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Archive for March, 2013

CrucifixionToday marks the saddest day in history, the world’s worst memory, and the lowest point of human history.

On this day, the Word Himself was silenced. The Light Himself was eclipsed in darkness.  The Author of life was put to death.

But God had other plans.  Allowing evil to spend itself on Him, taking our curse upon His innocent flesh, He made expiation for our sins, transforming death and suffering forever.

That said, I will add the following great classic from “The Cure” to this post.  It’s a little weird to look at, but the song always reminds me that the greatest act of love the world has ever known occurred on a Friday (indeed, many have spoken of Christ’s Cross as the “nuptial bed” in His marriage to the Church, His Bride).

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sixthsense

The Sixth Sense (1999)

On Tuesday I shared a link to an article by Meg Kinnard that explores the recent zombie trend in light of society’s overall discontent (if you are interested, here is the link to Kinnard’s article: http://tv.yahoo.com/news/researcher-zombie-fads-peak-society-unhappy-092912860.html).

When I read the article, I immediately thought of another popular breed of supernatural creatures in movies, on television, etc. — ghosts.

americanhaunting

An American Haunting (2005)

If you can imagine a hypothetical coin for a moment, picture a zombie head on one side.  Then imagine flipping the coin over to reveal the tail-end of a ghost.

Zombies and ghosts are two sides of the same coin.  A zombie is a body without a soul, and a ghost is a soul without a body.  Both speak to the same fear that lurks deep in every person’s very bones: death.  The separation of the body and the soul is, after all, what death is.

So I got to asking myself whether we have seen any ghost trends in film or television in recent years.  Well, in fact, we have.  With films like “The Sixth Sense” and “The Ring” dominating the box office between 1999 and 2003, and TV shows like “Medium” and “The Ghost Whisperer” taking off in the middle of the last decade, plus the recurrence of cult films about haunted houses and public interest in documentary-style TV shows on the investigation of so-called paranormal activity, we can say that the zombie’s fraternal twin has enjoyed its place at the table.

haunting

The Haunting (1999)

But if the zombie fad suggests dissatisfaction with society and how it affects the average person, what — if anything — might be suggested by a ghost fad?

It’s hard to say, but my guess would be that if the zombie craze pertains to a crisis of externals (the floundering economy, high unemployment, etc.), then any mass fascination with ghosts must pertain to crises of a more internal character.

the-sixth-sense

“The Sixth Sense” is most probably the most famous ghost movie of the last 15 years.  This movie came at the end of the 1990s, a decade that I like to call the heyday of postmodernism in popular culture.  And with postmodernism comes a crisis in cultural identity.  Why?  Because postmodernism is a philosophy in which the only certainty is that there are no certainties, and in which the only direction is progress in the knowledge that there is no direction.  I might be painting in broad strokes a little bit, but this is the gist of postmodernism’s implications.

Even though the post-9/11 years have been marked by what many would prefer to call post-postmodernism, many of the societal ills that accompanied postmodernism persist.  Examples include eating disorders, high rates of depression, sexual promiscuity, drug addictions, teen suicides, and other such earmarks of a society that is, so to speak, not comfortable in its own skin.

Ghost movies may not be as popular right now, but I believe that they are part of a larger trend that yet endures.  In my opinion, the search for meaning in the midst of a seemingly meaningless (a.k.a. postmodern) world has married postmodernist angst to produce a general fascination with the supernatural in our culture.

Ghosts are part of that — but ultimately, since human beings are both physical and spiritual creatures, I think the people who are into the supernatural want to satisfy their fascination with something more “fleshy.”  Perhaps this explains the more recent vampire craze…but more on that later.

All images obtained through a Google image search

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Father Frost

Just a few comments on fairy tales from a religious perspective, following up on yesterday’s post on the recent fairy tale trend in film and television (https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/03/27/fairy-tales-and-the-re-enchantment-of-the-world/).

From philosophers to historians, from anthropologists to theologians, from contemporary psychologists to Christian apologists, many will agree that pre-modern man’s peopling of the world with elves, fairies, and other such creatures was an expression of the innate human desire for love — that is, for belonging, for connection, for unity.

The Christian must surely say that this speaks of some dim memory of Eden, of that close and easy friendship man enjoyed with God at the beginning, and which God — in spite of Original Sin — has never ceased to extend to wayward humankind through His Providence.

As St. Paul said to the Gentiles at Lystra:

In past generations (God) allowed all Gentiles to go their own ways; yet, in bestowing his goodness, he did not leave himself without witness, for he gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filled you with nourishment and gladness for your hearts. (Acts 14:16-17)

But nature also speaks, in its own way, of God’s promise of redemption to our first parents.  Perhaps that is why the fairy tales nature has inspired in the human heart typically end with “happily ever after,” a phrase that betokens the ultimate victory of good over evil.

Recommended reading on this subject:

Weight_Glory

(Chapter: “The Weight of Glory”)

Orthodoxy

(Chapter: “The Ethics of Elfland”)

Sardello

(This book alludes to fairy tales/mythology within a broader framework, one which is psychological rather than religious.  Still, I found it to be highly useful.  But I must warn you that it contains some suggested mental exercises that I do not endorse, and would advise readers to avoid)

Top image from Wikipedia.  Remaining images from http://www.amazon.com.

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Jack_the_Giant_Slayer_posterYou would almost have to have been living under a rock — or at least a ficus bush — the past couple years not to notice that fairy tales are making a comeback.  I suppose they never really went anywhere, but they have experienced a sure resurgence in popularity in the last decade, give-or-take…particularly in popular media.

Oz_-_The_Great_and_Powerful_PosterThe recent releases of “Jack the Giant Slayer” and “Oz: The Great and Powerful” follow two “Snow White” remakes in 2012 and the TV shows “Once Upon a Time” and “Grimm,” both of which bring the world of fairy tales into direct contact with contemporary American life.

We can tie all of this to a general fantasy trend in popular media in the last 10-15 years — from “The Lord of the Rings” to Narnia, from Harry Potter to “Pirates of the Caribbean” and other tales of long ago and faraway places, replete with great adventures, battles, heroes and heroines, and magical creatures of all kinds.

As with any trend at any point in history, we can ask: “Why?”

First of all, fairy tales are perennial.  They speak to timeless and universal truths, principles, and themes that embrace the fabric of every time and place.  As great nineteenth-century writers like G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien would remind us, fairy tales reassure us of a moral universe in which goodness and virtue win and evil and hatred lose.

But as concerns the genre’s current popularity, we can ask what particular “niche” the times provide that it has come to fill.  Setting aside all mundane givens about ticket sales, thrills, etc., let’s explore this question a bit.

Somewhere in our souls, for all our society seems to be moving towards secularism, we continue to yearn for a re-enchantment of the world and of human life.  This is something I’m convinced of, based on what I know and have observed about contemporary life in Western society.

9-11

I think there is evidence for the aforementioned yearning in the fact that the fantasy/fairy tale trend in media goes back to around the time of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001.  This was deeply significant, because most of us in the U.S. had never before witnessed such an attack on the sacredness of life.

A-Bomb

Granted, Western society has harbored a moderate — if suppressed — sense of vulnerability since at least the 1940s, which gave us such phenomena as the Holocaust, World War II, and the atomic bomb.

The September 11th attacks may not have been as catastrophic or destructive to life and to the world as these, but they certainly hit home for us, and perhaps for that reason struck an already troubled nerve.

Our steady diet of fantasy/fairy tale media over the past decade may be an appeal to hope.  Fairy tales themselves are an appeal to meaning, to the belief in a purposeful world in which everything has its place, and everything somehow matters — an outlook that the destructive violence of a 9/11 or an atomic bomb causes us to question.

zombies

Of course, the fairy tale genre is not the only thing trending right now.  A couple weeks ago, a fascinating article appeared on Yahoo! News.  It’s called “Researcher: Zombie fads peak when society unhappy,” by Meg Kinnard, and can be found here:

http://tv.yahoo.com/news/researcher-zombie-fads-peak-society-unhappy-092912860.html

While we haven’t had any 9/11’s of late, lesser evils such as the economic meltdown and mass unemployment have similarly crippled hope, meaning, and a sense of the goodness of the world and of life in human hearts.  In many ways, we are facing the consequences of living in a world bereft of the transcendent values we once held dear.

But I think the fairy tale trend is the flipside of the zombie trend.  Based on this, we can have great hope that all is not doom-and-gloom after all.

Still from “The Walking Dead” obtained through a Google image search.  All other photos from Wikipedia.

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Just wanted to give a shout-out to Bill Kauffman, a well-known local author in my neck of the woods.

Kauffman wrote a screenplay based on Harold Frederic’s Civil War era novel “The Copperhead,” and his screenplay has just been made into a major motion picture!

“Copperhead” was directed by Ronald F. Maxwell (director of “Gettysburg” and “Gods and Generals”) and stars Billy Campbell, Peter Fonda and Angus Mcfadyen.  This is certainly very exciting for my community, in which Kauffman has been involved for many years.

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Game of Thrones_Dikembe Mutombo

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Office_St. Patrick

 

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Leprechaun

The lore of St. Patrick’s Day tells us of a pot-o’-gold at the end of the rainbow, guarded by a wee leprechaun.

In one particular sense, the Irish version of the rainbow myth is closer to the truth than others.  Based on common observance, it observes that the pot-o’-gold is impossible to get to, since one does not get any closer to a rainbow by walking in its direction.

Let it never be said that God doesn’t have a sense of humor.  We might say that this is His way of reminding us that we cannot attain salvation by our own efforts or powers.  It is a gift of grace.

Also, while the rainbow may appear to give us a link to Heaven, the truth remains that Heaven and earth can only be united by the One Who created both.

Christ Crucified by Velazquez

Insofar as Christ is the fulfillment of the Noahide Covenant, the rainbow, like the symbols of the other covenants (for example, the Ark of the Covenant with Moses), leads to the Cross.  So we can say that what we find at the end of the rainbow is not a pot-o’-gold or a leprechaun but, in fact, the Cross.

How does the St. Patty’s Day yarn point to this?  Well, I would venture to suggest two analogies:

1. The true “leprechaun” is Jesus Christ

True, leprechauns are impish, mischievous little creatures, and as such bear no resemblance to the Lord of lords.  But in a sense, Christ is like the leprechauns in that He makes Himself “little.”

St. Paul says it best:

Christ Jesus … though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.  Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2: 5-8)

He manifests this littleness above all in becoming a helpless victim on the Cross for our salvation.

2. The true “pot of gold” is the gift of the Holy Spirit

Having reconciled mankind to God, Christ is able to pour out His Spirit upon the world to sanctify humanity and gather His children scattered by Babel into one Body — the Church.

PentecostThe Holy Spirit is, above all, the Third Person of the Blessed Trinity.  As Jesus is the Father’s Word, the Spirit is the Father’s Breath.  And He is given to us, so that we might have a share in the divine life.

…the Spirit is also personally the living water welling up from Christ crucified as its source and welling up in us to eternal life. (CCC 694)

This is our true treasure.  And I hope you would agree that it puts any “pot-o’-gold” to shame.

So on the day we Irish celebrate the great saint who brought the Gospel to us, we should keep in mind that perhaps those little green men skipping among the clovers have something to teach us after all.

Image of Christ crucified obtained through a Google image search. Other images from Wikipedia.

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Noah's ArkAs I mentioned in part one, the Bible identifies the rainbow as the sign of God’s Covenant with Noah, and through Noah with all of creation.

Indeed, the notion of a Covenant, which involves kinship via oath, is of paramount importance in the Bible.  Many people know of God’s various Covenants with Israel throughout the Old Testament, as well as their ultimate fulfillment in the New Covenant in Jesus Christ.

A lot of people even have at least a vague familiarity with God’s original Covenant with Adam — and therefore with all of mankind — which involved the pledge of steadfast love on His part, as well as the promise of a Redeemer.

But in between Adam and Israel, there was another Covenant that few of us understand.  We know the story pretty well, but we tend to miss the meaning behind it.

We shouldn’t get too caught up in questions about whether there was a literal flood that destroyed the whole world, whether a man literally built a boat that fit two of every kind of animal, or whether the rainbow first appeared only after the Flood was over.  The important thing to get out of the story of Noah’s Ark is that in God’s plan of salvation, it expresses His Covenant with the nations.

Confusion_of_TonguesThe fact that Noah’s story is followed immediately by the story of the Tower of Babel is significant.  Here is what the Catechism of the Catholic Church has to say:

After the unity of the human race was shattered by sin God at once sought to save humanity part by part … This state of division into many nations is at once cosmic, social and religious. It is intended to limit the pride of fallen humanity united only in its perverse ambition to forge its own unity as at Babel … The covenant with Noah remains in force during the times of the Gentiles, until the universal proclamation of the Gospel … Scripture thus expresses the heights of sanctity that can be reached by those who live according to the covenant of Noah, waiting for Christ to “gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad” (CCC 56-58).

And so we can see the rainbow as a sign, inscribed into the canvass of nature, of God’s provident care for all people of all times and places in the world’s various nations, each with its own Guardian Angel.  So when the various cultures I alluded to in my first post betrayed vague notions of the rainbow as a “link” between heaven and earth, they were perhaps not too far off.

God’s next “move” is to take Abraham from among the nations, and from him to form a Nation that is to serve as a “light” to all other nations — that is, Israel.  Through various Covenants and their central signs — including circumcision, the Ark of the Covenant, and the Temple in Jerusalem — God prepares this unique nation for the coming of His Son, Jesus Christ, in the flesh.

For the gentiles, the rainbow is the sign of the Covenant meant to prepare them for the Gospel, to prepare their hearts to welcome the Redeemer Who will unite all nations in His Kingdom, the Church.

Now, with the rainbow’s Covenantal associations in place, we can “jump ship” from the Ark into the land of the leprechauns!

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