On madness


Towards the end of the great film “Zorba the Greek”, the character Zorba advises his young friend “A man needs a little madness or else he never dares cut the rope and be free.” By madness Zorba does not mean insanity. Rather he refers to a willingness to enjoy something regardless of what others think. In a stunning moment of liberation and in response to Zorba’s statement the young man asks Zorba to teach him to dance.

Too often we limit ourselves for fear of what others will think. Too often we stifle creativity because it might be criticized. Too often we seek out a comfort zone then anxiously guard it, fearful of taking any risks that might carry us out of that comfort zone.

Even in religious practice we can come to fear madness. Jesus Christ clearly wanted to make us uncomfortable yet we settle into a spiritual comfort zone where we don’t like to be challenged or feel uneasy. “Let me just go to church, hear a relatively innocuous sermon, then go home.”

One of my acts of madness lasted for over 21 years. I ran every day. Rain or shine. Sickness or health. I once even ran a mile after being discharged from an ICU because I needed to keep The Streak going! I remember being at a party when a man approached me and said he’d heard I was a runner. When I began to tell him the ICU story, his smile faded and he began to back up!

When one embraces madness, one is more likely to speak out. When a person embraces madness, he/she may indeed be judged as a troublemaker or even (as I once was) an “enemy of the church”. Yet madmen and madwomen often speak things we need to hear. I would argue therefore that madness stands as an antidote for spiritual stagnation.

Further Reflection: What have your experiences been with madness? In what ways did they set you free? Do you let fear limit your madness?

Further viewing: Enjoy the closing scene from Zorba the Greek as Alan Bates explores madness with Anthony Quinn: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a6K7OC-IKnA