A few years ago, I picked up the book The Clowns of God at random, piqued by the unusual title. More than halfway through reading it, I was surprised to find mention of a little school of children with Down syndrome. The school was sponsored by a grant from the French government and by the charity of wealthy individuals, one of whom had nicknamed the children les petites bouffonnes du bon Dieu... or "God's little clowns..."
Written over thirty years ago, the book explores end time events brought about by the imminent threat of all-out nuclear war. The story weaves together politics and Catholicism, raising questions that neither politics nor religion can fully answer.
At the end of the book, Jesus makes an appearance to a group of people hiding out in the mountains. The people waver between doubt and belief and wish for proof that this is indeed Jesus. Included in the group is the little school of children with Down syndrome, and Jesus asks to hold one of them on his lap. He then says:
I know what you are thinking. You need a sign. What better one could I give than to make this little one whole and new? I could do it; but I will not. I am the Lord and not a conjuror. I gave this mite a gift I denied to all of you--eternal innocence. To you she looks imperfect--but to me she is flawless, like the bud that dies unopened or the fledgling that falls from the nest to be devoured by the ants. She will never offend me, as all of you have done. She will never pervert or destroy the work of my Father's hands. She is necessary to you. She will evoke the kindness that will keep you human. Her infirmity will prompt you to gratitude for your own good fortune...More! She will remind you everyday that I am who I am, that my ways are not yours, and that the smallest dust mote whirled in darkest space does not fall out of my hand...I have chosen you. You have not chosen me. This little one is my sign to you. Treasure her!
This is a book of fiction. But fiction can be a powerful vehicle to convey truth. In today's often superficial world where appearance is more important than truth and where sophistication is more to be praised than innocence, Morris West's assessment deserves, at the very least, a moment of serious thought.
His words ring true to me, because I have had similar thoughts in the last years. Thoughts that challenge my innate assumption that "normal" is better and anomalies are flawed. Gradually, I am realizing that some of the things Wade will never do are because he will not possess the level of complex thought required to be evil.
And I remember that once there was a world where created beings were made to be innocent. A realm where evil was not recognized. A place where humans walked with God.
A garden that was called Paradise.