The Upside of Seeing Upside-Down

423px-Cirque_Napoléon_-_l'homme_renverséBy Matthew James Gray, Lecturer in Theology and Church History

I’m thinking of starting to stand on my head.I recently read GK Chesterton’s biography of Francis of Assisi, and in it Chesterton likened Francis to the medieval jester, “the court fool of the King of Paradise”. More than that, he suggested that Francis’ entire career was like a comic acrobat, standing upside-down. Chesterton seemed to see many upsides to being upside-down, especially for those of us who are Christians in this topsy-turvy world.

Primarily, it revealed the world’s fragility. Thinking of the impregnable walls surrounding Assisi, Chesterton wrote: Whereas to the normal eye the large masonry of its walls would make it seem safer and more permanent, the moment it was turned over the very same weight would make it seem more helpless and more in peril. He would be thankful to God for not dropping the whole cosmos like a vast crystal to be shattered into falling stars.

The very things that made everybody think Assisi was strong were the very things that made it fragile. And while everybody saw Francis as a fool and silly (even without him literally standing on his head!), Francis managed to see that their dependence on those walls was even sillier.

I want to be able to look at the structures around me with the same clarity of perception. There are institutions that I see surrounding me, towering above me, protecting me, but in reality, they are under Christ’s authority, and only hold their power fleetingly. Other institutions, once so powerful and “permanent”, have dropped off the earth, never to be seen again.

Obviously, I should still respect many of our society’s institutions – even obey them. Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2 demand nothing less. But what I mustn’t do is attribute to them a false sense of permanency, that denies 1 Peter 1, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”

Ultimately, I can’t walk around upside-down all day. I’m just not strong enough. Still, dear God, give me the eyes to see the world, and its powers, through Your eyes.


Image source: wikimedia

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