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Archive for December, 2011

war horse

I have always had a soft spot for horse stories.  Black Beauty, the Black Stallion, My Friend Flicka, Seabiscuit.  So I knew that I would see War Horse- despite some serious misgivings that there would be a lot of violence interspersed with the tender story of a boy and his remarkable horse. I saw the movie yesterday. Or rather, I “saw” about half of the movie and closed my eyes through the other half.

Some years ago I resolved that I would not subject myself to violence in “entertainment”. The film “Gladiator” left me feeling physically ill and I wondered what could be the benefit of watching such brutality? There is more than enough violence in real life.  Do we need to create more to entertain ourselves?  Most scripts minimize the real consequences of the fights, the car crashes, the explosions, etc. on the “good guys”- if they show them at all.  Maybe it comes from my experience in medicine, knowing how people struggle to recover from even relatively minor accidents. I find it very difficult to enter into the fantasy of trauma with instantaneous recuperation so that the character is ready to fight again in the next scene.

“War Horse” is set during World War I, “the war to end all wars” which, of course, it didn’t.  I found myself feeling more and more hopeless as the film wore on.  If we could not realize the folly of solving conflicts by the brutality of hand-to-hand combat as shown in the film, how will we ever come to that realization today when war is fought by drones and bombs activated half a world away from the targets?  This was what was going through my mind as I sat with my eyes closed and wondered how much longer the movie would last.

There must be another way to deal with the reality of evil. There is another kind of sacrifice than offering up our young people on fields of battle.  It is the sacrifice of those who say that they will wear down the enemy by their capacity to absorb suffering. Developing that kind of capacity, which is really the capacity of love, is worth our best efforts.  Would that the creative genius of our writers and moviemakers was put to such a project!

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word made flesh

On Christmas Eve we celebrated Mass in our house chapel. I spent some time earlier in the day making the liturgical change from Advent to Christmas: making a fresh green wreath from cuttings of pine, rosemary and lavender that we have in our yard, changing the purple and pink candles to white, arranging the nativity scene under the altar… all the while remembering Sisters Flo and Ann who used to carry out this “duty” for us with such creativity and love. It is a good opportunity to make the inward transition from the weeks of waiting and preparation.

We also have the custom of beginning our liturgy with a time of silent vigil. It seems such a luxury when so many are still last-minute shopping, baking, wrapping, traveling, or still working. We began our vigil around 5:15 as darkness deepened in our chapel, lit only by the candles of the wreath and the tiny lights of the nativity scene. A little quiet music to begin…then “the world in silent stillness waits…”

At some point in the vigil Yessenia and Christopher joined us. He is now two months old. Our “silence” was punctuated by the little sounds that babies make: gurgles, yawns, sighs. No cries- just contentment. Without a word we all knew the wonder of the Incarnation.

God became human! Just like this! Just like Chris! The lights came on and we sang our first Christmas carol. We read the beautiful scriptures: The people in waiting in darkness have seen a great light…a child is born for us…Mary gave birth to her firstborn son…wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger…The angel said to them: Do not be afraid for I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people…Glory to God and peace to those on whom God’s favor rests!

Here is the light in our darkness, the light of God’s life within each of us. The little babe makes it all the more clear and wonderful. But God’s life is incarnate now in each one of us: old and young, broken and whole, powerful and powerless. Each of us were once as fresh and beautiful as this tiny baby. Life happens and it’s more difficult to discern the word made flesh in us and in others. As John’s Gospel prologue says, “The word was in the world and it knew him not.”

This is my Christmas gift: Can I discern the face of God and bow down to worship at the crib in my heart when what I see is the broken body, the homeless beggar, the undocumented immigrant, the frightening stranger, the “enemy” in whatever way name that one who is also word-made-flesh? I have a long way, still, to travel before I am able to see a savior in a poor baby wrapped in rags and lying in a feed trough.

O come, let us adore him!

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