"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; / [ . . . ] Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves -- goes itself; 'myself' it speaks and spells, / Crying 'What I do is me; for that I came'." --Gerard Manley Hopkins

29 November 2007

Sculpting in Time

I have been reading Russian filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky's book Sculpting in Time, thanks to the recommendation of this young man, a film communications major. It is one of those books that gives one chills by its insight and expression. For this morning, a sample:

In setting great store by the subjective view of the artist and his personal perception of the world, I am not making a plea for an arbitrary or anarchic approach. It is a question of worldview, of ideals and moral ends. Masterpieces are born of the artist's struggle to express his ethical ideals. Indeed, his concepts and his sensibilities are informed by those ideals. If he loves life, has an overwhelming need to know it, change it, try to make it better, -- in short, if he aims to cooperate in enhancing the value of life, then there is no danger in the fact that the picture of reality will have passed through a filter of his subjective concepts, through his state of mind. For his work will always be a spiritual endeavour which aspires to make man more perfect: an image of the world that captivates us by its harmony of feeling and thought, its nobility and restraint.

15 November 2007

Hath Hell Frozen Over?

Real Christianity out of Hollywood?

Criminal Minds astounded me last night. The team is called in to investigate crimes committed by someone leaving satanic symbols as a calling card. On the way, they discuss satanism, and Hotch and Dave Rossi (the new man, played by Joe Montegna) are cautioning the rest that such people are especially dangerous because of their belief that they are possessed by the devil’s power. Morgan says, “My mother took us to church every Sunday, and this devil stuff doesn’t bother me.” Reid responds, “Maybe the devil stuff didn’t take because the god stuff didn’t either.” Morgan, enraged, tells him, “You don’t know what I believe.” It’s clearly not a casual issue with him, much as he might want it to appear so.

At the small town where the crime has taken place, Morgan asks Rossi to speak to the priest (there’s only one church in the town) and he (Morgan) will talk to the victim’s parents; Rossi instead asks to speak to the parents himself, leaving Morgan with the priest. The priest, immediately sensing Morgan’s hostility, asks him, “How long has it been since you’ve been in the Lord’s house?” Morgan, refusing to answer, is rude to him again and again, his repulsion continually evident.

Morgan gives the priest the profile they have come up with and asks him to look at the list of church members among whom the killer must be; when the priest can’t tell him who he thinks it is, Morgan says “he is imitating faith; it isn’t real; he goes to church only because everyone else does.” The priest answers in frustration that all his congregation have “imitative faith,” all of them attend church because everybody else does, and he does all he knows how to help them understand and live real faith – again Morgan becomes angry and says, “we’re not here about you, we’re here to find a killer, and you say you can’t help us.”

Finally, the priest asks him, “what happened to you that you can be so hateful to a man you don’t even know?” Morgan tells him that “something terrible” happened to him when he was a child (he was abused by a man who was supposedly being a “father figure” to him after his father died) and he went to church every day and begged God to make it stop – and “you know what God did? Nothing – that’s what God did.” The priest tells him, “God never gives us anything we can’t handle.” Morgan replies, “Then God expects way too much of 13-year-old boys.”

Later, Rossi points out that he left Morgan with the priest as “an opportunity for personal growth,” and Morgan decides at least to apologize for his rudeness. (A nice touch, I thought – when the killer admits what he has done, the priest lunges across the table and tries to throttle him. I think this impressed Morgan.)

On the plane back to D.C., Morgan asks Rossi if all the “luck” the killer had experienced over the years – the unbelievable ways he had managed, although not intelligent at all, to evade detection for years – could suggest that he really did have some kind of “help” from a supernatural power. Rossi tells him at first not to worry about it – their job is to find the evil and put a stop to it, not to be concerned with where it comes from. But then he says, “I think Reid is right, you know – if you accept one, then you have to accept the other.”

And the almost-final scene shows Morgan in a church, sitting down in a back pew and clearly steeling himself to begin a journey home.

This is Hollywood? CM has always shown respect for Christianity; some of the villains have used religion as an excuse for evil, but this has always been pointed out as a perversion and not to do with true religion. But this – this amounts to the gospel on a popular crime show: a critique of “imitation faith” by someone trying to live real faith, an acknowledgement that God doesn’t “tempt us beyond what we are able,” a main character – a hardened, angry FBI agent – beginning a journey back to Christian faith? Hath hell indeed frozen over?!

13 November 2007

The Generosity of Centered Love

for June, who has loved me

Some 34 years ago, I happened to work in the curriculum library at The University of Kansas, reshelving and rearranging and doing whatever projects the director needed me to do. A strikingly beautiful woman with a soft Southern accent happened to be a doctoral student under the director, with a desk in the library’s office area. Her inevitable kindness, her ready smile and laugh won me instantly – and one day she invited her younger son to take us out to lunch at Pizza Hut, thereby (not quite unknowingly) selecting her daughter-in-law.

From the first, June considered me a daughter, loving me neither less nor differently than she loved her own children. And I have always called her “mom,” because she immediately became a second mother to me, as precious as my own.

Sometimes I envied her energy and her talents. She could make anything on a sewing machine from a simple skirt to complex valanced drapes. She could cook anything from scratch and taught me to love simple beans and cornbread as well as exotic tabuli. She canned and froze and dried the produce of the family farm and in her children’s youth had driven the tractor, planted trees, and helped put out the fire that younger son inadvertently started in the outhouse. Her eye for beauty ensures that nothing in her various homes has been accidental or happenstance, and each one has inevitably been both elegant and comfortable, truly home to all who step across the threshold. She taught economics and home economics at Texas Women’s University and she is an artist and a landscaper and a homemaker par excellence.

But I understood immediately that she didn’t expect me to be like her, that she realized that my upbringing, my talents, my preferences and abilities, even my lesser store of energy are uniquely mine and to be valued as such. Never have I felt a moment’s slightest disappointment from her, but only encouragement to follow my own paths, to excel in being the woman I was created to be. And while I’ve not, sad to say, learned to sew or cook or decorate my home in the complex ways she does, I have learned from her anew the most important lesson my own mother has always impressed on me, not by speech but by example.

For Mom generously, fiercely loves people, with a deep loyalty and a vulnerability that draw and enfold. All that she does arises from this love. When she bakes bread and prepares a lovely pot roast and a sumptuous dessert, it is an offering of time and love to those who will share it, as is the time given to teach her grandchildren to sew and draw and paint, showering love along the way. Her home opens vistas of quiet beauty where guests feel free to relax, from the cushioned window seat and afghans in the den and deep leather couches in the living room to scented soaps on the bathroom sinks and lush down pillows on the beds. Her paintings – like the two I see each time I glance up from this writing – greet the viewer with a profusion of soft colors that draw the eye into a centered depth of beauty that is like the depth of her own centered love, the theme of all her interior decoration, even to simple trinkets hanging in a window.

One year, we arrived at Mom’s the Monday morning before Christmas, racing ahead of sleet and snow, the day sagging about us, grey and drizzly. Bringing dishes to the sink after lunch, I noted the several multi-colored, multi-shaped, flat pieces of glass hanging in the kitchen window that had been there since I could remember. Pretty, I thought, and didn't notice them again. Wednesday dawned bright, the ordinary sun dazzling after nearly a week's hiding behind the wintry grey. Around mid-morning, I started from the den toward the laundry room -- and was arrested by vivid rainbows reflected on the white walls, a brilliance that abruptly stilled my teeming mind. After catching my breath, I approached the window to find their origin, and, for the first time ever, I saw among the colored baubles two small, clear glass pieces: a ball and a teardrop, each with dozens of facets cut into the surface, joyfully refracting the sunlight into radiant beauty.

Simple elegance – yet with depth, richness, brilliance like the love of the woman who, with her instinct for beauty, hung the glass in that perfect place to provide moments of sudden delight. This is her way – not extravagance but quiet gestures that never waver, never halt, but need only the light of our gratefulness to break into beauty enough to delight the universe.

07 November 2007

Words, Only Words

This morning, noting the waning moon as I stand by my car in the college parking lot, I can see it only as darkness moving to complete eclipse, the one brilliant arc remaining along its lower edge soon to be swallowed in sorrow as a woman I love -- a woman who has been like a mother to me since I married her son almost 33 years ago -- faces implacable Death.

How, I often wonder, do those without hope live life well and, especially, face Death? For even with the hope that I cling to, darkness marks me today.

Death, where is thy victory? Christ has risen; the victory is His.

Words, words, words. I who know the power of words see them today as mere puffs of wind on the air, marks on a page whose blankness holds the only meaning.

Because today death remains victorious, and I rage against the waning of the moon, the coming loss of so much love, so much reflected light, to the world.