Fools for God

I read a novel over the summer loosely based on Saint Xenia. I really enjoyed it and as I did some very simple research to find out how much was fact vs fiction, I read about the Orthodox Church’s concept of Fools for God.

In a very simple nutshell, people were asked by God to give up everything- even their sense- for God. Often these people were seen as especially devoted and even charmed, receiving donations and gifts from local businesses and families. There’s some debate whether these “fools” made this choice or it was made for them by what today we’d call mental illness.

Xenia, prompted by profound grief, became one of these people and eventually received sainthood. A friend gifted me with an icon of Saint Xenia and I like to think she gets me (I mean, Saint Xenia here, but the friend gets me too).

I have to admit I find myself fascinated by people called by God to do things others think are crazy or foolish. And I don’t mean crazy by people who think ANY calling by God is crazy, I mean crazy by the generally accepted definition.

On our recent road trip, Little Sir and I stopped by Bottle Tree Ranch off old Route 66 in Southern California. We met Elmer who started his “forest” of bottle trees and other creative sculptures over 20 years ago. He said he’d been collecting since he was six years old. I imagine you could add a 0 plus some to that 6 and come close to Elmer’s age now. But he lives in the desert and has a long beard, so chronological years are a mystery.

As much of a mystery to me as the impetus to make sculpture from trash. He said he gave up his job because he loved his “ranch” so much. I didn’t ask Elmer if he felt it was a calling from God, but clearly, a very BIG something drove him to make art from castoffs and rock and whathaveyou.

About seven years ago, I met Leonard Knight. Leonard felt called to make Salvation Mountain. Leonard passed away in 2014 and I am so glad I got to meet him on a scorcher of a July day in 2014. I was very pregnant with Little Sir and his creation in the desert was startling. Startling in its vibrant colors, outlandish paintings, paper mache sculpture, and bold message of God’s love. There was no doubt about the something driving Leonard. If the scarlet red paint didn’t tell you, Leonard would himself.

I cried as we pulled away from Salvation Mountain- an outpost for paint, plaster, and God’s fool.

I remember thinking God asked that man to devote his life in the desert, subsisting off donations and odd jobs.

God had asked me to do nothing so “crazy”.  And yet, I struggle, resist, cower, argue. And sometimes, just refuse.

I know some think my move to Texas and everything with it is foolish, maybe even crazy. And I don’t know that I can call this move God’s calling as much as I know he was calling me away from the life I had. The life I was living was not getting me to the life he meant for me. And I had worked hard to get to a place where God and I agreed on my life’s path.

Maybe Elmer or Leonard would think I’m crazy.  Or maybe they would understand.