Sunday, February 19, 2012

Movies and macular holes

       As Hurley and I were running and walking through Palmetto Islands County Park today, I saw a lot of these old live oaks draped in Spanish moss, and it brought to mind once again a movie I watched a few days ago, Terrence Malick's "The Tree of Life."  There is a literal tree very similar to this one that is seen many times in the film.  But the title is also metaphorical, calling us back to the biblical creation story in the book of Genesis, where the tree was in the Garden of Eden.  I can hardly describe the movie.  It is by far the most spiritually moving and thought-provoking film I can recall seeing.  It is also one of the most aesthetically beautiful.  I don't want to give too much away to anyone who might want to see it (and I definitely recommend it, with the caveat that it is unlike any movie you've ever seen, so don't expect traditional anything), but I want to share a few moments that resonated with me.  
      The film opens with words from the biblical book of Job onscreen:  "Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth . . . when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" (Job 38:4, 7)  This same question -- "Where were you?" -- will be spoken in prayer by several members of the family whose story forms most of the main plot (if you can call it that).  The themes are so universal, the doubt of God's presence in times of trial, the demands to know why tragedy has befallen someone close to us, someone so good or young or both.  I think what I love about this movie is that it dares to ask out loud many of the same questions that have been on my heart at one time or another.  In snatches of whispered prayers, mostly from our protagonist family's eldest son, Jack, (sometimes as a child, sometimes as an adult) and his parents, who do not even have names besides Mother and Father.  
     Dialogue is spare.  Long stretches of the movie pass with only music or sound effects or even silence.  In juxtaposition to the family's grief, we have a nearly 20-minute sequence that aims for nothing less than to show the creation of the universe.  Beautiful does not begin to describe it and how it made me feel.  And over those images of nebulae, planets, volcanoes, waterfalls, bacteria, even dinosaurs, we continue to hear, sporadically, heartfelt whispered prayers.  "My hope, my God. . .  How did you come to me, in what shape?  What disguise? . .  How did I lose you, wandered, forgot you? . .  Was I false to you?  Lord, why?  Where were you? . .  Did you know? . .  Who are we to you? . .  Answer me. . .  We cry to you. . .  You let a boy die.  Where were you?"  Then we see onscreen a figure of light, shimmering, constantly changing shape, almost dancing.  Is this a representation of God?  Perhaps.  It is not an answer to all these questions that I and so many have asked, but it is a response.  
     Whatever else the film may have to say about God, it seems clear that the God of this portrayed universe is both present and busy.  The movie leaves us with indelible images of beauty and grace, like bread crumbs forming a trail that leads to God.  It awakened me to such sights in my real life -- the color and pattern of the clouds at sunset, a helping hand offered by one child to another on the playground, even something so simple yet majestic as this tree.


     We’re on day 4 of face down time.  My mother-in-law is staying with us as she recovers from surgery to repair two macular holes in her eye.  The surgeon repairs the holes (caused when the vitreous gel pulls away from the retina - I’ve learned a lot of eye anatomy this week! ) and then inserts a bubble of air into the eye which acts as a splint or a band-aid - holding the patch in place while it heals.  The tricky part is the recovery.  In order to hold the air bubble in the right place, the patient must remain in a face down -  face parallel to the floor - position for at least 7 days .  Face down.  Walking, sitting, sleeping, eating.  24/7.  
      I find myself holding my own head down in sympathy or perhaps encouragement as I hold her arm for balance. You can’t see much when your face is parallel to the floor. Lines in the hardwood. Stains on the carpet.  Cracks in the driveway.  You miss the big picture and it's hard to see where you are going.  But since you can't lift your head,  you begin to look more closely.  What are those white chips in my driveway cement?  Where did that black stain come from?  Why is my shoe laced crooked?  So many things to explore - in just a small square foot of the universe.   You see where your feet are touching the earth, where you are grounded.  
       We need the view from 40,000 feet to get the big picture and move forward, but sometimes we simply need to see where we stand. 

 GODS AND MEN Olivier Rabourdin as one of a group of Cistercian Trappist
 monks who are part of the life of a mountain village in Algeria in the 1990s.
As Lent approaches, I’ve been thinking about how to physically connect with the season – what I could give up or add that physically brings me to a more spiritual plane. I got the answer Sunday when I stayed home from church trying to avoid a migraine I could tell was coming on. Instead, I curled up with the movie, "Of Gods and Men," not my typical movie fare, but something I felt oddly drawn to. I was treated to a rich spiritual blessing watching the quiet, seemingly boring lives of eight monks, in the wrong place at the right time in Algiers. The movie follows how each finds his own pathway to a deeper relationship with God. It left me stunned by their fanaticism for peace and the director's artistry in capturing it. It’s such a rare sight, one that lights a candle in this time of terror and materialism, shedding light on how not to be overwhelmed by the tides of evil, doubt and oblivion.
Next time you need some quiet or inspiration, pop a bowl of popcorn and settle in. The movie is a gift that has to be unwrapped slowly to be best enjoyed. Like faith. It’s my challenge to find ways during Lent to be more quiet and do more courageous listening as they model in the movie.

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