Quite a team

These three musketeers

Sharp whiskers

Well-trained tongues

Doubled-edged swords

Wielded about

In universal hands

Yet many others

Names we might know

The great wall of knowledge

An army

To remain

The great unknown




The noble pursuit

Lady Wisdom

Her many lovers

And each takes her as his own

A cloud of witnesses

Testifying one truth

The Communion of Saints

Under a different kind of roof


Look at that structure

Who built the arch?

It overrides

Every branch of the tree

If colored

It’d be a rainbow


That once great sign

Now brought so low

Meant so much

Primary color

Fragmented light

Quite a choice

Magic marker

Cross the sky

God’s endless love of life

A sacrament

One might say

A sign

As natural as natural can be

The offspring of union

A pledge

A covenant

A promise

The kind that brings new life


Then Eve

Woman created

From the lonely side of man

To lovers

Of such wisdom

Truth is clear

The rainbow redeemed

It will once more

Point to the sun

After yet another storm

The fullness of noon

Its rightful place

Where nothing disordered

Continues to loom


Welcome home

Child of wonder

Come on in

The water’s warm

Jump high

Up over the frame

Roman columns

Marble floor

Robes in many shades

Your heart

Away from home

Bring nothing more

Leave your sandals

At the door

A burning bush

Holy ground

Children at play

A clubhouse of truth

Safe and sound

Slides and swings

Monkey bars

Hang on tight

Hold on loose

No possessions

Got to share



Sons of liberty

Daughters of revolution

The mulberry tree

What’s that?

Your degree?

Of such things

We just don’t care



Completely still


In dialogue



Silent features


And texture

Every detail

All one view

Did you hear?

Have you seen?

The latest

No not the news

What’s truly new

Not the fleeting

Nor the slice

Not cutting edge

What’s new is old

All under the sun



Genesis just begun

Just a few rules

Keep perspective

A frame

If you will

A type of kind




But not for sale

Bring what’s prized

Not the least

Only one item

The book of life


God became man

Truly human

Not veneer

Truth among us

Not to abolish

Bring to fullness

Humanistic pursuit

The glory of God

Made manifest

In man’s pursuit

Of God Himself



In disguise

The philosopher’s cloak

Reaching upward

To shake His own hand

At the right side

God the Father


Raphael, “School of Athens”, 1509-11, Vatican Museums, Raphael’s Rooms, Room of the Segnatura


Web Link: Vatican Museums, Raphael’s Rooms, Room of the Segnatura