mother!

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This is an artistic film. I think the thrilling scenes are enough to carry a mainstream viewer but the artistic pace toward the climax is slow. Or rather concealed. Evil doesn’t start out bombastic and in your face, it starts with little background-noise slights and then more overt wrongs until it scandalizes into grand evil. Film critics have had contrasting reactions from “vile, contemptible, an embarrassment to Paramount Studios” to “riveting, masterpiece, visually striking.” It is downright Aronofsky and should be sealed with his family crest!

 

This nightmare (is this a dream?) is a Christian allegory.  That’s what I see.

 

‘He’ (Javier Bardem) is the Creator God, the houseguests are depraved mankind, the baby is the expiating Christ given as a sacrifice for the forgiveness of our sins, the carbon crystal is the seed of life and the forbidden fruit (the perfect genesis that belongs to God alone).

 

But who or what is mother?

 

Some critics have said this is a story about mankind ravaging mother earth, where Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘She’ (there are no names of characters only Him, Her, She and He) is the world. I think that’s too lazy an interpretation. There are too many things that wouldn’t add up. If it’s a lecture on the despicable way we treat the earth then what does the innocent son of man have to do with it? What of God’s taking earth’s love and recreating? It seems God’s preoccupation is with man. Even He says, for a creator “there is never enough.” Else, there would be no creation. He must bore forth. For the act of creating is out of desire to yield something ‘other’ than thou. God’s constitution is conceiving. He conceived of the earth but his fondness is for humanity.  This has me thinking about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Christian Trinity- that perfect relationship, why more, why us? I’m not sure this film presents the relationship between God and His creatures in accord with Christian doctrine but it is an allegory and a work of art. That these themes are even given screen time is groundbreaking to me in an industry that’s void of existential thought beyond ‘I’.

 

If She isn’t simply mother earth could she be Lucifer? Lucifer after all is a fallen angel who had protected the throne of God just as She protects His writing room and His cherished tree of life- the carbon crystal. There is also great parallel of His poet’s words and the word of God. There is even anointing done with ashes, by God and his priest, of his fan followers, blessing them; “receive his words.” The allegory goes on. Lucifer was exceedingly beautiful. Lucifer grows loathsome of service to God. ‘She’ is a stridently sacrificial yet jealous character. Yearning to have Him to herself, to have His gaze exclusively upon her, to have first priority when viewing His work of art. Then Lucifer is cast out of heaven and upon judgment is burnt by fire and disintegrated into ash. Jennifer Lawrence’s ‘she’ forebodes about the apocalypse. The narrative in mother! displays genesis through the book of revelation.

 

Or maybe lowercase mother is simply a person. She is the commoner with the womb that carries Jesus. The same person who seeks a word with him on his walk up to Calvary to whom he says “My mother is someone who hears the word of God and does it.” Lawrence’s She is sick of God’s plans for their household. She is the commoner that is enchanted, even moved, by God’s word but doesn’t accept the radical regeneration that’s required. Her idea of service is still prideful. She doesn’t do it 100% for God, she does it for herself. The home is her work, the womb is her work. He receives praise for His work, She wishes for praise for Hers. This isn’t simply a presentation of misogynistic burden shouldered by women. All un-regenerated people are saturated in self-glory, unable to free themselves from that outlook.  Unable to abide the leadership of Him.

 

There are plenty of stories in the bible that have God resetting the course. Outmoding animal sacrifice for the ultimate blood sacrifice Jesus Christ, Noah’s ark and the great flood, Sodom and Gomorrah, etc. Now, whether the recreation in the film means God as a frustrated amateur that just can’t seem to get it right and narcissistically scraps His work so that He can receive more love, more adoration next time or God as the perfect creator that, out of abundance of love, painstakingly gives second chances, there is artistic license with this. Does the creator ‘He’ create out of an absence and a desperation for more or out of an abundance and a selfless choice to share?

 

This film reminded me a lot of Aronofsky’s earlier works. There were beautiful cinematic scenes that reminded me of several films. There was Requiem For A Dream in the pulsating organic walls and delusional visions. I saw Lars Von Trier’s Antichrist with the opening and closing sequences of nature insidiously consuming civilization with its tentacles. I saw Gone Girl in the scenes of the crazed fans and paparazzi. I saw Children Of Men with the war ravaged trenches and slummed refugee camps. The decent into Hell was almost as if an elevator were taking you through the generations of the earth’s crust with each layer being an egregious era in mankind’s history.

 

One thing Aronofsky got spot on is the depravity of man. And I’m not talking about the stereotypical political jargon that a bleeding heart (no pun intended) would sentence you with but rather the curse we’re ALL under. One thing that struck me is the brilliant way Lawrence’s She, whether Lucifer or person or planet, is cast as someone you’re sympathetic for. Of course!…the barging in of houseguests should incense her, of course she shouldn’t forgive the ravenous mob, of course she should be paid more attention to for her sacrificial acts of service and steadfast support of her poet-genius. Of course She should have glory! That’s how mysterious, how outside our mortal comprehension, how ugly to our unregenerate souls, God’s plan is. We see Her as painfully taken advantage of and flogged again and again to the point of total annihilation while He coolly forgives. What is justice for Her? It would be too simple to present sin as the mob but the road to Hell is paved with human good intentions that are apart from His plan. God’s plan is so radical, so rebellious, that forgiveness for a murderous mob is among his orchestration. Certainly God’s justice is mysterious to us. Where His radical love and justice leads in the bible versus where it leads in the film are different paths.

 

There are so many layers to this film I need to see it again. I’m delighted to see such transcendent themes in a star-studded film. It makes you wonder, like Michael Knowles said in the Daily Wire, if Aronofsky hasn’t paid lip service to the Mother Earth interpretation simply to con mainstream audiences into watching the Bible for two hours.

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mother!

A Reflection On The Life Of Our Baby Girl

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Nine months ago I wrote a prayer for our unborn baby when I was 27 weeks pregnant. Now our baby girl is 25 weeks old and I was not wrong about my own struggles. There is a huge amount of helplessness a parent feels for their child. When she bursts into sobs after previous contentment you try the few desperate consolation tricks you know and then you dissolve into an exasperated defeated shoulder shrug. You have no idea what’s wrong. Then she’s sick with pinkeye and a cold and has a 101 fever and you don’t know what to do. You ask your husband what to do and he, likewise, doesn’t know. Meanwhile someone’s life is in your hands. You are her creator and her sustainer.  You are her anchor; an anchor that is ill weighted sliding across the bedrock while the boat is kicked up by storm.

You find that it’s a relief when your sister, mother or mother in law (anybody!) wants to hold her because all the baby does at this point when she’s not eating, sleeping and filling diapers (and those things have easy remedies, phew) is a lot of looking around. Looking around while in the bouncer, looking around while on her playmat, looking around in your arms, looking around in the stroller. The looking around and smiling is nice. She’s content. She’ll even let you snuggle her for 5 seconds straight. But then it wears into fussing and there’s nothing more to offer of locations and positions of looking around so what now? You want to hold her? Be my guest. I tell myself I’ll understand her better when she can walk and talk and that happens soon, right? Well no, not soon. Come to find out, full articulated sentences don’t happen until they’re 25 years old so I think I’m in for it.

Still, and this is our purpose as parents, right?  My one goal for Isla is goodness. Not chiefly goodness for her (though I wish her that joy too) but goodness from her and I constantly wonder how soon the instilling of that starts. I find that, often, I’m waiting for some demarcated time when this or that starts. I’ve come to realize that life just happens, it’s happening while you’re waiting and then you’ve missed what you should have been doing the whole while. It’s easy to view your child as a baby still, even when they’re 15 or 24 months old. To view them too young to grasp lessons but I read somewhere that as early as 9 months your child learns the tool of manipulation. I believe behavioral expectations are best instilled early on so when do I start? At 5 months old she obviously doesn’t intend to scratch or hit, that’s just her primitive reflexes and motor skills still being refined. But soon it won’t be an accident and how do I reason with her then? And what about the lesson your child wants to engage you in? Children have a way of revealing their souls to you when you’re running 15 minutes late for work or when it’s well past bedtime. Will I miss moments because life is passing, I’m exhausted and I didn’t hear the movie soundtrack cue: crucial life defining moment happening in 3, 2, 1?

What will her genetically given personality be? This really frightens me. I will try my best to groom her to fight her nature. This is what civilization is; fighting one’s nature for the well-being of the collective and the well-being of one’s own life as the natural state of humanity is barbarism. But a parents guidance only goes so far and then it’s just eccentricities of her personality at work. Will she be naturally strong-willed, will she be stubborn, will she be easily angered? Will she be laid back, will she be understanding, will she be empathetic? How hard will she have to fight her nature to be civilized and how hard will it be for me to wrap my mind around her eccentricities and imagination.

Reason is the natural order of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.  -C.S. Lewis

How big of a deal will the arguments of ‘keeping your bottom on the seat and your feet on the ground’ be for her future? Will my laziness in this area lead to a laissez-faire adult that doesn’t respect or have reverence for personal property and etiquette? How do I groom her with my values when my values are more and more archaic by modern standards?

Not only will I be fighting my child’s will but I will be fighting popular culture to raise my child as well. Popular culture will be telling her that her desires are paramount to any old crusty institutionalized idea of truth. In fact she’ll hear that there is no objective truth only one’s own made up conclusions on the matter. She’ll hear that the only area that the concept of ‘universal’ is applied to is love. Love is all you need, right? When I tell her “wrong” I will be chiseling through layers and layers of cultural-consciousness sediment that will feel violating to her. Man, do we have our work cut out for us.

I’m not sure God wants us to be happy. I think he wants us to love, and be loved. But we are like children, thinking our toys will make us happy and the whole world is our nursery. Something must drive us out of that nursery and into the lives of others, and that something is suffering.      -C.S. Lewis

Yet…

Isla is on the verge of a belly laugh. She hasn’t gotten there yet. So far her giggle is more of an ‘aheh’ sound but I eagerly look forward to the day of the full belly laugh. And I still look forward to dandelion seeds blown off a stem for the first time through her eyes. She has already seen the sky and I the reflection in her eyes. Not too long until she understands what ‘the sky’ means in all it’s vast and glorious beauty. There is a whole universe out there created for only one small and precious Isla and when her eyes light up with the knowledge of that I can’t wait to see the reflection of God casting back at me.

God lends us a little of His reasoning powers and that is how we think: He puts a little of His love into us and that is how we love one another. When you teach a child writing, you hold its hand while it forms the letters: that is, it forms the letters because you are forming them. We love and reason because God loves and reasons and holds our hand while we do it.  -C.S. Lewis

A Reflection On The Life Of Our Baby Girl

Valentines Day

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If the only thing you’re celebrating on Valentines Day is romantic love you’re missing out.

There’s a segment of the population that rejects Valentines Day. It’s a Hallmark holiday, that’s true, but that doesn’t negate the historic context of holidays. The etymology of the word holiday derives from the Old English word that means holy day. In the fourth century AD there were several patron saints known as Valentine or Valentinus. Their stories vary but the common theme is rebellion against Roman oppression for the sake of marriage. The Christian church appropriated a pagan feast holiday in February known as Lupercalia, which was a festival for the Roman God of agriculture. The link of Valentine’s Day to love didn’t happen until the Middle Ages. The first commercial production of the Valentine card in America was a work of art, made of imported lace and delicate paper floral by artist Esther Howland in the 1840’s. She’s an original example of entrepreneurialism.

Let’s talk about love, ahem, baby.

The pagan Greeks and later the Christian Greeks had a nuanced view of love. There is Eros (erotic or romantic love), Philia (brotherly love), Agape (covenant love or Christian love). Eros was seen as an irrational, dangerous kind of love that could possess you and rob you of your senses. That people hope to fall ‘madly’ in love is surviving evidence of this. It’s an ironic fixation in modernity that people wish to go mad with erotic love.  I believe it has to do with the undervaluing of the other robust forms of love out there. While our Western culture has become fixated on sex, sexiness and sexuality it has become ignorant of full love.

Examples of Philia love are the relationships between a parent and child, friendships, ally cities/states/tribes, military troops, teachers and students. The purpose of the Philia type of love is to cultivate virtue in one’s life as his life relates to another’s. Philia is the highest form of love that can emanate from Man. Philia is a spontaneous love while Agape is a deliberate love. Words such as philanthropy (generosity to Mankind), philanderer (a man flirtatious with his affections), philharmonic (lovely harmonies) come from the root Philo.

Examples of Agape love are the relationship between spouses and the relationship between God and Man. John 3:16 talks of Agape love. In this verse, “For God so loved the world”, the Greek word for love is agapao. Agape love is a self sacrificial love. C.S. Lewis found this type of love to be the highest form of love known to Mankind. This type of love can only emanate from God but can be used by people. Marriage is a holy covenant that manifests Agape love. This is a kind of love that loves another regardless of what they may receive. ‘Love is patient, love is kind, love does not boast, it is not arrogant or rude, it does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice in failures but rejoices in truth, love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’. This old scripture isn’t simply a sentiment. It is Agape love.

One of the greatest valentines I’ve given in my 33 year old life wasn’t given in the spirit of romantic love it was the simple gesture of giving flowers to an important woman in my life, my mother. My mother was an excellent teacher, parent and supporter. Her life was stricken with deprivation, loneliness and disappointment but she loved me sacrificially. She did her best to raise me right. She is virtuous and fallible and brave and human. She gives me a charitable and selfless love and that means more to me than the passion of romance. The gift of the flowers lit up her day, as she had never had flowers delivered to her in the 70 years of her life. In fact, it’s funny because the deliveryman stood there in her open doorway with the flowers and she insisted he must have the wrong house. When he said well aren’t you so and so she realized the flowers were just where they were supposed to be. I think the shock of it all; delivered flowers, that someone thought of her, that an ordinary day became extraordinary really touched her heart. I had no idea she would enjoy the gift, much less be happy as a clam. That was a special Valentines Day!

It’s a shame that our fixation on romantic love deprives us of the other expressions of love that are so precious. I’ll try to do my best to cherish them all.

Valentines Day