Easter Sunday Paradox

Light rising out of total darkness makes the most stark contrast.

I took this photo at sunrise two days ago. It wasn’t that dark in the environs but my camera pointing at the light source darkens everything else.

 

Rising Light

 

Let me learn by paradox
that the way down is the way up,
that to be low is to be high,
that the broken heart is the healed heart,
that the contrite spirit is the rejoicing spirit,
that the repenting soul is the victorious soul,
that to have nothing is to possess all,
that to bear the cross is to wear the crown,
that to give is to receive,
that the valley is the place of vision.

Let me find Thy light in my darkness,
Thy life in my death,
Thy joy in my sorrow,
Thy grace in my sin,
Thy riches in my poverty
Thy glory in my valley.

–– excerpt from The Valley of Vision

 

On that first Easter Sunday, the ultimate paradox came to pass, for without a willing death, there would not have been a resurrection.

He is risen!

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HAPPY EASTER!

Thanks to the Quarantine Resource List from Alison Chino, I followed the link to her Trinity Aberdeen Pastor’s message from which the above prayer is quoted.

 

 

 

Good Friday Separation

The One who had gone through utter isolation and known our griefs laments with us at this time.

A man of sorrows who had experienced the ultimate separation: In a crisis, his followers deserted him, even his closest denied him; above all, the physical torments on the cross couldn’t match the pain of searing separation from his Father, forsaken.

___________

He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

–– Isaiah 53: 2-5

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This song has been on my mind all week. An apt meditation on this Good Friday as we’re all going through separation like never before. I chose a minimal video with just the words and the music. Take a 3 minute respite in your isolation this Good Friday.

 

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Urban Progress, The Wasteland and An Easter Thought

Many contemporary films from China showcased at Film Festivals in recent years tend to use the country’s fast-paced urban development as backdrop. This new wave of filmmakers situate their characters and tell their stories amidst dilapidated buildings marked for demolition, sometimes the whole community torn down to make way for new projects. In the name of progress, many are uprooted and displaced.

In Life After Life (2017), we see a village abandoned as its former residents have all moved to the city. In Dead Pigs (2018) we see the feisty owner of the last house in an urban community standing alone, refusing to sell to the developer. The acclaimed auteur Jia Zhangke’s Cannes winning A Touch of Sin (2013) follows desperate individuals wrestled down by the strong arms of economic progress and capitalistic greed. His latest “Ash is Purest White” (2018) may be of a crime genre but we see the protagonist being swept along the tumultuous torrents of technological change and urban development, seeking whatever humanness that remains.

The most haunting has to be the 2018 film by the talented, young director Hu Bo, An Elephant Sitting Still. Hu parallels the desolation of the urban environs with the inner world of his characters: Despondent youths in a school bound for demolition, not that they have bright futures even if the school remains; aimless adults desperately seeking connection but ending in betrayal and loss; a grandfather facing gloomy days ahead as he’s cut off from his son’s family… Hu’s accusation of his society was astute and unsparing.

At one point in the film, The Wasteland is alluded to, certainly not only referring to the physical environs. That it is mentioned as a deadpan jest to make fun only exposes the indifference of the speaker to its meaning. Tragically life imitates art, Hu took his own life during the film’s post-production. He was 29.

Eliot wrote The Wasteland in the aftermath of WWI, lamenting the desolation and that dry, cracked piece of soil deep in the human soul, derelict and barren in the midst of post-war development and the loss of spirituality.

“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”

….

Cut to Easter. I’ve been pondering these seemingly unrelated ripples from films during this Easter weekend, at a place thousands of miles from home. Then came this Easter thought. When that stone was rolled away at the grave, the Son of God reversed the trajectory of the human race. With that ultimate miracle of the resurrection, He’d blown life into the dry stone that is the human heart, turned wasteland into fertile soil, opening up the way to save us from ourselves.

Herein lies hope.

***

An Easter Sunday Poem

Warbler on tree

The Whole Story

Behind that stone before
it was rolled away
a corpse lay.
There lay all I deplore:
fear, truculence – much more
that to any other I need not say.
But behind that stone I must be sure
of deadness, to allay
self-doubt i.e. so nearly to ignore
the love and sacrifice for our
release; to nearly stray
back into the old
pursuit of virtue.

Once it is clear
it was a corpse that day,
then, then, we know the glory
of the clean place, the floor
of rock, those linens, know the hour
of His inexplicable “Peace;” the pour
— after He went away —
of wonder, readiness, simplicity,
given.

                             –– Margaret Avison

 

***

 

A Good Friday Trial

DSC_0280

“Then went the jury out, whose names were Mr. Blindman, Mr. Nogood, Mr. Malice, Mr. Love-lust, Mr. Live-loose, Mr. Heady, Mr. Highmind, Mr. Enmity, Mr. Liar, Mr. Cruelty, Mr. Hate-light, Mr. Implacable, who everyone gave in his private verdict against him among themselves, and afterwards unanimously concluded to bring him in guilty before the judge. And first among themselves, Mr. Blindman, the foreman, said, I see clearly that this man is a heretic. Then said Mr. Nogood. way with such a fellow from the earth! Ay, said Mr. Malice, for I hate the very look of him. Then said Mr. Love-lust, I could never endure him. Nor I, said Mr. Live-loose; for he would be always condemning my way. Hang him, hang him, said Mr. Heady. A sorry scrub, said Mr. High-mind. My heart riseth against him, said Mr. Enmity. He is a rogue, said Mr. Liar. Hanging is too good for him, said Mr. Cruelty. Let us despatch him out of the way, said Mr. Hate-light. Then said Mr. Implacable, Might I have all the world given me, I could not be reconciled to him; let us forthwith bring him in guilty of death. And so they did; therefore he was presently condemned to be had from the place where he was, to the place from whence he came, and there to be put to the most cruel death that could be invented.”

–– John Bunyan
Pilgrim’s Progress

 

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Two Films for Thoughts at Easter

I’ve tried different words for the title: Two films for the uninterested, indifferent…

So you think Easter is too maudlin an occasion for you. You’re not fond of bunnies, nor church services, and this talk about death and new life has become too clichéd. That’s ok. How about watching a couple of films? No, not Mel’s Passion, you know how the story goes. Something different.

First is a rather tame one. Previously on Ripple, I’d written about the book by Georges Bernanos’s The Diary of A Country Priest (1936), here’s the film adaptation (1951). Watch it for its artistic values and for the appreciation of a French film legend, Robert Bresson.

Robert Bresson is one of the most influential figures in French cinema. The acclaimed New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard once noted: “Robert Bresson is French cinema, as Dostoevsky is the Russian novel and Mozart is German music.”

I know, Austrians would say Mozart was Austrian, but this just shows his influence has crossed borders. Same with Bresson, who is acclaimed as one of the forefathers of the French New Wave, even though his style is not experimental. Swedish iconic director Ingmar Bergman had specifically cited Diary of a Country Priest as influence for his Winter Light.

Do note this: Bresson was a professed agnostic. His adapting a work by the Catholic writer Bernanos shows the moving power and the universal appeal of the book. The parish of Ambricourt in the story is a microcosm of the human world. The seemingly placid village hides a spiritually barren landscape and a cocoon of malice. The young priest, an unwelcome alien, is barred from entry into the inner world of its residents.

the-gate-of-le-chateau

Watch for its cinematography. Watch for its symbolism. I won’t go into details again. CLICK HERE to read my full review after you’ve finished this post.

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A 1951, black and white film may not pique your interest. Here’s a modern version, and a word of warning: Definitely not for the faint of heart.

Calvary.jpeg

Calvary, the acclaimed 2014 Irish film written and directed by John Michael McDonagh (The Guard, 2011). It won the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Berlin International Film Festival that year among other accolades, and Brendan Gleeson garnered several Best Actor awards in the festival circuit.

Unlike the young priest in Diary, Father James (Brendan Gleeson) chooses to enter the priesthood in his middle age. He was married before, now a widower, has an adult daughter Fiona (Kelly Reilly). He has his past, but has made a clean start, to serve with integrity in an Irish rural town. Like the young priest in the French town of Ambricourt, Father James’ sincerity and total commitment is met with ridicule and hostility, albeit on the surface, the town folks seem to be relatively friendly to him.

How has the world changed since Bernanos’s time? Plenty, not just for the way people conduct their lives, but the Catholic Church has left a tarnished image of sexual abuse.

The opening scene sets an ominous overtone of what’s to come. It is Sunday, Father James sits in the confessional. On the other side a man tells his story explicitly of being raped by a priest when he was seven years old. That horrifying experience lasted for five years almost every other day, rendering him irreparably damaged. He utters a death threat to Father James: one week later he will meet him on the beach and he will kill him.

Why kill Father James? He’s an innocent priest, a good one as a matter of fact. The man says: “There’s no point killing a bad priest. But killing a good one? That’d be a shock. They wouldn’t know what to make of that. I’m going to kill you cos you’ve done nothing wrong.”

Retribution for the crimes of the Catholic Church? Resolving personal bitterness? Administering justice?

A startling opening that turns into suspense as the film progresses. Father James recognizes the voice. He knows who he is, but we as audience don’t. The director leads us to look into the lives of several characters, allowing us to ponder who it is that wants to kill the priest. Sounds familiar? “Lord, who is it?” But Father James knows, and he still treats the man with a pastoral heart.

“I’m going to kill you cos you’re innocent.” Every day of the week, Father James lives with that threat. Each passing day sends him closer to the hill called Calvary. But Father James goes on with his work, caring, being a friend, ministering, including to his own daughter who has recently attempted suicide. He is heartbroken; she feels she can go on now knowing he cares.

Not saying that he’s a saint. How can you live with such a threat from a man who seems to mean business. Father James is all too human… and that’s the side that appeals. To say it’s been an eventful week is an outright understatement. Things just get too personal, and Father James copes with all the wits he can muster. He needs not turn water into wine, there’s plenty around. He waits. We wait.

Then Sunday comes. He prepares himself and heads to the beach.

The very last scene is one of the most heart-wrenching endings I’ve seen, and it’s not at the beach, not with Father James.

It’s about the ripple effects of Calvary: one man bearing the sins of all.


~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples
for both films

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Related Posts on Ripple:

Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar (1966): A Timeless Parable

Ida’s Choice: Thoughts on Pawlikowski’s Ida (2013)

Homage to Flannery O’Connor: Looking for Intrusions of Grace in Films

Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos

I return to The Diary of A Country Priest by French author Georges Bernanos, (Journal d’un curé de campagne, 1936) perennially at Easter time. Like Endo’s Silence, it reveals candidly a priest’s suffering and struggles in the midst of a harsh and unwelcome world. Unlike Silence though, light shines through the cracks more warmly. Power through weakness, life conquering death, the essence of Easter.

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The Diary of a Country Priest Book Cover

A young priest comes to his first parish, the rural town of Ambricourt, filled with humble hopes. All he wants is to serve the people, to give of himself, to bring God’s love. But as soon as he sets foot in the village, he is engulfed by hatred and rejection. There are dark secrets too sinister to be exposed. The young priest is an unwelcome alien. In a town afflicted by hypocrisy, pride, anger and bitterness, he is despised, taunted and ridiculed. His own inexperience is no match even for the children in his catechism class, especially the precocious Seraphitas, a girl ‘with a hardness far beyond her years.’

Ambricourt is a world afflicted by the ‘leprosy of boredom’, a microcosm of the human condition. Bernanos uses diseases to illustrate his point well. The young priest himself is being slowly consumed by terminal illness. The pain in his stomach ultimately defeats his body, cancer. His diet consists mainly of bread dipped in wine which he makes for himself, and some potato soup. Poverty in materials parallels the frailty of his body to take in solid food. None of these though can compare to the sufferings in his spirit. Many a times we see him in the Garden of Gethsemane, pleading for strength in anguish. But he faithfully presses on, using his diary to confide his deepest thoughts, a means to commune with his God.

On the outskirt of Ambricourt is the Château of the powerful M. le Comte. The Count needs no priest to know about his adulterous affairs, this time, with the governess Mlle Louise. His wife Mme la Comtesse is totally absorbed by her long-held bitterness and grief from the loss of her young son. And his daughter Mlle Chantal is a deeply disturbed girl eaten up by anger and jealousy. Soon, she will be sent away to England, a most convenient plan devised by her father.

It is with this deep mess of a family that the young priest finds himself entangled. The most intense scene of the whole book, the climatic moment, comes when the priest goes to the Château to meet with Mme la Comtesse. She lost her beloved son when he was only eighteen months old, a child hated by his jealous older sister Chantal.

On his last day they went out for a walk together. When they came back my boy was dead.

Mme la Comtesse is fully engulfed by hatred for her daughter, grief for her lost son, and bitterness towards God.

Hearing her speak, a tear flows down the face of the young priest. “Hell is not to love any more, madame.” The young priest responds. And with miraculous strength, he delivers the following words.

… But you know that our God came to be among us. Shake your fist at Him, spit in His face, scourge Him, and finally crucify Him: what does it matter? It’s already been done to Him.

Towards the end of some soul piercing exchanges, Mme la Comtesse kneels down, releases her pain, and receives blessings from the young priest. Afterwards, she writes to him in a letter:

… I have lived in the most horrible solitude, alone with the desperate memory of a child. And it seems to me that another child has brought me to life again…

And this young child, a priest, consumed by illness, wreaked by frailty of spirit, can only marvel at the power through weakness:

Oh miracle — thus to be able to give what we ourselves do not possess, sweet miracle of our empty hands!

Not long after this, he succumbs to his illness. A life too short, a mission seems unaccomplished. But his last words faintly uttered on his deathbed are as powerful as the God who sends him:

Does it matter? Grace is everywhere…

And in the film, these three words leave me with one of the most poignant endings of all the films that I’ve seen:

“All is grace.”

 ***

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

English Edition of The Diary of a Country Priest by Georges Bernanos, translated by Pamela Morris, Perseus Books Group, Philadelphia, PA, 1965, 298 pages.

Journal d’un curé de campagne, 1936, was winner of the Grand prix du roman de l’Académie française.

Upcoming Post:

The Film Review of Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest (1951).

Related Post:

Silence the Movie Arrives in the Most Unwelcome Time

Silence by Shusaku Endo

 

Risen for Hope

The photo was taken just yesterday. Due to illness in the family, I’ve been staying mostly indoor as a caregiver. Yesterday was the first time I went out to greet spring and the birds. A Downy Woodpecker darted right into frame.

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While we’re enjoying an early spring this year, there had been times when it felt like spring would never come. A few years ago, I wrote this poem at Easter, when winter lingered and spring seemed so far away… and it was already April.

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April is the month of empty dreams
Half the days gone
waiting for words and spring
still frozen ground
and on the screen
a frigid page as white as snow.

Brown could be the color of hope
After the white
for all I know
green is too much to wish for
I’m contented to see a patch
of dry and withered brown.

The sun is a perpetual sign
that there’s still hope
But it’s no herald of the seasons
for its presence comforts all year long
warming my blank and barren state
as I await for words and spring.

But Easter is an apt reminder
that The Word had come
spoken clear to half-frozen ears
His body hung on a lifeless tree
Blood and water flowed
onto parched and dusty earth

So what if no words come to me
That dreaded writer’s block
reigning the winter of sterility
numbing senses,
snatching thoughts,
seizing any sign of spring.

It’s not about a post or a blog,
Or even buds and melting snow.
The Word had come
lived and loved among us,
broken, bled, died and rose,
melting frozen hearts to greet
a new dawn and eternal Spring.

– by Arti, April 2011

  ***

We look not towards the climate, but the Christ.

Happy Easter to all!

 

 

Seven Stanzas for a Happy Easter

Rocks

 

“Seven Stanzas At Easter” by John Updike

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.

– John Updike (1932-2009)

***

Happy Easter to All!

Staying Awake in the Garden

I came across this image in Biola University’s Lent Project. It is by the Austrian children’s book illustrator Lisbeth Zwerger. Among several awards she had won, Zwerger received the acclaimed Hans Christian Andersen Medal for illustration—the highest international award given for “lasting contributions to children’s literature”.

Staying Awake in GG

Its title is Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, from her book Stories From the Bible. Without condescension, Zwerger’s image speaks with clarity such that a child can easily grasp its essence. Three people dozing off, each against a tree. From a distance, under a massive dark cloud, a tiny, lone figure walking towards the ominous void. The illustration is perhaps one of the rarer perspectives that accompanies this narrative:

“Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”    – Matthew 26: 36 – 46

What struck me is how modern the feel; these three guys could be anyone. And they are so casual too, like, barefoot in the park. Considering the horrific mission their Master is facing, their body language speaks avoidance, indifference, and, even betrayal. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak – blame it on the good supper – they’re totally oblivious while their Master in a distance, alone, is fighting the most anguished battle of his life.

Are these guys named Peter, James and John? Why, they could be you and me.

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When Easter is the Spring

Quickening

Dead trees draw life
when the days expand and the sun
fulfills its promise, oft delayed
by the clutch of ice.

Clotted, gnarled, knotted twigs
on the trees sense sap and the death
of death. They stretch, begin
to puff green on the end.

We sing new songs
of a Life laid down for rebirth
when Easter is the Spring
and the branch is Christ.

— Mark A. Noll

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Every new birth is a miracle. I saw two yesterday:

2 Owlets

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And To All, A Happy Easter!

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Robert Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar (1966): A Timeless Parable

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
    smitten by God, and afflicted. 

— Isaiah 53:4 ESV

Several days before He is crucified, Jesus enters Jerusalem riding on a donkey. I love this scene. If there’s any cognitive dissonance in the crowd, here’s the stark message for their bewilderment. The King for whom they are cheering is not to be a glamorous celebrity. Rather, like the donkey, He comes as a humble servant, one who carries their load, and ultimately, even lays down his life for them. His kingdom belongs to another world.

Marie and Balthazar

 

As with my Easter viewing from previous years, I watch a film by the French auteur Robert Bresson. Bresson’s work has a transcending and spiritual quality that is deeply moving. In Au Hasard Balthazar, he creates an unusual metaphor using a donkey as his protagonist. We follow Balthazar as a young colt, loved by his first owner Marie. We see him grow up, weaving his life among different owners. We also see Marie grow up. Despite her love for Balthazar, she cannot stop the encroachment of evil, or maybe she is simply powerless. She does not defend Balthazar when a gang of young men abuse the donkey, tormenting him, whipping, mocking.

The gang leader is Gérard, whose sadistic, mean streak speaks for human depravity. He would pour gasoline on the road to cause unsuspecting drivers to skid and crash. He and his gang would watch nonchalantly from a distance, gratified that their prank has worked. He steals and deceives. What is a donkey to him if he does not even have the slightest respect for other humans. Once, to prod Balthazar to move forward, Gérard ties a newspaper to his tail and light it on fire.

The Gang

Throughout, Balthazar lives his life quietly in a parallel course to the growing depravity of the humans he serves. He suffers their cruelty in silence, occasionally he would bray in pain, but he continues to bear his load, pull a cart, or do whatever he is prodded to do, even a circus act. Due to neglect and maltreatment, he often becomes ill.

As she grows up, Marie discards childhood innocence and seeks to gratify her sensual pleasures. Against the protest of her parents, she falls for Gérard. She could have another choice, one who offers her genuine love, Jacques, the son of the owner of the farm where Marie and her parents reside. Jacque would come by every summer from the city with his father and sister to stay on the farm. When they were still children, they had spent endearing moments together with Balthazar. Jacques has declared lifelong commitment to Marie. But Gérard is a more instant and attractive outlet for Marie. Ultimately, she is dealt the harshest blow and most degrading abuse from Gérard and his gang as they rape her. Bresson spares us the ugly scene, but in the chilling aftermath, we see the young men walk away, nonchalant, throwing her garments on the ground behind them. After that tragic incident, Marie runs away. Her father is grief stricken, and soon falls ill and dies.

Gérard is unrepentant. After all, it’s self-serving lust he seeks; his callousness is most disturbing. In the last scene, we see he uses Balthazar to do one more job for his gang. They are to smuggle goods across the mountainous border. At night, he loads up his goods on the donkey and leads him to the border. From a distance, he hears gun shots from armed customs police. Gerard and his gang flee, abandoning Balthazar on the mountain. But it’s too late for Balthazar, he has been shot.

The final scene is most moving. In the open field, Balthazar walks slowly, haggard, blood streaming from his leg. He finally lies down, still carrying the goods Gérard has put on him, the load of sin. He breathes his last and quietly dies, alone.

Like Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest, Au Hasard Balthazar is an apt meditation for Good Friday. But not just for this one day, their timeless message is like the Easter Season itself, a moveable feast.

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

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Related Posts and Links:

Diary of a Country Priest: A Book For Easter

Diary of a Country Priest: Film Adaptation

Video of Robert Bresson on Au Hasard Balthazar