Seeking Refuge

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In an age of oversimplified political and social narratives, we may find refuge in stories that reflect the disturbing, conflicting aspects of living out our faith in the midst of a broken world. Recently released on DVD and streaming, Anne Fontaine’s The Innocents takes viewers into a place of sanctuary that has become a center of pain and confusion. In a state of desperation, the nuns find help from an unbeliever who must wrestle with their devout faith. This slow, emotionally complex film, may open our hearts afresh to the surprise of hope in the midst of despair.

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People in Motion

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Molecules, atoms and electrons are in constant motion. As they move, they collide and transfer energy. I think of these collisions when I see the Grand Central Station scene in The Fisher King (1991). Masses of people rush toward their destination almost colliding in non-stop motion. Then Perry sees Linda, the love of his life. For a brief moment, this chaotic mass becomes a grand waltz of perfect harmony.

The film Genius (2016) opens with hundreds of people walking city sidewalks on a rainy day. In the constant clatter of feet splashing, we feel the frenetic energy of the place. People collide in conversation, in business, in creativity, in joy and sometimes in anger. In the middle of this living town, two men meet. The ever-animated writer Thomas Wolfe (Jude Law) bumps into the staid world of editor William Perkins (Colin Firth). This encounter sets in motion a collaboration that will reorder the lives of both men.

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Films for Lent

calvary-ocean-rocksLent sounds a little morbid. It’s a time of obsessing over our sinfulness while reflecting on our death—forty dark days of self-denial. In an age of self-indulgence, I would expect Lent to fade into the background, but it hasn’t. Lenten reflection and disciplines seem to be growing. Each year, Facebook, Twitter, and Google track the various Lenten fasts. Even many non-religious people have gotten into the habit of giving up something for Lent.

Watching movies is one way I practice the Lenten journey. It might seem contradictory to combine entertainment with penitence. While we often think of films as amusing, though, we can also think through films as a way to hear the voice of the muse.

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2015: A Selected Film Review

RedwoodsA few years ago, my wife and I drove up the Pacific Coast Highway. When we finally reached the Redwoods, it felt as though we left all we knew behind and entered on sacred ground. Standing in the grandeur of those towering ancients brought tears to our eyes. In silent wonder, we stood and wept.

There are moments in beholding the world around us that overawe and sometimes overwhelm and diminish us. When confronting the American landscape, Czeslaw Milosz wrote, “This continent possesses something like a spirit which malevolently undoes any attempts to subdue it,” and, “my humanistic zeal has been weakened by the mountains and the ocean, by those many moments when I have gazed upon boundless immensities with a feeling akin to nausea, the wind ravaging my little homestead and intentions.”[1]

As I reflect upon the films of 2015, I think of the boundless immensities all around us. Glory and terror echo through the natural world and the worlds of human creation. Our films reflect the thoughts and nightmares that occupy our minds. Each of these movies captures a sense of being overwhelmed, some in sacred awe and others in anxious trembling.

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The Martian and Survival Stories

Matt DamonRehearsing a different kind of left behind story, The Martian immerses viewers into an astronomic tale of survival against all odds. Fellow crewmembers accidently abandon Mark Watney, believing he died during an overpowering storm. Awaking to the fiery glory of a morning on Mars, Mark starts making plans to live. The Martian combines science just beyond our reach with humor, teamwork, and an impending deadline to celebrate the indomitable human spirit. Yet while we root for Mark’s deliverance, the film also speaks to something deeper about the nature of human existence.

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