"Where were you when I laid the foundations of the Earth, when the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?" Job 38:4,7
"The nuns taught us there were two ways through life- the way of nature and the way of grace. You have to choose which one you'll follow." The Tree of Life
In The Tree of Life, Terrance Malick explores the themes (sometimes at great and mind numbing length) of Nature and Grace. The film's plot centers around the upbringing of three sons in a religious family with a Stern and Ambitious Father (i.e., Nature) and a Gentle and Loving Mother (Grace). Grace, the Narrator explains, "doesn't try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries," while Nature "only wants to please itself. Gets other to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things." As the narrative progresses, Jack, the eldest son, struggles against his Boyish and Destructive Nature to Embrace the Loving Way of Grace. To be honest, the film is not one of my favorites. Despite Roger Ebert's praise for the production, I found it pretentious to the point of irritating and began to chafe as I realized Malick believed that everything, even Dinosaurs, belonged in Tree of Life as long Lacrimosa accompanied the images. But, lately, I've spent some time thinking about the nature of Grace.
Hold on. You think I'm about to suggest I embody the Way of Grace? Nope. Listen, I might be J.R. Fucking MacReady but I'm not Delusional. Anyway, back on topic, part of my irritation with Malick's Tree of Life comes down to his suggestion that Humans either go the way of Grace or the way of Nature. As though We can ever truly become Grace and leave Nature behind. In my opinion, the struggle between Love (i.e., forgiveness, humility, selflessness) and Instinct (fear, pride, lust) is an ongoing one. Each day we awake and make conscious choices about which option we will pursue. Yet, in defense the Malick's latest work, he deftly handles the emotional turmoil accompanied with learning to give and receive Grace.
The past couple weeks, I've spent much time contemplating about what happens when Silence falls between two people. What makes me ache the most is that in the midst of the Quiet it becomes impossible to convey how much I still care. Each afternoon, I wonder how my Friend's day is going. Not knowing the answer or even being able to ask the question hurts. Honestly, perhaps part of my silence has come from the fact I don't know how to fix things. How to Relieve the pressure that seemed to mounting, to convey that I look forward to hearing about a research trip, how class is going, or whether dinner at an Italian restaurant didn't settle well. Those are the conversations that mean the most to me. The ones in which we are both relaxed. Both ourselves. And Maybe that's it. To me, "love is not so much a matter of romance as it is the anxious concern for the welling being of another person." The catch here is one can't just turn off "anxious concern" but once Silence has Fallen how can it expressed? The answer finally came to me today: Prayer.
"Prayer is not asking. It is a longing of the soul. It is daily admissions of one's weakness. It is better in prayer to have a heart without words than words without a heart." Mahatma Gandhi
"Be not forgetful of prayer. Every time you pray, if your prayer is sincere, there will be new feeling and new meaning in it, which will give you fresh courage, and you will understand that prayer is an education." Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
"Writing is prayer." Franz Kafka
A huge part of my frustration comes from my inability to act. While my calmer counterpart, Maggie, sits down and thoughtfully contemplates outcomes in the midst of turmoil, I spring into motion. The problem?: Silence strips me of the ability to do just that. I find the sudden paralysis suffocating as if I'm drowning in the situation, tossed overboard without water wings or instruction. But today, it occurred to me, perhaps I'd be better served praying for myself and the other person each and every time I feel the fear and worry creep back in. Because no amount of anxiety on my part will fix the situation. If I could worry problems away, my life would be perfect. I graduated top of the Neurotics Class. Alas, such is not the case. Yet, I can act by praying for his well being and protection. Perhaps, Kafka was right when he claimed "writing is prayer" (another action!) Maybe that is why I've spent so much time scrawling on my weblog this month. Because, prayer, I believe, is both a supplication to the Almighty and an act of renewal. We not only find peace and hope in the request, we also find Grace. While I cannot speak for everyone, too often, I go the way of Nature, "only wanting to please myself." But when I pause and pray, I find Grace: "Love that smiles through it all, accepts insults and injuries." Because, my Friends, injuries are a part of both Love and Life. We rarely injury intentionally. Most of us simply stumble in the dark. For tonight, I think I'll finish reading Orson Scott Card's Ender Game, spend a little more time in prayer, and dream of Dandelions. "Second star to the right and straight on till morning."