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Posts Tagged ‘Noah’s Ark’

Noah Poster

Links: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

I went to see “Noah” on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.  Fortunately, the movie ended soon enough that I could enjoy a nice, leisurely walk outside afterwards.  After seeing this movie, I looked on the beauty of the trees, the birds, and the sunlight, reflecting on God’s sustenance of all things, with greater joy and gratitude.  In this final installment of my commentary, I want to talk about why.

Noah6Let’s have a look at some pretty bad timing: After deciding that the human race must end with him and his family, Noah (Russell Crowe) learns that his son, Shem (Douglas Booth), and his beloved, Ila (Emma Watson), are having a child.  As patriarch and leader aboard the ark, Noah makes a firm decision: If the child is a boy, then he will replace Noah’s youngest child as the last man on earth.  If it is a girl — if it is a fruitful female human being, capable of bearing new life — he will have to kill her.

In spite of the entreaties of his family, Noah will not be moved.  He believes firmly, based on a process of discernment, that this is the will of the Creator.

“This gives me no pleasure,” he says to his wife. “But it is just.”

From that point on, there is an atmosphere of darkness, tension, and impending doom upon the ark — and I sincerely hope everyone who sees this movie feels it.  I certainly did.

Think about this from an existential perspective.  It is one thing to be facing catastrophe and death.  It is one thing to be uncertain whether we will survive or not.  It’s even one thing to intuit that we will not survive whatever ordeal we are facing.

But it is quite another when we come to understand that we should not be spared.

It is not simply, as a materialistic atheist might argue, that there is no real reason for man to be saved.  It’s worse than that.  Rather, it is right that we should die.

Our hearts yearn for life, and our instincts are geared toward survival.  So what do we do when we come to the sobering realization that there is absolutely nothing in justice to plead our cause?

Our hope rests in the…well, in the hope that the Creator will exercise mercy, that He will give us another chance.

Noah and Family

And this is exactly what happens at the end of “Noah.”  When he tries to carry out the execution of the baby girls, Noah finds that he cannot do it.  When he looks at their faces, he feels nothing in his heart but love.

That’s where it starts.  Then the waters of the Great Flood recede, and the family is given a new start on dry land.  And at the very end, in an impressive cinematic display, a rainbow — the sign of God’s Covenant with the world through Noah — fills the sky.

God has chosen mercy.  They know not why, but they know it, and can be glad.

Of course, the Gospel tells us why…

Christ Crucified by VelazquezThe Creator Himself, in the Person of the Word, foreseeing human sinfulness, determined from before the creation of the world to take on our human nature and, in His innocence, to take our guilt, shame, and curse upon Himself.  This He did on Calvary about 2,000 years ago.  The consequences we have earned for ourselves, He suffers in our place.  Having risen from the dead and ascended to the Father in heaven, He, the “spotless victim,” now advocates for us, always pleading that God be glorified in mercy.

As a cradle Catholic, I knew this; but it never really touched me to the core until I saw this movie (which is, no doubt, informed by the larger Old Testament narrative of which it is a part — a story of God’s unwavering faithfulness to His children even in the face of their unfaithfulness).

Now, at last, I truly understand how the greatest witnesses of the Faith could endure so much suffering and martyrdom throughout the years and still remain joyful.  We have been forgiven.  No one who turns to God in sincerity will be turned away.

I’ll say it again: We have been forgiven!  Let us strive to understand what that means.

Images from Wikipedia

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The_ImpossibleFor the first post, click here

Having taken an in-depth look at the primary mother-son relationship in J.A. Bayona’s “The Impossible,” I wanted to share a couple of other observations as well.

GERALDINE_CHAPLIN_STARSIn a separate strand of the narrative, we have the two younger boys, Thomas and Simon, in a refugee camp.  One starry night, the older boy, Thomas, meets an older English woman (Geraldine Chaplin) who tells him that the stars we see in the sky are actually the stars of the distant past.  They died a long time ago, but they shone so brightly that their light still reaches us.

“It seems impossible, doesn’t it?” the woman asks.

Annunciation

Going back to the Virgin Mary a moment: We can say, along with the archangel Gabriel in his Annunciation of Mary’s virginal conception of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit:

…nothing will be impossible for God. (Luke 1:37 — emphasis mine)

Like all things great and small, the dead stars whose light illumines our nights communicates the self-effacing, yielding power of God in sustaining and redeeming His creation.  That one of the very supreme instances of this power happened in a Mother’s Womb is significant, given our analysis in the first post.

bennett_family_impossibleAnd finally, a more general note.  Any time a catastrophic flood is the subject of a narrative, the Great Flood of Genesis inevitably comes to mind.  The connection here is a little bit vaguer; but weak as it might be, the connection can be summed up in two alliterative words: Flood and family.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Human beings are fallen creatures.  When things are going well, we have a tendency to settle into our selfish ways (think of Lucas Bennett on the airplane at the beginning of the film, when he is being a typical rude teenager).  Sometimes, it can take a catastrophe to shake us out of ourselves.

Sure, disasters can pit us against one another.  But they can also make us more aware of our interdependence and common humanity.  And they can strengthen familial bonds, as great trial can make us realize afresh the irreplaceable importance of family.

NoahsSacrificeThat’s where the story of Noah and the Great Flood becomes relevant.  When we read this classic story, we notice that the very same Flood that destroys the world renews it (renewal is a property of water, after all).  In Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their wives, humanity is given a new beginning…and it all begins with the family.

Why?  Because the family is a living image of the Blesséd Trinity, the eternal communion of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, the God for Whom the human heart is made.

And why do even disaster and tragedy have the potential to bring light to this aspect of human existence?  Let me answer that question with an image:

Christ Crucified by VelazquezThe Second Person of the Blesséd Trinity, in Whom the dying stars that share their light with the world so many years later were made, the Eternal Son of the Eternal Father, has assumed all suffering and catastrophe unto Himself, so that in and through these things we might have the inexpressible privilege of touching His precious wounds…indeed, of sharing in these saving wounds ourselves, so as to take on a salvific role for others.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend “The Impossible.”  It is a well-done film, a testament to the triumph of the human spirit, and a work of art that speaks to the human heart in very profound ways.

“Impossible” poster and Biblical images from Wikipedia; remaining images obtained through a Google Image search

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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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Rainbow

St. Patrick’s Day is nearly upon us.  While there is much to be said about the great saint being commemorated — my Patron Saint, incidentally — I think most people’s attention would be more easily captivated by popular images of leprechauns and their pots-o’-gold under the rainbow.

Given this traditional affiliation, I want to preface my comments on leprechauns with a focus on the rainbow.

Rainbows have captivated mankind’s attention for ages, and so many cultures have attributed various forms of significance to it.

Heimdall

To the Vikings it was the Bifrost Bridge, believed to connect earth to Asgard, the realm of the gods.

Iris

According to Greco-Roman mythology, what we call the rainbow was in fact the path made in the sky by Iris, a minor deity whose job it was to relay messages between Heaven and Earth.

Nuwa

The ancient Chinese would have said that the rainbow came into existence as a result of a slit torn into the veil between heaven and earth, which the goddess Nüwa sealed using multi-colored stones.

Across the world’s many cultures throughout the millennia, interpretations of the rainbow included the clothing or paraphernalia of gods, omens, and the very form of a particular god itself.

Descartes_RainbowAnd then of course we have the modern scientific explanation of the rainbow, which is well beyond my expertise or powers of explanation and has something to do with the refractions of light.

This, however, gives us the how of the rainbow.  Before we dismiss the ancients as stupid primitives who understood nothing about the world, we should keep in mind that they were more concerned with whys than with hows.

If we take a look at the various cultures in question, we notice that most of them conceived of the rainbow in terms of some sort of connection between heaven and earth — whether in the form of a connecting apparatus or a revelation (intentional or not) on heaven’s part of itself.

NoahWith all this in mind, let’s take a look at the Biblical conception of the rainbow.

In the Book of Genesis, we read about God’s Covenant with Noah and all of creation after the Great Flood:

God added: “This is the sign that I am giving for all ages to come, of the covenant between me and you and every living creature with you: I set my bow in the clouds to serve as a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.  When I bring clouds over the earth, and the bow appears in the clouds, I will recall the covenant I have made between me and you and all living beings, so that the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all mortal beings.  As the bow appears in the clouds, I will see it and recall the everlasting covenant that I have established between God and all living beings – all mortal creatures that are on earth” (Genesis 9:12-16).

It is with this understanding of the rainbow in terms of a Covenant in mind that I intend to explore the leprechaun/rainbow symbolism in relation to Christianity.

Images obtained from Wikipedia.

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To read part one, go to https://intothedance.wordpress.com/2013/01/04/the-meaning-of-life-in-jeff-who-lives-at-home-part-one-of-two/

The quest for meaning is very much a part of the human “dance,” in my view.  It is part of the “stuff” that makes up our existence, and it speaks of our desire to be dancing to a meaningful “tune” as opposed to moving mechanically along some cosmic assembly line.

Jeff’s quest for meaning leads him to risk his life to save complete strangers from drowning.

Jeff on Toilet

Now this hearkens back to the beginning of the film, where Jeff reflects on the fact that the characters in the movie “Signs” are saved by water at the end.  He sees the connection between this and the unfinished glasses of water left by the Abigail Breslin character throughout the film, which he takes as an illustration of how all things happen for a purpose.

His own search for “signs” leads him to the very same end, for the scene in question indeed involves salvation by water, not just from water.

The religious and spiritual allusion is quite clear here (although I can’t say whether the filmmakers, Jay and Mark Duplass, had this in mind, it is often used as a literary element).  For a Catholic, the notion of salvation by water refers first and foremost to Baptism:

“Baptism is the sacrament of regeneration through water in the word” (CCC 1213)*

Noah's Ark

But the term also evokes the Old Testament imagery of the Great Flood (remember Noah’s Ark?) and the Exodus from Egypt, both of which the Church understands to be prefigurations of Baptism.

In both cases, we see at the same time salvation by water and destruction by water.  This is quite consistent with the character of water itself, which we all recognize has life-giving and destructive sides.  Partly for that reason, it is a fitting symbol and instrument of salvation.

The great paradox of the self is that you only find it by losing it.  If you are looking for yourself – that is, your deepest self, your true identity as a unique, individual person – you’ll never find it.  Only by forgetting ourselves in the service of God – for none of us exists by our own power — and neighbor – for none of us exists in isolation – can we find and become who we were born to be.

What needs to die, what needs to be destroyed in the deluge, is the ego.  If I want to live an authentic life, I have to give up my self-centered, self-willed, self-serving ways and actively live out my vocation, the same vocation each and every one of us has — namely, to love.

Far from being a mere feeling, love is the decision to want and seek what is good for the other for the other’s own sake, rather than for the sake of our own gratification.  And to be willing to sacrifice everything one has — even to the point of dying, if necessary — for the sake of another is the highest form of love.

This is a major part of life’s meaning, and I think that’s the lesson Jeff and his brother, Pat, learn at the end of “Jeff, Who Lives at Home.”

Any reader who knows me well knows that I am far from perfect in this area.  Like most of us, I have yet to surrender all of those aspects of my personality that are concerned with my own prerogatives.  And for that, I am sorry.  I beg patience with a work-in-progress such as myself.

Still from the film obtained through a Google image search; photo of Noah’s ark obtained from http://www.wikipedia.org.

For citations of primary sources, go to http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG0015/__P3G.HTM

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