The Tree of Life by Terrence Malick

(It is impossible to review The Tree of Life without writing about what it is about, hence: Spoiler Alert for this post.)

“The Tree of Life” is the fifth feature film in the forty-year career of the reclusive director Terrence Malick. It received mixed reactions at the Cannes Film Festival in May this year. There were boos and applause. That it finally won the top prize at the festival, the prestigious Palme d’Or, indicates which side was gratified. But, it is a film that needs to be experienced personally before one takes side, and maybe seeing it more than once.

Watching the film is an experience in itself. It starts off with this quote from Job 38: 4 and 7:

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? When the morning stars sang together
 and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

With this premise, the film pours forth mysterious yet majestic visual sequences depicting the cosmos, our molten earth, prehistoric era where dinosaurs roam, early life forms, the roaring ocean, blood streams, fetal heartbeats. The first part.

Upon such visuals we hear a voice over:

There are two ways through life — the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow. Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries. Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way…

From the macro scale of the universe we now focus on the micro, something with which we can identify, a family. We see it from the point of view of Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn). An architect now, Jack is haunted by memories of his past, in particular, the death of his younger brother at age 19. We see scenes of his parents receiving the bad news. We hear his yearning for the people he loves through his whisper in voice over: ”Brother, mother.” We are then privy to Jack’s childhood days in 1950’s Texas.

From the O’Brien family we see how grace and human nature play out. Jack’s childhood in Waco, Texas, begins in innocence. With a capable father (Brad Pitt) and an almost angelic mother (Jessica Chastain) who is loving, nurturing, grace manifest, young Jack’s (Hunter McCracken) early days are blissful. Two younger brothers later, the siblings form a close bond. But as the boys grow older, the father becomes stern and strict, callous with his sons, demanding total obedience, expecting love where the seeds of fear are sown. From this character, we see human nature manifest in its destructive, self-seeking mode.

Other incidents further shatter the once blissful young life. Jack goes to town with his mother and brothers, he sees a crippled man make his way awkwardly across the street. He also witnesses the unlawful being arrested. While at the swimming pool, he watches a boy drowned despite frantic rescue. We hear young Jack’s whisper in voice over: “Was he bad? Where were you? You let a boy die.” The problem of pain, suffering, and evil begin to churn in his mind. Direct questions to God, not unlike Job.

Watching his father’s harsh handling of his sons, young Jack slowly discovers that he himself too has the latent capacity to not just think, but to commit wrongs, “I do what I hate.” In a moving scene, after he has hurt his little brother, Jack becomes remorseful and asks for forgiveness. We see the power of love at work. We also see his innocence slowly taken over by conflicts in his heart, love and hate, good and evil… grace and nature.  The second part.

Jack’s father loses his job and the family has to leave town. The uprooting is the most painful the boys have experienced. Everything is lost, it seems, friends, the house, the neighborhood, memories, … But among the loss, we hear the graceful voice of Jack’s mother: “The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by… Do good, wonder, hope.” Yet poignantly, she experiences the most devastating blow later, the death of her own son. We hear her heartbreaking whisper in voice over: “Where were you? Did you know?” Again, reiterating the questions that were on Job’s mind.

But ultimately light takes over darkness. We are assured that all is not lost. We hear Jack’s yearning whisper, like a prayer: “Keep us, guide us, to the end of time.” In the eternal scheme of things, shown by the display of the magnificent cosmic visuals, we see all members of the O’Brien family reunite and bathed in a warm bright light. Jack once again embraces the ones he loves, his mother and his brothers. He also stands shoulder to shoulder with the one who has inflicted in him the mixed emotions of pain, anger and love, his father, now reconciled under the brilliant light.  The third part.

Yes, we have the big names. Sean Penn as adult Jack appears only sporadically. Brad Pitt nails his role as the stern and difficult father. The relatively new film actor Jessica Chastain is grace embodied. In an interview she recalls that director Terrence Malick had asked her to watch a lot of Lauren Bacall movies to prepare for her role. But the most impressive of all is Hunter McCracken playing young Jack. The casting is brilliant here. His mesmerizing portrayal of a conflicting boy incubating the later character of a tormented adult Penn is deeply moving, a reflection too of Malick’s sensitive direction. As with his other films, cinematography is superb. You’ll have plenty of time to savour the long sections of cosmic and natural wonders.

“The Tree of Life” is for the patient viewer. It is a slow movie, and rightly so. You have to take the two hours and eighteen minutes as a respite from your busy schedule, and experience the film as a quiet meditation on life, family, God, and relationship with Him. It is also a portrait of love, faith, doubts, and promise. It poses questions in whispers, and answers with majestic visuals in silence, and at times, in engulfing themes of torrential music. Smetana’s “The Moldau” still flows through my mind at 4:30 a.m.

Boos or applause, what does it matter? To quote Bresson: “All is grace.”

~ ~ ~ ~ Ripples

***

 

CLICK HERE to read my post on another Malick film, Days of Heaven (1978), which won an Oscar for Best Cinematography.

Reading the Season: Luci Shaw

Every year around this time, I try to stay afloat in the sea of chaos and consumerism.  My method of survival has been to seek a quiet haven where I can dwell upon the meaning of the Season.  I entitled my annual December post on this theme ‘Reading the Season’.

This year, watching the daring flash mob singing of Hallelujah Chorus in a shopping mall food court has jump started my quest for a spiritual respite.  In a time where the legitimate word is Jollity over Jesus, where Christ has been declared politically incorrect at Christmas, and where God is denounced together with Bigfoot and the tooth fairy in ads on buses, I want to mull on some subversive counter-reflections.

This time, I’ve steered my search towards poetry and found this collection edited by Luci Shaw.  It is the 1984 Regent College Publication of  A Widening Light: Poems of the Incarnation. (Click on link to read excerpts from Google Books.)


Luci Shaw has partnered with Madeleine L’Engle on her literary journey, including being her publisher, co-author, fellow poet and close writer-friend.  For years, I have enjoyed Luci Shaw’s poetry and her other works, and one time, had sat in her workshop learning the art and craft of journal writing.

A Widening Light is a collection of poetry by some of twentieth century prominent Christian writers and scholars, including C. S. Lewis, Eugene Peterson, Mark Noll, as well as lesser known but just as inspiring contributors.  My favourite in the collection are those from Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw.

As a meager attempt to stoke the flame of faith and keep the Reason in the Season,  I’d like to share some excerpts from this collection here.

Made flesh
After the bright beam of hot annunciation
Fused heaven with dark earth
His searing sharply-focused light
Went out for a while
Eclipsed in amniotic gloom:
His cool immensity of splendor
His universal grace
Small-folded in a warm dim
Female space—
The Word stern-sentenced to be nine months dumb—
Infinity walled in a womb
Until the next enormity—the Mighty,
After submission to a woman’s pains
Helpless on a barn-bare floor
First-tasting bitter earth.

Now, I in him surrender
To the crush and cry of birth.
Because eternity
Was closeted in time
He is my open door
To forever.
From his imprisonment my freedoms grow,
Find wings.
Part of his body, I transcend this flesh.
From his sweet silence my mouth sings.
Out of his dark I glow.
My life, as his,
Slips through death’s mesh,
Time’s bars,
Joins hands with heaven,
Speaks with stars.

Luci Shaw

 

Some Christmas stars
Blazes the star behind the hill.
Snow stars glint from the wooden sill.
A spider spins her silver still

within Your darkened stable shed:
in asterisks her webs are spread
to ornament your manger bed.

Where does a spider find the skill
to sew a star?  Invisible,
obedient, she works Your will

with her swift silences of thread.
I weave star-poems in my head;
the spider, wordless, spins instead.

Luci Shaw

 

 

After annunciation

This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason
There’d been no room for the child.

Madeleine L’Engle

.

.

The risk of birth

This is no time for a child to be born.
With the earth betrayed by war and hate
And a nova lighting the sky to warn
That time runs out and the sun burns late.

That was no time for a child to be born.
In a land in the crushing grip of Rome;
Honour and truth were trampled by scorn—
Yet here did the Saviour make his home.

When is the time for love to be born?
The inn is full on the planet earth,
And by greed and pride the sky is torn—
Yet Love still takes the risk of birth.

Madeleine L’Engle

 


 

 

‘Reading The Season’ Posts over a Decade:

2020: Jack by Marilynne Robinson

2019: ‘A Hidden Life’ – A Film for the Season

2018: A Verse from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season

2017: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

2016: Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle 

2010: A Widening Light by Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge 

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

***

Photos:  All photos in this post except “Water drops on spider web” are taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, All Rights Reserved.

‘Water drops on spider web’ is in the public domain, please refer to Wikimedia Commons for further  details.  CLICK HERE to go there.

Greening of a Calgary Street

April 23

.

May 23

.

June 23

.

Waiting

He could have said
Let there be life
As in the beginning
But He made me wait.
For three months
I went back to the same spot
and watched
slowly
green bursting out from bare branches
fighting storms and snow
into full bloom.

.

I had waited before
Nine years, nine months
He could have said
Let there be…
But He had made me wait
and watch
slowly
like time-lapse photography
the gestation of a miracle.
He could have just said,
But He made me wait
and watch.

***

Pictures and poem by Arti of Ripple Effects, June 2010.  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

The Power of Aloneness

.

Before the resurrection was the death.
Before the death, the long path of suffering.
Before the suffering, the lonely struggle,
Agonizing solitude.

The Garden of Gethsemane,
Epitome of aloneness.
Even the closest would fall asleep
But one kept watch, awake for all.

Sweat dropped like blood
A heart pierced before nails were hammered in.
The soul cried out no, not this cup
But oh, not my will.

Not fear of sinews tearing from the joints
But the searing pain of separation
A Father who would leave totally alone
the tainted Son of Sin.

A prostrating prayer, a yielding spirit
The power of aloneness thus transformed.
As He got up from that rock, He had risen
Ready to accept the kiss of death.

I would never know the nailing pain
nor the bitter taste of that dreadful cup
But let me feel the power of solitary rest
To stay awake and rise and conquer death.

.

***

Poem by Arti of Ripple Effects
On the Eve of Good Friday, 2010.

Photos taken by Arti in Israel, 2007.
Top: Via Dolorosa, Bottom: A Garden in Jerusalem

All Rights Reserved.

A Serious Man (2009)

UPDATE:  A Serious Man has been nominated for a Best Picture Oscar in the coming 82nd Academy Awards, to be held March 7th, 2010.  Joel and Ethan Coen receive a nod for Best Original Screenplay.

Do we go to the movies to be entertained, or to search for meaning and answers about life? For those who frequent Ripple Effects, you probably can guess what my stance is. Yes, allow me to answer a question with a question… Why must the two be mutually exclusive?

I’m all intrigued about films that explore deep subjects and yet remain as comedies, or, dramedies, as the genre has evolved in recent years. A Serious Man is one such films, entertaining and yet hauntingly serious. But it’s not entertaining with a big splash of hilarity. It is a dark comedy, a film that makes you chuckle in a most poignant way. It’s the deadpan humor that strikes deep. The subject matter in A Serious Man deals with the inscrutable question: Why do bad things happen to good people? And, if we can’t find the answer to the why, then at least, how should we then live?

The film has been described as the most personal of Joel and Ethan Coen’s works; others see it as the most Jewish they’ve done, or even somewhat autobiographical. The setting is 1967 Minnesota, where the Coen brothers grew up.

A Serious Man has won the 2009 Independent Spirit’s Robert Altman Award, and accolades for its screenplay.  It’s one of the American Film Institute’s Top 10 Films of 2009. Michael Stuhlbarg’s excellent performance receives a 2010 Golden Globe nom for Best Actor, Musical or Comedy.

Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is a college physics professor, a conscientious man who just tries to live his life minding his own business, trying to do what is right.  Yet, it’s trouble he finds everywhere he turns. His wife Judith (Sari Lennick) is divorcing him for their mutual friend Sy Ableman (Fred Melamed); his daughter Sarah (Jessica Mcmanus) is stealing from him to do a nose job; his son Danny (Aaron Wolff) is taking drugs even as he prepares for his bar mitzvah; his unstable brother Arthur (Richard Kind) is staying uninvited in his house and has no intention to leave any time soon.  On the career front, his student Clive (David Kang) is bribing him for a passing grade; his tenure committee is making decision on his future while an anonymous letter is circulating, defaming him. At the same time, his chest x-ray result is back, and, an ominous tornado is making its way to his son’s school. I’m exhausted just to keep up. Can anyone explain why Larry is having so many problems while he is only trying to be a mensch, or, a serious man?

Larry goes searching for answers from three rabbis. While the first two cannot give him a satisfactory answer, the third, the most senior, is too busy to see him. Who then is left to help him through all his troubles?

Many critics equate Larry’s predicament with Job of the Bible, a righteous man facing incredulous torments. But Larry is no Job. He may attempt to be a righteous man, but he is not totally blameless. I feel the film may reflect the notion described in the book of Ecclesiastes even more:

… And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them. Then I said in my heart, ‘What happens to the fool will happen to me also.  Why then have I been so very wise?’ … this too is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 2: 14 – 15

If we have no control over the bad things that happen to all, it’s only natural to question why we ought to be good then. If his wife runs away with another man, is it justified that Larry should lust for another woman? Since bad things will happen to the good and the bad alike, why bother being good? Do we act prudently because we expect positive consequences, or, do we act prudently because it is the right thing to do, period. And now, the moment of decision, the bribe…

A Serious Man throws at us more questions than answers, expectedly so, for who has all the answers? It is in such precarious situations that we look into our hearts and search ourselves. Instead of a challenge thrown at HaShem, God, I see the film as one that’s turned towards us: what would I have done?

~ ~ ~ Ripples

****

Stream of Easter Consciousness

stained-glass-2a2So students are sent back to school this week, just in time for Easter.  Nobody wants to have a holiday right on Easter week, especially the public school board.  That’s how you survive,  by being politically correct.  And the last two weeks’ holiday is called Spring Break of course.   Easter has almost become a banned word, like Christmas.  Who wants to be rude and offend others, we’re Canadians after all.

I know,  it’s not totally a taboo yet.  It’s a much tamer word, Easter, than Christmas, just because it doesn’t have the six-lettered word in it.  You can curse with that name, but no, God forbid you should say it in a proper context.   I can see you sneer, what’s a proper context, you ask.  You’re right of course, no word or context is more proper than others, we’re egalitarians after all.  As for Easter, as long as it’s synonymous with eggs and bunnies, pastels and flowers then it’ll never die.  Who needs resurrections?

All Fridays are good.  They even have a whole restaurant chain commemorating the day.  What’s it called… yes,  T.G.I. Friday’s.  Who says we’re not religious, we thank God for happy hours.  We’re much more open-minded now,  more civilized, equal and fair, don’t want to pick one day to be better than the others.  But definitely we won’t forget Ramadan, or the Chinese New Year.

There’s probably no God,  so stop worrying and enjoy your life, the sign on the bus says.  So we’re safe?   Whew!  No God means we can now be happy, worry free, all life, no death, …  Umm just let me figure this one out.  Give me a minute, I’m just not as smart as them.

Jesus wept.  He wept at the graveside of Lazarus, brother of his dear friends Martha and Mary.  He wept at the fragility of life.  He wept at the searing pain of separation.  He wept at the hopeless and uncomprehending expression on Mary’s face, even after he said to her I am the resurrection and the life.

Fleming Rutledge said more than ten years ago:  “I am deeply convicted, more so each year, of the profound sinfulness of the human race.  Yet because of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus Christ — because of that and nothing else, because of that and nothing less — I am also convicted of the truth of what the Bible tells us about God’s plan of salvation.  The rainbow bridge does not lead to Valhalla, where the gods quarrel so much that they destroy themselves.  The rainbow bridge leads to the Cross and to the empty tomb on Easter Day.”

Utterly politically incorrect!  Who uses the word sin anymore?  Who’s Fleming Rutledge, anyway.  Never heard of him.  No?  It’s a she?  No wonder.

Now these words echo loud and clear too, written by T. S. Eliot in… what, 1934?  Aren’t they a bit archaic now?  Or, maybe they’re really prophetic:

Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?

Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

The cycles of Heaven in twenty centuries

Bring us farther from God and nearer to the Dust.

We should go on living, be happy and worry-free, the sign on the bus says.

So we go on living…

and Jesus still weeps.

stained-glass-41

*****

Original photos and text copyright by Ripple Effects, https://rippleeffects.wordpress.com, April 2009.  All Rights Reserved.

Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring

J. S. Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring has never ceased to stir my heart.  Of all the renditions, none can grab me so movingly as Josh Groban in his captivating performance with the mesmerizing Lili Hayden on the violin.

Bach wrote the Cantata that contains this excerpt in 1723.  Its lyrics articulate for us what is unspoken in the depth of our souls, releasing our yearnings for a transcendent Creator, magnificent yet compassionate, afar yet ever so near.

Jesu, joy of man’s desiring
Holy wisdom, love most bright

Drawn by Thee, our souls aspiring
Soar to uncreated light

Word of God, our flesh that fashioned
With the fire of life impassioned
Striving still to truth unknown
Soaring, dying round Thy throne

Through the way where hope is guiding
Hark, what peaceful music rings
Where the flock, in Thee confiding
Drink of joy from deathless springs
Theirs is beauty’s fairest pleasure
Theirs is wisdom’s holiest treasure
Thou dost ever lead Thine own
In the love of joys unknown

*****

Reading the Season: Fleming Rutledge

Two things I always do whenever I go to Vancouver:  Check out the indie movies and visit the Regent College Bookstore on the UBC campus.  I admit before that gloomy December day when I entered the Regent Bookstore,  I had not heard of the name Fleming Rutledge.  Thanks to Regent’s gigantic book sale, I came out with, among others, two of Rutledge’s titles:  The Bible and The New York Times and The Battle for Middle-earth, a commentary on Tolkein’s writing.  For the purpose of basking in the Christmas Season in a more meaningful way, I delved right into The Bible and The New York Times.

The theologian Karl Barth has a famous axiom that says sermons should be written with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.  This book is evidence that Fleming Rutledge has taken this motto to heart in her over twenty years of preaching and teaching ministry.  The book is a compilation of her sermons delivered in the 80’s and 90’s from the pulpit of Manhattan’s Grace (Episcopal) Church where she has served for 14 years, as well as from her visits to other churches in Eastern U.S.  As for her writing, Annie Dillard has commented that, “this is beautiful, powerful, literary writing.”

The 34 sermons are arranged according to the liturgical calendar, all eloquent reflections on the meaning of the occasion, from Thanksgiving to Advent, Christmas to Lent.  I’ve heard numerous sermons in my life, countless I dare say, but I admit this is the first time that I read through a compilation of sermons and thoroughly enjoy them all like a page-turner.  They throw light on events of our world, from politics to popular culture, addressing them as springboard to a spiritual perspective albeit not without practical wisdom; her commentaries on the human condition are incisive and spot-on.  I’ve come out heartily admiring Rutledge’s intellectual prowess and literary repertoire, but above all, her boldness in proclaiming what may not be politically correct in this day.

rembrandts-annunciation-of-the-angel-gabriel-to-mary

The four Advent Sundays are preparatory for the main event of Christmas.  Rutledge reminds us that without recognizing the darkness we are in, there is no need for the Light.  Oblivious to unresolvable conflicts and the depravity of our human condition, we would not be desperate enough to search for truth and redemption.  Without being shattered by tragedies and wounded by sorrow and grief, we would not be genuinely seeking solace and healing.  And, not until we see the absurdity of our human world, we would not humbly seek meaning in the transcendent.

In one of her Advent sermons, actually exactly today, the last Sunday of Advent, Rutledge relates the spiritual experience of John Updike one time when he was alone in a hotel room in Finland.   He was besieged by a sense of awareness that pulled him to confront what he called a “deeper, less comfortable self.”   She quotes Updike’s own words:

“The precariousness of being alive and human was no longer hidden from me by familiar surroundings and the rhythm of habit.  I was fifty-five, ignorant, dying, and filling this bit of Finland with the smell of my stale sweat and insomniac fury.”

Rutledge notes that at the time:

Updike is in the prime of his life, at the peak of his powers and the pinnacle of his fame.  Yet even a celebrity has to be alone with himself at three o’clock in the morning, even as you and I.

If we approach Christmas in such a state of  “deeper, less comfortable selves”, then we might come closer to appreciate the magnitude of its significance and meaning.

Annie Dillard has commented that Rutledge “writes as a person who knows she is dying, speaking to other dying people, determined not to enrage by triviality.”  The world situation today is grave, our hope lies not within but beyond ourselves.  For this reason the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

Emmanuel, God with us …

This is the meaning of the Virgin Birth:  God has moved.  God has moved, not we to him in our impotence, but he to us.

This is not the Season to be merely festive and jolly.  Christmas is the celebration of the Grand Entrance into humanity, thus reason for deep rejoicing.

“All hopes and fears of all the years,

Are met in Thee tonight.”

rembrandts-adoration-of-the-shepherds

******

Art images:  Rembrandt’s Annunciation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary and Adoration of the Shepherds

‘Reading The Season’ Posts over a Decade:

2020: Jack by Marilynne Robinson

2019: ‘A Hidden Life’ – A Film for the Season

2018: A Verse from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season

2017: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

2016: Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle 

2010: A Widening Light by Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge 

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

Reading the Season: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

c-s-lewis2To embrace the Christmas season in a more meaningful way, I’ve been trying to stay close to the heart of the matter by reading.

A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis is one of my selections. Now, of all the wonderful books by the Oxford scholar, why would I choose this title for the Season?

From my reading of Joan Didion’s The year of Magical Thinking, I learned that during her mourning for the loss of her husband, she had read C. S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed. That sparked my curiosity. After finishing Didion, I turned right away to explore Lewis’s book about his own experience of loss.

After 58 years of bachelorhood, Lewis found the love of his life in Helen Joy Gresham, an American author who had come all the way to England in search of a genuine and credible faith. Their love story is poignantly portrayed in the movie Shadowlands (1993). In Helen Joy Gresham (‘H’ in the book),  Lewis found his equal in wit, intellect, and a faith that had endured testing and evolved from atheism to agnosticism and ultimately reaching irrevocable belief. Lewis entered into marriage with Joy at her hospital bed as she was fighting bone cancer. She did have a period of remission afterwards, during which the two enjoyed some traveling together. Regretfully, only four years into their marriage, Joy succumbed to her illness.

shadowlands

A Grief Observed is a courageous and honest disclosure of a very private pain. But what’s so different about this personal loss is that this prominent Christian apologist, acclaimed academic and writer, was willing to lay bare his questioning mind and disquiet heart to his readers. As his step-son Douglas Gresham wrote in the Introduction, the book is “a man emotionally naked in his own Gethsemane”. By crying out in anguish and exposing his torments, he shared his personal journey of painfully seeking the meaning of death, marriage, faith, and the nature of God. Lewis was brave enough to question “Where is God?” during his most desperate moments, when his heart was torn apart by searing pain and his intellect failed him with any rational answers.

Gradually he came out of despair realizing that the loudness of his screams might have drowned out the still, small voice speaking to him.

The time when there is nothing at all in your soul except a cry for help may be just the time when God can’t give it:  you are like the drowning man who can’t be helped because he clutches and grabs…

After all, you must have a capacity to receive, or even omnipotence can’t give.

After the fog of doubt has dispersed and the dust of despair has settled, Lewis saw the dawning of a gentle glimmer. He realized that he had been mourning a faint image or memory of his beloved, but not beholding the reality of her. The fickleness of his senses offered only fading fragments of her image. However, it is in praise that he could enjoy her the best.

I have discovered, passionate grief does not link us with the dead but cuts us off from them. This become clearer and clearer.  It is just at those moments when I feel least sorrow–getting into my morning bath is usually one of them–that H. rushes upon my mind in her full reality, her otherness.

Praise is the mode of love which always has some element of joy in it. Praise in due order; of Him as the giver, of her as the gift.

Further, as with God, he knew he should grasp the reality, not just the image.  He should treasure God Himself, not just the idea of Him:

I need Christ, not something that resembles Him.  I want H., not something that is like her.

Upon this revelation, Lewis powerfully points out that the Incarnation, the Word becoming flesh, is how God reveals Himself to us in His full reality.  Our ideas of God are shattered by Christ Himself.

The Incarnation… leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins.  And most are ‘offended’ by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not.

As Christmas draws near, I ponder once again the humbling of the Creator God, born a babe to grow up to experience the full spectrum of being human, showing us by His life and death the reality of God, an iconoclastic act only He can perform.

Lewis has drawn me to the heart of the matter, the crux of the Season:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

— John 1:14

*****

‘Reading The Season’ Posts over a Decade:

2020: Jack by Marilynne Robinson

2019: ‘A Hidden Life’ – A Film for the Season

2018: A Verse from Madeleine L’Engle’s The Irrational Season

2017: A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

2016: Silence by Shusaku Endo

2015: The Book of Ruth

2014: Lila by Marilynne Robinson

2012: Surprised by Joy by C. S. Lewis

2011: Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle 

2010: A Widening Light by Luci Shaw

2009: The Irrational Season by Madeleine L’Engle

2008: The Bible and the New York Times by Fleming Rutledge 

2008: A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis

Chesterton Quotes

I just couldn’t resist.  Even though I posted a link to GKC Quotes in my last entry, I’m compelled to share some here for all to savor.  As a writer who encompassed social commentary, political satire, literary criticism, philosophical ponderings, Christian apologetics, poetics and plain humor in his writing, G. K. Chesterton’s (1874-1936) wit and wisdom surpassed the social and political environment of his time:

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“My country, right or wrong,” is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case.  It is like saying, “My mother, drunk or sober.”

 

“A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.

 

“By a curious confusion, many modern critics have passed from the proposition that a masterpiece may be unpopular to the other proposition that unless it is unpopular it cannot be a masterpiece.”

 

“Don’t ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up.”

 

“Fallacies do not cease to be fallacies because they become fashions.”

 

“Journalism largely consists of saying ‘Lord Jones is Dead’ to people who never knew that Lord Jones was alive.”

 

“Man seems to be capable of great virtues but not of small virtues; capable of defying his torturer but not of keeping his temper.”

 

“Music with dinner is an insult both to the cook and the violinist.”

 

“The most astonishing thing about miracles is that they happen.”

 

“To have a right to do a thing is not at all the same as to be right in doing it.”

 

“Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere.”

  

“If there were no God, there would be no Atheists.”

 

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Links to more GKC quotes:

The American Chesterton Society Quotations Collection

The Quotations Page

 

 

To G. K. Chesterton: Happy 134th Birthday

Well, I miss it by a day, but I don’t think he’d mind. 

To celebrate the birthday of the gifted writer G. K. Chesterton (born May 29, 1874 – June 14, 1936), I’m posting here some thoughts I wrote down after I finished reading his book The Man Who Was Thursday earlier this year.

 

 ‘Well, I don’t understand anything…’  — Gabriel Syme

‘I understand nothing, but I am happy…’  — Dr. Bull

Just finished this book by G. K. Chesterton.  One word had been on my mind as I was reading it:  ingenious.  Of course, there were other words too, like baffling, profound, funny, even hilarious.  Published exactly 100 years ago in 1908, The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare reads like an allegory, farce, fantasy, thriller, adventure, philosophical treatise, religious exposition, and a postmodern piece of literary anime, and yes, that’s 1908.

Having said all that, I must concede and humbly admit, upon finishing this first reading, I understand very little.  The twists and turns make one doubt what actually is real, or what is disguised as real, and where the line lies between good and evil, friend and foe, government and anarchists.  I’m baffled by the symbolism and eager to seek the appropriate interpretation. 

Who is Sunday?  Is he who I think he is?  The author in his own words in the addendum says, no, he’s not.  So, what am I to think? And, even if he is, how can I explain all the events that lead up to the ending?  And…what does the ending mean?

I welcome anyone who has read, studied, or taught the book to help me out with my bewilderment.  Of course, I could research on what scholastic publications have said, but, I’d just like to entertain some casual and random thoughts.

For those who wish to explore more, here are some Chesterton links:

The American Chesterton Society: Common Sense for the World’s Uncommon Nonsense  (Plainly tells you who you’re dealing with here)

G. K. Chesterton Quotations  (Just brilliant!)

Read Chesterton Online

The Man Who Was Thursday discussion on the blog “So Many Books”

The Easter Message

 

dominus-flevit-mt-of-olives.jpg 

 

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God,
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down,
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

—– Isaac Watts, 1707

 

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Photo: Dominus Flevit Church, Mount of Olives, Jerusalem.  Taken by Arti of Ripple Effects, www.rippleeffects.wordpress.com, November 2007.  All Rights Reserved.