Posts Tagged ‘syrio forel’

Game of Thrones_Dikembe Mutombo

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In the award-winning HBO series “Game of Thrones,” the sword master Syrio Forel introduces his young apprentice Arya Stark to swordplay through “dancing lessons.”  No, he is not teaching her to waltz Matilda…he is teaching her how to fight.  But to learn to thrive in combat is, from his perspective, not much different from learning to master the intricacies of a dance.

In his 1973 film “Mean Streets,” director Martin Scorsese gives audiences a bar fight that is set (I might even say choreographed) to the tune of the Marvelettes’ “Please Mr. Postman.”  I like to use this scene as an example of Scorsese’s genius as a director, having as he does the ability to create a sort of “dance” even out of a portrait of violence.

Cinema – along with its distant relative, television – is a kind of “dance of images,” like the shadows on the wall of Plato’s cave.  And with these images come circumstances, which involve characters faced with challenges and adversity…all ingredient in the beauty of the dance.

To those who question how I can believe in God when the world is so messed up, I posit a question of my own: If filmmakers and swordsmen can bring beauty out of otherwise unwholesome images and sticky situations, then how much more can the Creator do so with the disorder of the universe?

Here is what I believe and hold to as a Catholic: All of creation, and all of history, is a dance, designed to reflect the eternal Dance of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (see my Thanksgiving post for a reflection on the Trinitarian character of creation).

But as with any dance, life is not one dance partner puppeteering the other.  In such a case, the dancers are not partners at all.  Each party must be free to cooperate with the other.  Unfortunately, free will entails the ability to err – and as we know, creatures have indeed erred.

To turn again to “Game of Thrones,” there is a scene from a later episode of Season One in which Jaime Lannister, one of the story’s primary villains, questions the existence of the gods on account of the world’s dysfunction.  He asks the age-old question: If the gods are real, then why is there so much evil in the world?

Catelyn Stark’s answer is striking: “Because of people like you.”

God respects our freedom.  He invites us – and through us, all of creation – to join in the divine Dance, but He will never force us.  In the words of Peter Kreeft, professor of philosophy at Boston College: “God seduces, but He never rapes.”  But what He will do is incorporate our mistakes, our transgressions, into the Dance in such a way as to maintain – and ultimately, by His infinite power, enhance – its integrity and beauty.

The shining instance of this is the Cross.  In the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ, we see that God’s response to evil is not to snap His fingers and cancel out its existence.  His answer, rather, is to assume the consequence of evil unto Himself and swallow it up in the ever greater Divine Mercy.  He thus affirms the free will with which He endowed all human beings while at the same time sharing His redemptive love.

That is why the Cross is the point of reference for all Christians regarding life on this earth.  Because of what Christ did for us, all of humanity’s sufferings and trials, all tribulations in this world that “groans in travail, waiting for the revelation of the sons of God” (Romans 8:19), can now take on redemptive value.  Passing through these struggles as through an Exodus, we can lead the world into renewal, shedding light along the path as signs of hope.

Let’s return to the combat metaphor.  Dr. Kreeft wrote a book titled “Love is Stronger Than Death,” a philosophical reflection on the ultimate evil of human life.  He explores five stages of humankind’s relationship to death – Death as Enemy, Death as Stranger, Death as Friend, Death as Mother, and Death as Lover.  In the chapter on death as a friend, he compares death to a sparring partner whose thrusts and jabs put us on guard and force us to exercise our skills a bit.  I think we can apply this metaphor to suffering and life’s troubles in general, not just death.  Even the atheist Friedrich Nietzsche understood this: “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

And doesn’t the darkness sometimes make the light shine all the clearer?  Doesn’t the light at the end of the tunnel look so much brighter for our having passed through the tunnel itself?  Don’t the lofty mountains look all the more majestic for the depth of the valleys?  And don’t experiences of surviving adversity in the company of others have the power to forge strong and lasting bonds of fellowship?

It’s almost like the contrast of lights and darks in a painting, high notes and low notes in a symphony, or even complementary dance moves in a ballet.

Suffering is part of the fabric of human experience.  Yet the resilience of the human spirit comes from hope, and I believe mankind’s primal hope comes from being made in the image and likeness of the God Who loved us enough to redeem us and Who will one day renew the cosmos, filling creation with the glory of His Kingdom and lifting humanity to an inheritance which “eye has not seen, nor ear heard” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

I believe that in every human heart rests this hope, a hope that manifests itself in a variety of ways: The sense that in the midst of the apparently impossible circumstances of this world, there is always something worth fighting for; the sense that suffering and loss are not all there is, or at least the conviction that they shouldn’t have the final word; dedication to preserving and sharing what is good, beautiful, and true in life…the “Seeds of the Word.”

What’s my point in all this?  My point is simply that life, in both its seen and unseen elements, is a dance.  It is a wonderful, terrible, exalting, humbling, heartwarming, terrifying, comforting, challenging, community-building, isolating, healing, ferociously painful, mysterious dance.  And for better or worse, we are all in it together…not just we who are alive today but we as in the whole of humankind, past, present and future.  As the great British writer G.K. Chesterton once said, “We’re all in the same boat, and we are all seasick.”

So there you have it.  That’s the idea behind the name of the blog, and the blog itself.  You may still be wondering, however, why I am choosing to focus primarily on the movies.


Film is unique as an art form.  Vivian Sobchack, professor of theater arts and film at the University of California at Santa Cruz, defines this uniqueness very well in her book, “The Address of the Eye.”  All art forms use creative means of expressing the realities of direct, lived experience for our reflection; but what sets film apart, as Sobchack says, is that it expresses direct experience (part of the “dance”) using direct experience.

Therefore, I feel that it is the most profound way for me to present my faith and to dialogue with the Seeds of the Word in contemporary culture.  If you have read this far, I assume you have some interest in joining me.  I don’t know what this journey will bring, but I look forward to the adventure.

And so onward, upward, and into the dance!

Note: All images were obtained through a Google image search except for the pictures of “Love is Stronger Than Death” and “The Address of the Eye,” which were obtained from Amazon.com.

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