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Posts Tagged ‘Death’

Mei Yao Ch’en on Spring, Death and Beauty

March 1, 2010 1 comment

(Photo used with permission, "Potential" by jspad)

When I sit down to read, I like to begin with poetry as a means of opening my hears to hear more clearly. Poetry slows my pace, stirs my heart and helps me to focus in the moment. Lately, I’ve been reading Kenneth Rexroth’s One Hundred Poems from the Chinese.

Mei Yao Ch’en (1002-1060) writes beautiful poems of loss and death. Mei Yao Ch’en gives voice to real sorrow while still voicing creation’s praise. He captures the wonder and terror of the world in a single moment. Even in death, he is overcome by the unstoppable force of life all around, and must give voice to the glory.

1,000 years later, I am overcome with the life that continues to burst from his heart.

On the Death of a New Born Child

The flowers in bud on the trees
Are pure like this dead child.
The East wind will not let them last.
It will blow them into blossom,
And at last into the earth.
It is the same with this beautiful life
Which was so dear to me.
While his mother is weeping tears of blood,
Her breasts are filling with milk.

Mei Yao Ch’en

(If interested, you can also read some of Rexroth’s translations online.)

Sunshine Cleaning, Pearl Diver, I’ve Loved You For So Long

February 2, 2010 1 comment
Elsa Zylberstein and Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Love You For So Long

Elsa Zylberstein and Kristin Scott Thomas in I've Love You For So Long

In the last few months, I’ve watched three films that explore the relationship between sisters who are coping with a death in the background. I’ve Loved You For So Long, Pearl Diver and Sunshine Cleaning all tells bittersweet stories of relationship, love and profound loss. Often when I watch a film, I look at the film against a backdrop of another film to help highlight contrasts and similarities of the varying stories.

I’ve Loved You For So Long is a French that begins with one sister being released from prison. Shot in muted colors the cinematography captures the inward grief of the Juliette Fontaine. Played superbly by Kristen Scott Thomas, Juliette exemplifies a life turned in upon itself. Her face reads grief, emptiness, isolation, and the colors and images reinforce this overshadowing sadness that closes her heart to life. This aching ex-convict rebuilds her life in the midst of the lives of her sister’s family, including a husband, a child, and mute grandfather.

In the conversations with her sister, we discover a deeply strained relationship across many years. We discover that the parents considered Juliette as dead and no longer even spoke of her. We discover the reason for her imprisonment: murder. She killed her child. This memory haunts every conversation, every relationship, every place. She walks in a world of death. Even though all her relationships are strained, we watch as a mute grandfather and a little child bring her back to life and unveil the secret her child’s murder. I won’t disclose the ending, but the story resolves in a deeply poignant way that reinforces the beauty of human life.

Pearl Diver also depicts two sisters reuniting after years of separation. Prison does not separate them, but a murder does. The murder of their Mennonite mother sends the young girls along two very different paths in life. Hannah Eberly leaves the Mennonite faith of her youth, becomes a writer, and appears to life an adult life of struggle, haunted by painful memories of her youth. Rebecca Miller, the older sister, embraces the faith and lifestyle of her Mennonite upbringing, and spends her adult life seeking for a pardon of the man who is convicted of killing her mom. Hannah consistently opposes her sisters actions and fights for his imprisonment to the end of his life.

Rebecca’s daughter nearly dies after falling into farming equipment. This tragic accident reunites the sisters, and flames shared memories of childhood. As they seek to help Rebecca’s daughter find treatment for the wound in her head, they must also face the wound in their own heads. Hannah writes a novel that exposes the brutal murder of her mother, as Rebecca responds in horror that ancient secrets are coming to light, she enters into the light of remembering. Once again, I won’t unravel the mystery of the mother’s murder, but in right remembering, there is healing for all.

Last weekend, I watched Sunshine Cleaning, a tale of two sisters cleaning up crime scenes while remembering the bloody scene of their own mother’s suicide. In this tragicomic tale, both sisters are scarred by the death. Neither is married, both are used by men (and the film follow a popular Hollywood trend of showing men exploit both women sexually), and both women are struggling to survive–financially as well as emotionally. They embark upon a new path of crime scene clean-up. While the film has a few light moments, the tragic overwhelms the comic, and the sunshine vanishes in a cloud of unresolved pain. While this sad tale is true for many people, I think it fails to draw upon the power of narrative and memory to find resolution. The characters live in the cloud of their mother’s death but they never really face the memory and they never find resolution. As the film ends, I have no reason to expect that they won’t continue to be used and exploited by men.

This trio of films highlights the power of shared memories and stories that envelope all our relationships. We might not face the grieve of murders, but we all have memories that haunt us our relationships and our vision of the world. The films reveal the power of memories and the power to retell our stories and recast our memories. The first two films in particular shine light light into the potential power of telling our stories to one another and listening to one another.

As I think about the sad and beautiful longing in these films for right relationships and better worlds, I think the role of the Holy Spirit in the Gospels. Jesus tells his disciples that one reason the Spirit comes is to help them remember. In fact, Hans Urs Von Balthasar goes so far as to say that “retrospective remembering and anamnesis (loss of forgetfulness) constitutes the basis of understanding anything.” He talks about how the disciples could not see Jesus when he was in front of them. But in remembering, they could finally see him by the power of the Spirit as the Son of God.

Remembering plays a vital role in the Old and New Testament. The ancient Hebrews forget who they are while serving in slavery to Pharaoh. But God remembers them. In resurrecting them, he will tell them again and again to “remember.”  They are to re-member, re-hearse, re-tell the stories of deliverance, the stories of creation, the stories of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

In the New Testament, Jesus teaches his disciples to remember by the power of His Spirit. But this remembering is not simply looking back, but it is re-telling or re-calling past events in light of Christ. The disciples on the Road to Emmaus learn how to remember the Old Testament stories in light of Christ. In so doing, they realize all the events of the Old Testament are pointing to Jesus.

I would suggest that all three films have tapped into the pain of forgetfulness in human relationships and human communities. We’ve forgotten who we are. We’ve forgotten what binds us together. We’ve remembered wrongly and in ways that will further divide and not unite. The first two films reveal that remembering often constitutes relearning our history through a new light. But the last film shows our tendency to face painful memory and turn away without resolve. I fear so much in our world call us to distraction as a means for dealing with our pains, our struggles, our brokenness. Distractions offers no lasting hope. But deep memory, especially memory in light of the healing power of the Holy Sprit can restore and heal old relationships. We may still struggle , we may still limp, but we move toward hope in light of Christ.

Diversions to Death – Pascal

February 9, 2007 3 comments

Blaise PascalHere’s a thought worth consideration from Pascal

The only thing that consoles us for our miseries is diversion, and yet this is the greatest of our miseries. For it is this which principally hinders us from reflecting upon ourselves, and which makes us insensibly ruin ourselves. Without this we should be in a state of weariness, and this weariness would spur us on to seek a more solid means of escaping from it. But diversion amuses us, and leads us, gradually and without ever adverting to it, to death.

Anna Nicole Smith Dies

February 8, 2007 2 comments

annanicole.jpg

I never followed the life of Anna Nicole Smith, but news of her sudden death hits me with a deep sadness. In spite of any flaws or struggles magnified by the absurdity of a fame driven culture, a human person whose life seemed so tragic has died. Death mocks the arrogance of human accomplishment. So many of us strive and struggle and long for the things Ms. Smith enjoyed like wealth and fame.

Do these bring loving relationships? Can these repair the wounds of a broken heart? More often, they magnify the flaws and fragilities of the person. Regardless of IQ, wealth, power, and all human achievements, death wins. And the wonders of our majesty fade faster than the fresh grave grows grass.

My hope is in a love that cannot be stopped–even by death. The resurrecting love of Christ does not make me other-worldly, hoping for some escape from this miserable planet, but rather it reveals that vindication is real, justice is true and love really does conquor the absurdity of death. This love of Jesus reveals a pattern to me of self-giving love that lets go of everything and is free to embrace, to sacrifice, to trust. I rest in the love of living Savior and am free to love those around me. And I hope in a love that will ultimately renew this whole world.

As I reflect on the faithful love of Christ, my heart aches for the pain of Ms. Smith. Lord have mercy upon her. And Lord have mercy upon the aching souls starved for love wandering in the desert of life-sucking, relationship killing abundance.

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