To Read: Click on song title to watch a video
from ‘A Little Night Music’
Isn’t it rich? Are we a pair?
Me here at last on the ground, you in mid-air.
Send in the clowns.
Isn’t it bliss? Don’t you approve?
One who keeps tearing around, one who can’t move.
Where are the clowns? Send in the clowns.
Just when I’d stopped opening doors,
Finally knowing the one that I wanted was yours,
Making my entrance again with my usual flair,
Sure of my lines, No one is there.
Don’t you love farce? My fault I fear.
I thought that you’d want what I want. Sorry, my dear.
But where are the clowns? Quick, send in the clowns.
Don’t bother, they’re here.
Isn’t it rich? Isn’t it queer,
Losing my timing this late in my career?
And where are the clowns? There ought to be clowns.
Well, maybe next year.
From the Scriptures:
After some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Come, let us return and visit the believers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’ 37 Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. 38 But Paul decided not to take with them one who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not accompanied them in the work. 39 The disagreement became so sharp that they parted company; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus. 40 But Paul chose Silas and set out, the believers commending him to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
In the circus you ‘Send in the Clowns’ when there has been an accident during the previous act and something is needed to distract the audience from the wreck of the broken bodies of performers in the sawdust.
Sondheim’s most popular song paints a picture of two trapeze artists swinging through the air and missing each other, (sorry, my dear) they fall apart. Having waited so long to make the connection for which both actors have desired – and there are many ‘connections’ made in A Little Night Music – they realise that both of them have moved on and, all that is left is for the clowns to rush in and tidy things up. Leaving our protagonist-lovers empty-handed and feeling as if all along they have been only the clowns and not the stars of the show.
Church life doesn’t always, in fact fairly rarely, run smoothly. In Acts 15 Paul and Barnabas are finally getting it together and then they fall apart over John Mark. Often I need to remind myself that almost all of the epistles in the New Testament were written to help the Early Church solve disagreements and arguments amongst themselves or with those around them. It seems that finding and holding on to each other in church life can be a rarity.
Sometimes, especially when good faithful people ‘miss’ each other and our faith becomes blood in the sawdust rather than acrobatics on the trapeze, I feel as if I am a character in this song. Christians are not well practised enough at saying ‘sorry, my dear’.
When this happens we splinter into different camps – ‘I belong to Paul’, or ‘I belong to Apollos’, or ‘I belong to Cephas’, or ‘I belong to Christ.’ (1 Corinthians 1.12) – or we waste our gifts and energies on infighting, point-scoring, and letting our ego run riot instead of serving each other.
When this happens ‘sending in the clowns’ seems a viable option!
My heart breaks whenever this happens in a congregation of which I am a part. However I do recognise that I most often see this problem when someone else is indulging their ego and very rarely when I am the ringmaster in my own little Alpha Male circus!
How do we find a way out of this? What can we do to not only become more proficient at holding on to each other in our spiritual gymnastics but also encouraging the audience to want to run away and join the circus?
The song gives us two suggestions.
Learn to say sorry and work on improving our timing.
Being the first to say sorry is, I find, the hardest thing for my ego to ever do. I know it is the best way. I know there are always two sides to any disagreement. But I also know, unerringly, that I am always the one who is more sinned against than sinning… or at least that is the sop I feed myself when yet another person passes out of the fellowship of Christ’s religion. How silly of me, how silly of us. How come we, who know we are loved because we are forgiven, have not yet learnt that one of the chief ways we have of showing love to our sisters and brothers in the faith is to forgive them also?
Improving our timing takes practice and patience and prayer. Too often I find myself reacting to a crisis in the life of the church instead of responding. After many decades I have begun to learn that not everything demands an immediate response. When I rush to reply to a difficult situation I often find myself honing a retort, which is never a helpful way to ‘Maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’ (Ephesians 4.3). Learning to wait a little, to choose the right time to reply, gives space for prayer and reflection on all sides of a disagreement and becomes an opportunity for everyone to chose righteousness instead of settling for only being ‘right’.
Surely it can be that difficult to be trapeze artists in God’s Big Top?
Thank you, Lord,
that your grace
helps us to realize
against weakness, sins, mistakes
is the pride
of those who think themselves perfect
and forget that we are
weakness, weakness, weakness!
Ah! If only our pride understood
that you perform miracles
true and genuine humility.
Dom Helder Camara, Brazil
1) The next time you get ‘that’ email or letter or phone call from ‘that’ person – you know the one whom you see as your own personal thorn in the flesh – try to not reply for at least 12 if not 24 hours.
2) Search your heart to see if there is anyone to whom you need to say ‘Sorry, my Dear’.
Encore: Click on song title to watch a video
The Glamorous Life describes a young girl receiving a postcard from her mother who has gone on the stage. It paints a picture of how exciting it can be to follow dreams instead of ‘keeping house’ like ‘ordinary mothers’. A child’s attempt to justify her parent’s lifestyle it is tinged with sadness and her need for occasional ‘ordinariness’.
Prayers are from ‘Prayers Encircling the World’ and are copyright © SPCK: 1998.
Scripture quotations are copyright © New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright 1989, 1995, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
These Reflections, ‘A Song for Lent – 40 Days in the West End’ are copyright © Andrew Dotchin 2018