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Archive for January, 2014

ValleyWhen God had filled the earth with life
And blessed it, to increase,
Then cattle dwelt with creeping things,
And lion with lamb, at peace.
He gave them vast, untrodden lands,
With plants to be their food;
Then God saw all that he had made
And found it very good.
Praise God the Father of all life,
His Son and Spirit blest,
By whom creation lives and moves,
In whom it comes to rest.
 
– From the Stanbrook Abbey Hymnal (used in the Liturgy of the Hours, Evening Prayer)
 
Image from Wikipedia; text from http://www.universalis.com

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I learned about this website via a radio interview I was listening to on my way to work yesterday.  I had hoped to post the informational video last night, but got busy (you know how it is).

Anyway, here it is now.  Please check it out — it’s well worth your time.

Website link: http://www.ucantberased.com

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I’ve been meaning to see this movie for quite some time, and was finally able to do so recently by the courtesy of a relative.

Very powerful and moving film, based on the true story of a family miraculously reunited after being separated by the 2004 tsunami in Thailand.  The film overall shows how certain primal themes of the human soul can come to light in the midst of great catastrophe.

Bennet-Family-The-Impossible

We meet the Bennet family — consisting of dad Henry (Ewan McGregor), mom Maria (Naomi Watts), and sons Lucas, (Tom Holland), Thomas (Samuel Joslin), and Simon (Oakley Pendergrast) — as they vacation in Thailand for Christmas; they are relaxing and playing by the pool at their resort, and then the tsunami hits…virtually washing everything away.

Maria_Lucas

The first sign of hope we see after this is when Maria and Lucas find each other in the wreckage.  At first, the swift-flowing currents make it hard for them to reach one another.

But they overcome, and they embrace.

Maria offers Lucas the comforting encouragement proper to a mother, and then when she becomes badly injured and, ultimately, ill, he gives her the tender care of a dutiful and loving son.

Some people may disagree with me on this — they’ll say: “Hey, a parent is a parent, and a child is a child.”  But deep down, I think we can sense the reality is something different.  A father’s relationship with his daughter is special in a way that a father-son relationship is not, and vice versa.  A mother’s relationship with son or daughter is special and unique in a way that either child’s relationship with their father is not, and vice versa.  Likewise, a mother’s relationships with son and daughter differ as much as they the father’s.

Such is the incredible richness of the human family.

Lucas_MariaIn Maria and Lucas we see an example of the particular filial bond between mother and son, embracing as it does both the fierce nurturing of the mother and the tender, doting care of the son.  Let’s face it: This moves us deeply, right?

But I think it does more than merely tug at our heartstrings.  Indeed, it strikes a chord deep in our souls that resonates into our thoughts and emotions.  In my opinion, it speaks of a primordial reality older than the ages, yet always pregnant with the hope of new life.

What is arguably the greatest illustration of this was sculpted by Michelangelo in the 16th century:

PietaHere we see the Virgin Mary cradling the body of her Son after the Crucifixion.  Talk about a mother’s care for her child.

But yes, this relationship also went the other way — in fact, in this case the Son’s care for His Mother came first.  This finds expression in the wonderful doctrine of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.  Knowing from all eternity what kind of mother He wanted, the Word of God granted Mary of Nazareth an unprecedented and singular grace: Freedom from all sin, both original and personal, right from the very moment of her conception.

It was as if He saw her walking toward an unseen hole in the ground and stopped her before she got to it, so that she could have a special partnership with Him in saving the rest of us who had already fallen in.

Maria_Lucas_Daniel(I am reminded of Maria and Lucas helping other people, like the little boy named Daniel, in the wake of the tsunami)

To me, any such mother-son relationship as that portrayed in “The Impossible” is a type of that great archetypal Mother-Son relationship.

This was the aspect of the movie that struck me as most profound.  I have a couple of more minor thoughts I’d like to share as well, but I will include these in a follow-up post (hopefully by the end of the week).

Image of Michelangelo’s “The Pietá” from Wikipedia; others obtained through a Google image search

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To combat evil… is to fight with love for all men, including those who are less good. It is to put goodness in relief, so as to make it more attractive, rather than to propagate evil by describing it. When the occasion presents itself to call the attention of society, or of authority, to some evil, it must be done with love for the person to blame, and with delicacy. Do not exaggerate; do not go into detail about the evil any more than is necessary to remedy it.

St.Maximilian_Kolbe-St. Maximilian Kolbe, quoted in the book “Forget Not Love” by André Frossard

Image from Wikipedia

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Light in the Woods
Lord God and Maker of all things,
Creation is upheld by you.
While all must change and know decay,
You are unchanging, always new.
You are man’s solace and his shield,
His Rock secure on which to build.
You are the spirit’s tranquil home,
In you alone is hope fulfilled.
To God the Father and the Son
And Holy Spirit render praise:
Blest Trinity, from age to age
The strength of all our living days.
– From the Stanbrook Abbey Hymnal (used in the Liturgy of the Hours, Midday Prayer)
Image from Wikipedia; text from http://www.universalis.com

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Yeah I know, I’m a little late.  But this movie did win a Golden Globe, so hopefully someone will find it relevant.  As far as the plot goes, I think the trailer gives a sufficient background, so I won’t tire anyone by delving into it.

Gravity_Fetal_PositionMy focus is limited to Ryan Stone (Sandra Bullock), the medical engineer on her first space mission.  The almost-decisive moment in the film, for me, comes when she arrives at the abandoned Russian space station.  As soon as she reaches the safety of the station, she strips off her heavy space gear, curls up into a fetal position, and is momentarily at peace.

FreudSigmund Freud famously wrote about what he perceived to be the two basic human drives: Eros and Thanatos — the life-instinct and the death-instinct, respectively.

These drives, as Freud intended them to be understood, are not as clearly defined as they might seem.  Of the two, Thanatos is the drive closer to the fetal image.  It is the drive toward self-preservation, insulation, withdrawal, comfort…the cozy darkness of the womb.

Eros can be more accurately represented by a flower opening up to sunlight.  It is the drive toward opening oneself up, toward risk, toward adventure, toward expanding one’s horizons.

movies-gravity-sandra-bullock_1Stone’s journey into space strikes me as a form of Thanatos.  A short way into the film, we learn that she had a very young daughter who died.  She spent the rest of her time on earth burying herself in her work, and then outside of work she would just drive around in her car without any particular aim.  My assumption is that the space mission is the same “driving” she’s been doing since her daughter died, just taken all the way “out there.”

I’ve never been to outer space, but it does appear to have a certain womb-like quality with its darkness, silence, and solitude.  It’s the perfect place for someone to go if s/he is broken by grief and wants to get away from everything, including his/her own pain.

Tragedy, pain and trial can lead to various forms of Thanatos, including those that are more self-destructive.  But these can also be transformational and redemptive.  They can break us out of the false security of the ego, open us up to commiseration with others, and instill in us a sense of our dependence on a Higher Power.

In other words, we can respond to suffering Erotically (in the life-drive sense).  The greatest form of Eros, in my view, is prayer.  Far from curling up into a ball, we open ourselves up to the God who wants to speak to us when we pray.  But as with the flower opening itself up to the sun, this involves a certain self-forgetfulness and the acceptance of vulnerability.  And yet, that is where we find true and abiding peace.

Gravity_PrayerOur protagonist seems to gain a sense of this as she fights for her life 372 miles above the earth.  The life instinct wells up in her, and just when her survival seems to have become impossible, she turns to prayer — lamenting, at one point, that no one ever taught her how to pray.

*SPOILER ALERT*

In the end, Stone makes it back to earth in a capsule from an abandoned Chinese space station.  The shuttle lands in a lake; Stone climbs out of the shuttle, swims to shore, emerges from the water onto dry land, kisses the ground, and utters these words as a breath of fresh air: “Thank you.”

Gravity_GratitudeIt occurred to me that herein lies the key both to prayer and to peace in adversity: Gratitude.  As the toddler gains from his mother’s fundamental, assuring presence the confidence he needs to explore his environment, so the soul needs to learn to rest in God’s loving care and sustenance in order to venture out, boldly and freely, into the beautiful and unpredictable ocean of the Divine Life.

On that note, I present to you, in conclusion, the greatest act of prayer the world has ever seen:

Christ Crucified by VelazquezPhotos of Freud and Christ crucified obtained from Wikipedia; all other images obtained through a Google image search

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Charles Dance, who stars in the HBO series “Game of Thrones” as the stern and scheming Tywin Lannister, recently narrated the BBC Sport spot for the 2014 Winter Olympics.  Pretty cool 🙂

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I’m not a huge country music fan; but I have heard this song on the radio a few times, and I’ve grown fond of it.  I think the words describe the Blesséd Virgin Mary perfectly.  No one “loves us like Jesus does” more than Mary.

(BTW: I am fully aware that the Virgin Mary is not the subject of this song.  But I don’t think I’m stretching things, because in fact all women share in the dignity of Mother Mary)

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Game_of_Thrones_title_card

I do find “Game of Thrones” enjoyable.  I find the characters, the world, and the story intriguing…if more than a little ambiguous.  Many people compare the show to “The Lord of the Rings,” some with attention to how its underlying worldview differs.  I want to take a look at that in this post.

The interesting thing about medieval fantasy is the time period that inspires the genre — and even more, the setting that inspires its settings: Northwestern Europe — especially Great Britain, which seems to be the prototypical setting.

England has a fascinating literary history.  The stories bound up with its ancestral traditions were, of course, passed on orally at first.  And when they began to be written down, they were given their Christian interpretations in translation.  Not only were the scribes immortalizing the great myths by committing them to the scrolls, they were drawing out what they perceived to be the “seeds of the Word” in these myths.

Tolkien_1916Now we turn to J.R.R. Tolkien, who was a scholar of Anglo-Saxon language and literature.  Between his love for the lore and history of his country, his interest in how language is shaped by and shapes people’s lives and cultures, his tragic experiences as a child and as a young man, and his discovery of hope and solace in the faith given to him by the priests who cared for him as an orphan, he came to find a unique way of presenting Christianity to the modern world…not in a preachy or didactic way, but as something that speaks to the deepest heart, deepest hurts, deepest hopes and desires of mankind.

Hence, we have Middle-Earth and “The Lord of the Rings.”

George_R._R._Martin_signingLet’s admit that Westeros, the setting of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire,” is a little bit different.  On the surface, it does strike one as a “re-paganization” of fantasy.  We find ourselves in a world of many gods; and whenever a “true God” is proposed, this is usually regarded with great suspicion.

But I almost wonder if it is more of a postmodern fantasy.  Not that it necessarily adheres to the tenets of postmodernism, but it gives us a world that is deeply unsure of itself and groping for answers, albeit within a setting that reflects the genre’s pre-Christian roots.

Okay.  All that said, I can delve more deeply into “Game of Thrones.”

robb_stark_02The more I watch the HBO series, the more convinced I am (though I have felt this way from the start) that “Game of Thrones” does not celebrate spectacles of violence, savage lust, scheming, or betrayal.  The show can be difficult to watch at times, because our characters are living in a world rife with the brutality of old Europe and in which loyalty is fragile, people seek their own ends above all else, nearly no one can be trusted (at least not for sure), and there are almost no friends.

The Starks maintain a code of honor and goodness, but their family would seem to be an island amidst a great flood of divided loyalties.  Our friends in Westeros live in a dark and hard world, and no goodhearted person could be unaffected by that.

But there are here and there what I would like to call “moments of light,” shining intermittently and fleetingly like sunlight through passing storm clouds….

Tyrion_Shae

…whether it is Tyrion Lannister’s growing love for the prostitute Shae…

Tywin-and-Arya…Tywin Lannister’s father-daughter-like bonding with Arya Stark…

Cersei…Queen Cersei’s tender love for her children and regret over the grief her son Joffrey is causing everyone…

Tyrion-Lannister…Tyrion’s almost-effort to comfort her (or the “moment they almost have”)…

Stannis Baratheon…or Stannis Baratheon’s regret over killing his younger brother, who had been his opponent in the war for the Iron Throne.

Overall, I would say this: Good fiction, at its best, shows how the goodness of the human spirit can triumph even in the face of great obstacles, while at the same time not glossing over the ambiguity in human nature.  If we’re going to compare Tolkien and Martin, it seems we could say that “The Lord of the Rings” is more concerned with the former, and “Game of Thrones” with the latter.

Where there is life, there is hope, and the good always has a way, at least, of peaking its head in.  And I think we see that in Westeros.  So while it may not exactly resemble Tolkien’s vision of the Light of Faith illuminating the myths of men, it does give us shafts of golden dawn light illuminating the dark forest.

Top three images from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google image search

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WinterMy personal opinion is that January is the best time to live in a cold-winter climate.  December is the prettiest, but I believe that January is the best in a deeper sense.

If we have taken down the trees, lights, and decorations, and turned off the festive music, it is because we don’t have to prepare for the Savior’s arrival (“Mass”) any longer.  He is here.  If the Christmas Season is more of a “honeymoon phase,” winter is, perhaps, where the rubber hits the road.

Snow is an ambiguous thing.  On the one hand, it is beautiful to look at, and a wintry landscape can easily recall the wonder of childhood.  But on the other hand, it can be very dangerous.  At the very least, it inconveniences us and, at times, disrupts our plans.

Yet like the Word of God, its descent to earth has a sure purpose:

For just as from the heavens the rain and snow come down (a)nd do not return there till they have watered the earth, making it fertile and fruitful, Giving seed to him who sows and bread to him who eats, (s)o shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; It shall not return to me void, but shall do my will, achieving the end for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55: 10-11 — bold mine)

We all know the melting snow gives us the abundance of spring, just as Jesus Christ gives the earth spiritual abundance after having come into the world and reversed the course of human history, making many people uncomfortable in the process.

Allusions to snow are used twice in the Bible, that I know of, in reference to Jesus — once in the Old Testament and once in the New:

…and the Ancient One took his throne. His clothing was snow bright, and the hair on his head as white as wool (Daniel 7:9)

The hair of his head was as white as white wool or as snow… (Revelation 1:14)

I hope the abundant snow serves to remind us of Christ’s presence in our lives, even amidst the hardships and suffering we face.  The way I see it, the snow and cold are like His great beauty, dangerous power, and self-giving fruitfulness.  And the winter trees with their bare limbs are like the Crown of Thorns He wore upon His head out of love for His creation.

Happy January, all — and Happy Feast of the Epiphany!

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