Saturday, May 24, 2014

Time to come on out of the shadow - The Legend of Bagger Vance (Part 2 of 2)

In the movie, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Bagger Vance, the mystical caddie, helps a young golfer and a lone survivor of a horrific battle in Word War I, Rannulph Junah find his "authentic" golf swing. The author of the book that the movie came from acknowledged that the character and legend of Bagger Vance is based on a Hindu epic and scriptural poem. As Pope John Paul II said "that we must recognize 'the seeds of the Word' present and active in the various religions," I feel that not only should we be open to finding truths or 'seeds of the Word' that touch the core of what it means to be human in most faiths but also in the many forms of media. 

In this scene of The Legend of Bagger Vance Junuh has hit a wayward tee shot and the ball lands in a cluster of trees. As Junuh sweeps away the branches of a tree looking for his ball, he is immediately transported back to a tragic moment in his life. 

Junuh begins to sweat and look around nervously as his mind replays scenes of war.  We only hear the sounds of guns and soldiers dying. Junuh begins to shake uncontrollably and almost collapses to the ground. His eyes stare at the golf ball as his hands grasp at his knees to fortify not only his body but his soul. 

We sense, as Junuh begins to reach down with the intention of picking up the golf ball, that he is giving up on the game, on life. This scene could be seen as a metaphor on how we often fall prey to the many other voices running around in our heads that keep us focusing on failures and a past we cannot change leading us to feel that life is but one heavy burden after another. 

Junuh is bent over feeling the terror and the weight of trying to please all the voices in his head. And then out of nowhere, a voice breaks into this haunting but all too real scene... 

Bagger Vance, “You gonna to be wantin’ a different club der Jonah?”
Junah (breathing heavily), “I can’t do this.”
Bagger Vance, “Why don’t you jus loose the grip up a smidge. You know a man’s grip on his club is like a man’s…”
Junah (as he interupts Bagger), “It is not what I am talking about.”
Bagger Vance, “I know.”
Junah, “No, you don’t!”
Bagger Vance, “What I am talking about is a game. A game that can’t be won only played.”
Junah, “You don’t understand.”
Bagger Vance, “I don’t need to understand. Ain’t a soul on this entire earth that ain’t got a burdern to carry he don’t understand. You ain’t alone in that. You’ve been carrying this one long enough. Time to go on and lay it down.”
Junah (desperately), “I don’t know how.”
Bagger Vance, “You gotta choice. You can stop or you can start.”
Junah, “Start?”
Bagger Vance, “Walkin.”
Junah, “Where?”
Bagger Vance, “Right back to where you always been. Then stand there... Still … real still … and remember.”
Junah, “It’s too long ago.”
Bagger Vance, “Ahhh ... no sir … it was just a moment ago... (Junuh looks in amazement at Bagger, in part because those very words were what his former girlfriend had spoken to him earlier in the day, words that Bagger could never have overheard.)... Time for you to come on out the shadows Junah. Time for you to choose …”
Junah, “I can’t!”
Bagger Vance, “Yes you can! But you ain’t alone. I am right here wich ya. I’ve been here all along… Now play the game… your game… the game that only you was meant to play… the one that was given to you when you come into this world… 
(as Bagger hands Junah a club) "… you ready? (Junah takes the club) Go on take your stance. Strike that ball Junah. Don’t hold nothin back. Give it everything. Now is the time. Let yourself remember… remember yo swing. That’s right Junah, settle yourself (as Junah begins to relax, settling into a peaceful stance). Let’s go. Now is the time Junah.”
Now's the time to come on out of the shadow

For me this scene rips the veil between being just a movie and inviting us into something greater... This scene drew me in with sweaty palms and racing heart remembering the pains of my past, remembering my own failures, remembering my defeats, remembering my sins and remembering the wounds I caused. 

Yet, while still down on my knees, a Voice came to me... a calming voice inviting me to come out of the shadow... calling me to re-member, to stop forgetting that I am not on my own and that Christ is with me always. 

"RE" is a prefix indicating restoration or binding back: "MEMBER" indicates being part of a whole. 'Remembering' is not just a recalling of historical detail, it means deeper understanding - to see that we are all members of Something Greater - of Another Other calling us out of the shadows and into the Light. 

As Junuh ever-so-cautiously allows his trust to be restored allowing him to lay his burden down, he is faced with the challenge that Bagger confronts him (and us who are making this journey with Junuh) - that we must act. We must act on that trust and have faith or be swallowed up by bitterness, distractions and eventually resentment. We must reach out and take His hand, just like Junuh reaches out and takes the club Bagger holds out for him. As Junah in the movie, we also must reach out - reaching out of ourselves to find our calling in life. 

Everyone's path in life meanders inevitably through rough terrain where we are challenged to love and forgive; where choosing freedom, grace and reconciliation can lead us out of the shadows so we can experience the beauty and joy that Life is overflowing with. It is here where we find our authentic life (our authentic swing).

Link here to Part 1 - Time to come on out of the shadow 

Time to come on out of the shadow - The Legend of Bagger Vance (Part 1 of 2)

One of my favorite movies is The Legend of Bagger VanceI know the theology or spirit of the movie followed a loose thread, as one reviewer said, golf was played a foot from Alice's looking glass, however I found numerous scenes memorable and worthy of contemplation.

I do not play golf and yet, like Robert Redford said in making this movie, the game of golf makes for a great metaphor for life. So like this movie, as any good spiritual or mystical movie, it challenges us on many different levels. In this post I wish to draw out an aspect of being human that is often overlooked.

A very brief story-line: A down-and-out golfer, Rannulph Junuh (Matt Damon), attempts to recover his game and his life after returning from World War I. With the help of a mystical caddie, Bagger Vance (Will Smith) he eventually returns to the game, but has no enthusiasm for the sport or life. Bagger helps Junuh find his way back to both.

To set the scene for this clip, the stubborn and frustrated Junuh, after being humiliated in the first round, finally decides to listen to Bagger:

Fix your eyes on Bobby Jones... Look at his practice swing, almost like he's searchin for something... Then he finds it... Watch how he settle hisself right into the middle of it, ... feel that focus... He got a lot of shots he could choose from... Duffs and tops and skulls, there's only one shot that's in perfect harmony with the field... One shot that's his, authentic shot, and that shot is gonna choose him... There's a perfect shot out there tryin' to find each and every one of us... All we got to do is get ourselves out of its way, to let it choose us... Can't see that flag as some dragon you got to slay... You got to look with soft eyes... See the place where the tides and the seasons and the turnin' of the Earth, all come together... where everything that is, becomes one... You got to seek that place with your soul Junuh... Seek it with your hands don't think about it... Feel it... Your hands is wiser than your head ever gonna be... Now I can't take you there Junuh... Just hopes I can help you find a way... Just you... that ball... that flag... and all you are... seek it with your hands.

Sometimes we need to stop thinking or at least stop thinking that we alone are doing the thinking.

If you can put yourself in the scene, close your eyes, breathe and surrender to the 'focus' which Bagger seems to be engaging us ... to sense a feeling of being formed, as if being invited into a process of formation. Can you slip out of your head and allow yourself to be "in your body" in this way of being formed? 

In the movie, Bagger, by way of a model, Bobby Jones, is getting Junuh to sense a spirit which, as with Jones, chooses him ... chooses us. It is our task to open up to this "authentic" spirit allowing it to indwell in us - to transform us - to drive out all the noise and distractions of our past and culture to bring us to a new birth...

James Alison, from Prayer, a Case Study of Mimetic Anthropology, has written that gesture, language and memory are not only things which "we" learn, but it would be more factual to say that through this body being drawn into life, molded and shaped by the gesture, language and memory of the social-cultural other that an “I” is formed. And that it - "we" are in fact one of the symptoms of that social other. So in fact we are not autonomous as we so often fantasize, but in fact we are the clay by which the social other comes to create us by their gesture, language and memory. 

This is why we often feel our human condition is caught up with the many voices in our heads - reeling in and out of various disguises, distractions and noises. It is why we are restless. Bagger goes on to tell Junuh that each one of us has "something that's ours and ours alone. Something that can't be learned... something that's got to be remembered." 

... something that's got to be remembered... Contemplating on this draws me right back into the Eucharist and Jesus saying to each of us, "Do this in remembrance of me." (Lk 22;19) What is it about memory? 

Like Bagger says, the Real or Authentic Other chooses us - (in)forms us just like in Isaiah 64:7, "Yet, LORD, you are our father; we are the clay and you, our potter: we are all the work of your hand." And John 15:16, "It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit..." This bedrock of faith - of being part of and formed by and chosen by Something Greater than the social-cultural other is our entrance into becoming this new creation not run by the social-cultural other but by the Indwelling Spirit of God.

A story I heard at a spiritual retreat seems a good fit here: 

A young mom and dad recall the events immediately following the birth of their second child. At the time, the couple already had a three-year-old son. As soon as the newborn was brought home from the hospital, the three-year-old son asked to hold the smaller child. But when the infant was put into his arms, the boy would ask that he be left ALONE with the baby. Understandably, the parents were unsettled and didn't think this was a good idea.

Anyway, a few months went by and still the three-year-old insisted that he wanted to be alone with the baby. The parents put it off as long as they could, hoping that the older kid would forget, but his demands just got more and more persistent. Finally, they agreed to leave the two very young children in a room alone for a few minutes. Standing just outside the room, they listened for anything out-of-the-ordinary, while their son was FINALLY alone with the baby, and this is what they heard:

The three-year-old said to the newborn: 

"Tell me what God is like, cause I'm starting to forget."

Going back and using the metaphor of golf, Bagger repeats that there is "somethin' we was born with... Somethin' that's ours and ours alone... Somethin' that can't be taught to ya or learned... Somethin' that got to be remembered... Over time the world can, rob us of that swing... It get buried inside us under all our wouldas and couldas and shouldas... Some folk even forget what their swing was like."

There is a deep and authentic connection to God that we are seeking and to find that we must finally get out of the way, get out of our heads so to seek that place in our soul, so to hear being chosen by God. This ... this 'surrendering' ... this 'obedience' ... this 'letting go' is needed to counter our human condition that the world buries us under causing us to stumble and forget that we were made to receive ourselves through God, and allowing His Indwelling Spirit to form us into His Instruments spreading love and forgiveness to others.

So the question is: Which other are we being guided by?

In Part 2 (link here) I wish to explore memory and how it can help us come out of the shadow.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

The Word transforming our life - Madeleine Delbrel

From We, the Ordinary People of the Streets, Madeleine Delbrel gives us a glimpse into being open to the Word and transforming process of spirit and life.
Madeleine Delbrel
The Gospel words are meant to reach into the very roots of our corruption, the depths of which we cannot fathom insofar as we do not know the great heights at which our holiness lies.  We should thus not be surprised at the sad interminable journeys, the deep upheavals that each of these words initiates within us.  We shouldn’t try to hold back this sort of free-fall of the word into our depths.  We need the passive courage that allows it to act within us – "Let it be done to me according to your Word."
And when once a single one of these words has stolen into us, we need to know how to desire communion with all the others, even if this little book seems vast, and our life tiny, narrow, and incapable of bearing it. . . .
The revelation of the Gospel is spirit and life.  Whoever wishes to receive this revelation must listen with her spirit and her life.  Often, we offer it only the “letter” of our lifetime, physical solitude, attempts to evade.  When our way of life becomes an obstacle to the Gospel, we readily believe it is not meant for us, or that only a distorted and falsified version is for us . . . .
From morning to night, every day of  our lives, between the shores of our home, of our streets, of our encounters, flows the Word of God in which God seeks to dwell.
The phrase from the Lord that we picked up from the Gospel at Mass in the morning, or during a ride on the metro, or between two chores, or at night in our bed, should no more depart from us than we would depart from our life and our spirit.
It seeks to fructify, to transform, to renew the handshake we offer, the effort we apply to our task, the look we give to those we meet, the way we react to fatigue, the way we wince at pain, the way we blossom in joy.
Servant of God Madeleine Delbrel 
(Madeleine Delbrel was a French laywoman, writer and mystic devoted to caring for the poor and to evangelizing culture.) - Magnificat May 2014

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you." John 14:27

The following is an excerpt from:
Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart by Jacques Philippe (Author)

... we understand that the fundamental problem of our spiritual life becomes this: How can I let Jesus act in me? How can I permit the grace of God to freely operate in my life?

That at which we should aim is, then, not principally to impose a lot of things on ourselves, as good as they may seem with our own intelligence, according to our projects, etc.
Rather, we must try to discover the disposition of our soul, the profound attitude of our heart and the spiritual conditions that permit God to act in us. It is only thus that we can bear fruit — fruit that will last (John 15:16).
To the question, “What must we do in order to let the grace of God act freely in our lives?”, there is no unequivocal answer, no master key.
In order to respond to this question completely, it would be necessary to do an entire treatise of the Christian life in which one would speak of prayer (principally of meditation, which is so fundamental in this regard), of the sacraments, of the purification of our hearts, of docility to the Holy Spirit, and so forth, and of all the ways in which the grace of God could further penetrate us.
In this small work, we do not wish to address all these themes. We simply want to concern ourselves with one element of the response to the question posed above.
We chose to speak of it because it is absolutely of fundamental importance.
Furthermore, it is too little known and taken into consideration in day-to-day life for most Christians, even those who are very strong in their faith. 
The essential truth that we wish to present and develop is the following:
To permit the grace of God to act in us and to produce in us (with the cooperation, of course, of our will, our intelligence and our capabilities) all those good works for which God prepared us beforehand, so that we might lead our lives in the performance of good works (Ephesians 2:10), it is of the greatest importance that we strive to acquire and maintain an interior peace, the peace of our hearts.
In order to understand this, we can use an image (without exaggerating, as we should always avoid doing in making comparisons); but one that can be illuminating.
Consider the surface of a lake, above which the sun is shining. If the surface of the lake is peaceful and tranquil, the sun will be reflected in this lake; and the more peaceful the lake, the more perfectly will it be reflected. If, on the contrary, the surface of the lake is agitated, undulating, then the image of the sun can not be reflected in it.
It is a little bit like this with regard to our soul in relationship to God. The more our soul is peaceful and tranquil, the more God is reflected in it, the more His image expresses itself in us, the more His grace acts through us. On the other hand, if our soul is agitated and troubled, the grace of God is able to act only with much greater difficulty. All the good that we can do is a reflection of the Essential Good, which is God. The more our soul is peaceful, balanced and surrendered, the more this Good communicates itself to us and to others through us. The Lord gives strength to His people, the Lord blesses His people with peace, scripture says (Psalm 29:11). God is a God of peace.
He does not speak and does not operate except in peace, not in trouble and agitation.
Let us remember the experience of the prophet Elijah of Horeb: God was not in the hurricane, nor the earthquake, nor in the fire, but in the whisper of a gentle breeze (cf. 1 Kings 19)!
Often, we cause ourselves to become agitated and disturbed by trying to resolve everything by ourselves, when it would be more efficacious to remain peacefully before the gaze of God and to allow Him to act and work in us with His wisdom and power, which are infinitely superior to ours.
For thus says the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel: By waiting and by calm you shall be saved; in quiet and in trust your strength lies, but you would have none of it (Isaiah 30:15).
Our discussion is not, it is well understood, an invitation to laziness and inaction. It is an invitation to act, even to act considerably sometimes, but under the impulse of the Holy Spirit, which is a gentle and peaceful spirit. And not in a spirit of disquietude, agitation or excessive hurry, which is too often the case with us.
Our zeal, even for God, is often badly illuminated.
Saint Vincent de Paul, the last person anyone would ever suspect of being lazy, used to say: “The good that God does is done by God Himself, almost without our being aware of it. It is necessary that we be more inactive than active.”