This week's post is going to be a movie review.
Qualification 1: don't worry, I've not run out of things to write about.
Simply because this movie made a big impact on me. I'm still thinking and feeling about it, days after watching it, trying to distill the thoughts and ideas, as well as feelings, that it aroused.
Though it may verge on a more personal side, and maybe even end up (horrors) rambling, I think it's worth trying to express these thoughts and ideas, which I hope will be helpful to you--or at least food for thought--regardless of whether you watch Bella or not.
And don't worry, it won't end up as a gushy puddle of disconnected I-can't-even adjectives.
Having heard about this 'award-winning pro-life movie' I can't even remember how, my mom and sis and I took time off to have a movie night together.
I wasn't exactly expecting traumatic emotional catharsis, because I've never been a good crier...much to the annoyance of some friends (you know, the kind who delight in making everyone watch 'guaranteed tear jerker' movies for the satisfaction of seeing other people as emotionally traumatised as they were...ah, I think you're smiling there. We all know one.)
Not many 'sad' movies actually move me beyond a breathless, heavy dull heartache to tears (correction: tear, singular.) Even if I actually teared up, the fact often briefly detached me from the experience of the movie ('oh, look, I've got tears in my eyes. That's something...this movie is affecting...') rather than plunging me further into its emotional pull.
So it was odd when I vaguely realised I was streaming tears like a choky tap. And not caring, hardly even noticing I was. It was odd, that this fictional situation was somehow so intensely relatable. It was like watching myself experiencing those emotions on screen, even while feeling them myself as a viewer.
What was more, the movie wasn't even an overtly tragic movie--it ended happily.
I struggled to express what exactly about the movie had made such an impact on me.
(I suppose you could say I'm still experiencing its after-effects, judging from the number of paragraphs describing my response and the number of adjectives.)
The best I finally came up with was two main things:
The 'tragedy'. To begin with, it was so tastefully done that it was emotionally graphic without being (explicitly) visually graphic. Like the classic Greek tragedies, it was not the process of the deed itself--the blood, the violence, which so many movies, 'sad' or otherwise, like to obsess over--but the consequences of it, that struck you. What I remember most is not the sight of the incident happening but the deep, gripping sense of horror the scene conveyed.
Then the nature of the tragedy itself. Most tragedies tend to be on a greater scale than the sort of tragedies we might experience--more dramatic, more extreme, so that our emotional response is also more dramatic, more extreme.
I've felt compassion for tragic characters by imagining their feelings, but couldn't actually relate to what they felt. After all I'd never had my entire family killed or been betrayed by my lover etc, though I definitely could imagine how terrible that would be.
Neither had I ever, as in Jose's case--
*SPOILER ALERT* skip the next paragraph if you plan to watch Bella!
But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up on wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.
Isaiah 40: 31
Isaiah 40:31 is set to a lovely tune. It's one of my Sunday Schoolers' favourite songs.
When leading them to sing the other Sunday I tried to explain the song, so the familiar words meant something to them even though they had sung it so many times. As usual, I realised that I myself had taken the words for granted. In the process of explaining I was rediscovering the meaning of the verse myself.
The literal meaning of the verse was deceptively obvious in the simple words.
But what does it mean to me, practically, personally?
When I sing this, I told my Sunday Schoolers, I think of an eagle, soaring in a blue sky...
No clouds. No other birds. Just pure depthless blue that goes on forever. And the big bird on strong, powerful wings, floating effortlessly in the expanse of blue.
Peace. Confidence. Strength. Power. Freedom.
That bird is where he ought to be. He's completely at home. He's at his ultimate potential. He's relaxed and confident and doing what he's best at. Here in the sky, on his wings, he's not afraid, and he's ready for whatever happens.
That is exactly what we experience when we trust God. When we rely on Him and wait on Him, we experience peace and confidence. We have more strength and ability than we could have on our own, because it comes from Him.
Our true freedom lies in total trust, paradoxical as that may sound.
As a bird is free in the air and a fish in the sea,
each in its native element,
so man has his true freedom
in the will of the God Who created him for Himself.
~The New Bible Dictionary; edited by J.D. Douglas
For the largest part of my life I never thought I had faith issues.
After all, I had never seriously doubted God's existence or the truth of the Bible (except just once for about an intense twenty minutes; and that made me even more sure after that.)
What I later realized--gradually; tiptoeing as an eager but unsure young Christian along the glorious path of knowing God that so many greater and better souls had walked before me--was that faith (or the lack thereof) was an aspect of the human heart, way more than the one simple definition I had always defined it with.
Faith basically reflects the gap between us--the human, the limited, the fallible--and God.
Faith is belief in the intangible. Our human mind's instinctive qualification is tangibility, what we can touch and see--even though the very fact that we have, and are so affected by our emotions, should tell us that we were made for much more than the tangible.
Faith in the existence of God--or, more subtly, faith in what He values and wants us to value, what He desires and wants us to desire, such as holiness.
Because of my Christian upbringing it was easier for me to have faith in this aspect, because I grew up sensitive and open to the concept that intangible things could exist, without immediately and automatically slamming the idea as impossible. Also the concept that something I may not personally value or appreciate now did not necessarily mean that that something was intrinsically worthless, that I could even change and grow to appreciate and value it some day.
Both of which are perspectives which, though undeniably good and desirable to have, are much harder to cultivate as an adult, when life experience has made you cynical and self-confident in your own opinions, judgement, and above all the delusion of 'rationality'.
(in case you're wondering why I talk about this without referencing God, I want to preserve the perspective that I had then as a child who didn't actually believe in God, the way I as an individual personally do now.)
Faith is belief in what has not happened yet and may not seem likely to.
Again, as humans, we are so used to our limitations of time and space and perception that we have trouble accepting that God can be so sure, so confident, of something we have no power over or confidence (and our confidence-less is the result of our powerlessness) about.
This was something, too, I had learnt as a child, from the example of the people around me who believed in providence and an omniscient power and lived with hope, always hope, as result, liberating the heart and mind even in the midst of seemingly impenetrable despair.
How many earnest prayers I made in this hope, that Someone could rescue the situation. Even if it didn't rest in me, the ultimate power didn't rest with horrible people. Or horrible circumstances.
And lastly, most painful but most significant of all, is the new aspect of faith that I am slowly learning now.
Faith is belief in redemption of the impossible (what has already happened.)
This is not so much the faith that God will sanctify me (which is faith in what has not yet happened) as faith that God's power and wisdom transcends the mistakes that I have already committed, the ruin I have wreaked on my life, the hurt I have caused others, the wastage I have been guilty of and the loves I have abused. There is a fine line between the two and perhaps for some of you the distinction is unnecessary; you see them both as one and the same. I separate them here because faith in the redemption of the impossible was something distinctly new that I learnt as I lost my confidence in myself.
Looking through my book of quotes, I found a thought which an online classmate had once expressed in discussions on pursuing God's will for your life.
Faith to trust God despite past bad choices.
At that time, it had intrigued me because it was a new thought. But it expressed a struggle that I was about to have to deal with--badly--in the coming years. I won't go into unnecessary details; we all go through our own thorny valley of despair and humbling for various reasons. God help us, it is an excruciating unanesthetized operation to cut out a deadly tumor of pride and complacency, through which we can only clench our teeth and weep for the end, for the removal of that agonizing and fatal ugliness that we never noticed before.
What have I done? O God, I've ruined it, I wanted to live my life well for You and glorify You but I've messed it up and there's no way of cleaning up the mess.
I thought I needed wisdom--wisdom to never repeat it again!--but how about what had already happened? What could possibly be done about that? Nothing.
Faith, I realized, extended to this. When I had ruined it irrevocably. When there was nothing I could do to change what I had done. When the consequences were staring me in the face, and would continue to even as I screamed out in agony I'm sorry.
Faith that God 's good plan for me still applies, that even my stupid, stupid mistakes can be used--somehow--by Him. Faith that I haven't ruined everything, that God by His mercy and power can still use me, still use my life. With all the flaws and mistakes. Despite the wasted chances and wasted time.
Faith to trust God's wisdom and power, even in the face of my foolishness and weakness.
Have you ever realized that enjoyment has a spectrum?
Some time ago I wrote about my inspiration from Jonathan Edwards to keep my own Shadows of Divine Things, a journal which recorded observations of beauty as reflections of God's goodness, as the 'language of God.'
(Looking at the number of entries I've made since then shows me that I've still got a long way to go in learning to appreciate, to truly see the Source within the goodness manifested all around me. All the same, it's been an exciting and empowering process; rubbing my soul's eyes, learning to see clearer and better, learning to enjoy and wonder at the world around me so much more. Unless we stop seeing things as existent only in themselves, or in relation to us, and start to see them as what they are--creations and reflections of a beauty-loving God--we are blind to the wonder they possess, and can only see their external beauty, incomplete without the beauty of their origin.)
On the other hand, looking back at my entries was delightful--they captured the fleeting, wordless charm of the moment when I learnt to wonder. I realized, as I glanced from one to another, that though all those moments dwelt on similar experiences, they encapsulated different shades of delight.
The eye's enjoyment in color, design, shape--the gorgeous rich deep purple of freshly-opened carnations; the riotous harmony of Timberland boots on display, a rainbow of colors so warm and vibrant they seemed alive, 'soul-feeding hues', as I tried to describe them.
Sound--beautiful acapella that made my soul feel like it had grown wings, birthed in the exquisite anguish of extreme beauty, emotions only music could express revealing the fascinating complexity of beauty and passion and pain. It is hard to describe when you're only limited to the dimension of words, vast as that is. As Victor Hugo said: Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot be silent.
Sense--this one took me by surprise; I'd forgotten that God's goodness extended even to those seemingly small, superficial things we take for granted. I may sound hedonistic here, but a dash of hedonism--if hedonism it is--is fine if you've never intentionally appreciated or savored these little blessings before. A deliciously cold shower, the prickle of cool water on your skin. The tenderness of your bed, so overwhelmingly comforting after a draining day. I kid you not; I remember lying on my bed limp with thankfulness and worship.
There was even one entry where I incredulously noted that I'd found this reflection of God's goodness in food. Yes, food. (Interestingly enough, I found that it takes even greater insight and sensitivity for me to really appreciate insignificant blessings like food this way. It's much easier to trace the reflection of God in breathtaking scenery or starry skies, where the beauty is obviously transcendent and points to Something, a Source greater than ourselves.
But food? We take food so much for granted today that sometimes we actually treat it more like a curse--complaining about leftovers, vegetables, calories.)
I'd had a long day teaching and had neglected to bring a snack to keep myself going. Seven hours after lunch I felt positively faint and murderous. Thankfully I got to dinner before anything serious happened, and as if I wasn't hungry enough to appreciate anything which was edible, it was a Good dinner. Good food. Wonderful, wonderful calories. Praise God for calories and flavors and textures. I thought of Jonathan ben Saul when he tasted the honeycomb in the woods, and understood why the Bible said his 'countenance brightened.' Previously I'd felt like I was fading out of sight; now the color and outlines were back in high definition and I was a new person again, mood, energy, ambitions, everything.
Hopefully I didn't just bore you with that long rabbit trail on excerpts from my Shadows book.
What struck me on looking back was the realization that all these experiences of beauty, of inherent goodness, were so varied--a wide scope of delight in different shades and aspects; a whole spectrum of delight, in fact.
And these are just the delights we feel shallowly through our physical senses. Imagine the vastly more complex and deep spectrum of JOY. This vague, sensory happiness doesn't even touch the surface of the power of emotions.
And I suddenly realized in the midst of marveling that this exactly reflected the goodness of God.
His goodness and beauty is so multi-faceted, is such an enormous spectrum of delight to experience, that we can only continue to discover how wide it is. We start by discovering our planet, and our solar system, and then the galaxy, and then that there are countless galaxies out there, that the universe is so enormous we can't even imagine its scope, but can only continue to make our small discoveries step by step in its vastness.
God's goodness is like that. On an enormous spectrum we can't see the end of.
And our spiritual walk is our exploration of that spectrum; discovering new shades and new depths, step by step.
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are