And in His hand, the golden ball

I’m not sure if you want to cry, or what; but if you do, you might consider reading Tomie dePaola’s The Clown of God. (If you don’t own the book, you can hear and see it read aloud in this video.)

Quick summary: In Renaissance Italy, a ragged street boy falls in with a travelling show troupe, and as he grows, he becomes an expert juggler. Eventually he strikes out on his own, and becomes a celebrated performer all over the country. He has a complicated routine, but always ends with a rainbow of balls and then “The Sun in the Heavens,” a single golden ball that he tosses impossibly high.

He enjoys his fame; but then times get hard, the clown gets old, and no one cares about his act anymore. He even drops “The Sun in the Heavens,” and the crowd jeers. Now a ragged beggar, he stumbles back to his old hometown, where he takes refuge in a dark church and falls asleep. He wakes up in the middle of the night to blazing lights and music, as a procession of villagers and religious present Christmas gifts before a statue of Mary and a somber Child Jesus.

When they are all gone, he gazes as the statue; and, remembering that he once made children smile, he suits up and goes into his old juggling routine one last time. He works his way through all his tricks, and finishes with the rainbow of colored balls. Finally he adds “The Sun in the Heavens.” He juggles it higher than ever before and cries out, “For you, sweet child, for you!”

And then his old heart gives out and he falls dead to the ground. A sacristan finds him and calls a priest, who blesses the old man’s body.

But the sacristan backs away in fear: The child Jesus is smiling, and in His hand, He holds the golden ball.

Among other things, it’s a story of when things are almost too late — when we almost miss Christmas, because of all the hustling and costume changes and juggling and fuss.

If you can, remember that phrase: “For you, sweet child!” — and toss Him one golden ball.

Apologize to someone if you were rude.
Put your phone down and read a book to your kid.
Let an insult pass without comment or retaliation.
If a street person asks for one dollar, give him ten.
Stop and pray for someone, or give a word of encouragement, before you go on with your juggling routine.

For you, sweet Child! He will catch that ball, and smile.

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10 thoughts on “And in His hand, the golden ball”

  1. Barbara Cooney has an illustrated version of this tale that is better than any other I’ve seen, one of my favorite Christmas books. It’s out of print but perhaps a near-by library has a copy. There’s also a radio version available widely online that’s enjoyable.

    1. I’ll have to look for that; she seems to have made a specialty of Christmas books and I like her work. We have “Spirit Child” which is translated from, IIRC, Aztec and is a nice retelling of the Christmas story (though a couple tiny edits are needed to keep it Catholic) and “The Story of Holly and Ivy” is always on our Christmas reading list even though I can’t make it through without crying copiously (and learned this year that my husband gets shaky-voiced for a bit of it too.)

  2. Simcha! Check out the movie version of this story: “The Juggler of Notre Dame.” I grew up watching it and it is a beautiful story. I’d recommend it for early elementary school on up – a man is killed by robbers in the movie (not very violently depicted but just to be aware of). It looks like someone has put this whole movie on YouTube too, if you want to search it and watch.

    1. We watch that one every year and it is beautiful! The acting is quite good (except for Jonas…) and I like the fleshing out of all the characters.

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