First a story, as told to me by one of Lincoln Center’s master teaching artists, Jean Taylor:
Jean and her colleague were teaching a young group of children and one of them stood out immediately. While most of the kids (around 4-6 years old I think*) wore simple leotards or shorts, Bethany was dressed in what can be best described as an elaborate tutu...complete with a huge bow on her head. The layers of tulle extended almost beyond her wing span.
All was well in the class until Bethany announces she needs to use the bathroom. She was gone for quite some time, and so Jean goes to check on her. Just as she was about to knock, thankfully, Bethany came out.
The sight that Jean beheld was really something. Bethany had taken the outfit off and had put it back on inside out. The back of the tutu was completely crammed inside and looked lumpy around her backside. She had pulled part of the tutu out of the leg holes on both sides in an effort to make things right. Her bow had navigated down the side of her head and was completely lopsided.
She looked up at Jean as she walked hurriedly past her and said with a smile, “It’s the best I could do!” And then trotted happily back to class.
I laughed out loud when Jean shared this with our group this week. We all did! Perhaps because my mother used to adorn my head with bows, so I could feel Bethany’s pain...or maybe because this kind of attitude teaches us something deep about vulnerability and resilience.
Jean shared it as part of a workshop for teaching artists in clowning. Yes, you read that right...how to be a clown. (Think less circus-clown and more Italian masked theatre.) This type of acting is taught in conservatories as a way for actors to develop movement, improvisation, and character. We actually wore noses and participated in an exercise called “eccentric dance.” (Thankfully there is no video evidence of this!)
Bethany and the clowns we all let loose in our class remind us that vulnerability and resilience go together— in teaching, learning and living. When you’re vulnerable and authentic enough to be known...to show up in your fabulous tutu when everyone else is in shorts...only when you are bringing your authentic self... can you really create, learn, and grow. And when you’re resilient enough to bounce back in the face of disappointment and hardship (pull that tutu out through the leg holes and embrace your ridiculousness!)—then we can find the wonder and joy that are available to us.
As I return again to the Psalms each day, I realize the Psalmists have this vulnerability + resilience recipe down pat. In Psalm 66:20 the psalmist even mentions that fear of rejection— “Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld his love from me!”
And as we’ve seen all summer, these prayers hold nothing back. In many of the lament Psalms, it isn’t clear on what timeline (or sometimes even if) God has answered (Psalm 4, 13, 88). We’ve forgotten how to be vulnerable so magnificently that now there are classes where we learn how to be clowns.
This is one of the things I find most compelling about Christianity. The Psalms are pointing to true vulnerability and resilience—found only in God Himself, in Jesus. Vulnerable enough to weep and bleed and resilient enough to persevere in the face of death...all out of love for us.
What are you holding back in your interactions with God or others? Or is it resilience that you lack? When you’re faced with hardship how do you respond? How can you embrace and celebrate your ridiculousness today? I’ve got a red nose you can borrow, if you need one.
*this story was shared with me via word-of-mouth this week at LCE Summer Forum in NYC— pardon any missed or inaccurate details!