Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Faith and Legacy
My humanness being what it is, I also seek something more temporal, something of this inhabited world, too, that affirms what my faith tells me, upon which my heart may sometimes falter. Sometimes a close friend or loved one, that reassuring pat on the shoulder that says, “I’ve been there too,” or “keep your chin up.” A good book, some timeless prose, perhaps fine and contemplative music.
Or a play or movie, a really good one that uniquely captures the essence of something human, something of our experience.
A week or two back, I watched The Lord of The Rings over three nights, something I’d resolved to do here to make up for having to wait a year for each installment when they were playing in theaters. What a grand story. Fantasy it may be, but so reminiscent of so many chapters of a long ago time. A time when much older myths mingled with the reality dramas of the day; a time when, for simple folk, there existed no meaningful difference between something imagined versus historical fact, and any difference had even less relevance.
I was very much struck by the depiction of the legendary. Imagine living so far back in time, into the time of fable, and how little the stories that survive must bear in resemblance to whatever had been the original seed of story. If you try to tell that story, and make it relevant to an audience today, what do you do?
Do you paint the myth? You may end up with a cartoon, or some two dimensional portrait, lifeless. Do you go for realism, and show proof to falsehood, shine light in every crevice of doubt? Then, you may lose the very heroism and timelessness you seek to capture.
Haven’t we heard stories, real history, that tells a tale of people larger than life, braver than a person could be, so far away and above what petty struggles we endure, or so triumphant in victory, that one says of them, “they are larger than life, “ or that their stories are “stranger than fiction.” And what then, of those rare cases, when such heroes and heroines really are as exalted in their courage or strength or tenacity or nerve, more than any romance novel could dream to depict?
So Peter Jackson had a choice, and in my view, accomplished the impossible. The legends of his subject sprang vividly to life as people, yet retained their luster as timeless heroes.
Each slice of legend in the story is traced from its mythic origins, not always well explained in the movie, but obviously more so in the books. Elfin peoples, ancient creatures such as Ents, angelic people of a prehistory only hinted at in this tale necessarily abbreviated for cinema, each shown as a former glory, saving Middle Earth, yet making way for the days of man. There is the sadness of loss, but not despair, as the former lights and powers of an older world fade away on the boats across the sea.
They have each sacrificed something in the vanquishing of evil. We learn that all of us have a part to play, no matter how small, or seeming insignificant. And any one of us may be called upon to sacrifice, to give his all for others.
There is the scene, after the triumphant final battle for Middle Earth, when Eowyn comes upon her father Theodin, who lies mortally wounded under his steed. With quiet resolve, he tells his daughter, “Do not grieve for those whose time has come. You shall live to see these days renewed. No more despair.”
We shall live to see these days renewed. That must be our hope.
I also watched The Last of The Mohicans the other night, the newer version with Daniel Day Lewis. I could listen to the soundtrack for that movie endlessly, but what struck me was, again, an ending that spoke of sadness and loss but somehow something hopeful in memoriam to a time and people long vanished.
At the end of the movie, the Last of the Mohicans, Chingachgook, stands on the crest of a ridge among what I presume must mean to be the Adirondacks. (I will always love these mountains most of all.) He stands with his heart broken, as he yields his dead son Uncas up to his forefathers, asking that he be ushered quickly into the council of the elders. He turns and looks at his “white son” Hawkeye, and the deep despair in his eyes is quite unlike anything I have ever seen in cinema. (This is no doubt a testament to the fine acting and perhaps deep conviction of actor Russell Means.)
He speaks a final eulogy not just to his son, not just of vanishing cultures, but of the very idea of frontier that will always erode away ever before we who follow in settling.
One day there will be no one left. Then our race will be no more, or be not us. The frontier place is for people like my white son and his woman and their children. And one day there will be no more frontier. And men like you will go, too, like the Mohicans. And new people will come, work, struggle, some will make their life. But once, we were here.One day there will be no one left. Then our race will be no more, or be not us. But once, we were here.
I make no secret of my faith. I am not the brightest light by any stretch, and I have mine under a bushel as much as anyone. But I find my faith encourages me to see the heroic around me, to look for wisps of remembrance in the people, places and points of connection I share with this world, with other people, with our history, and with the challenges of today and the hope of better tomorrows.
Our Chaplain has grown into a close friend these many months of our service and walk in fellowship together. I long noticed a book on his desk on my many visits to his office, and asked to borrow it. I read the introduction to Luther: Letters of Spiritual Counsel, edited by Theodore G. Tappert. Early on, Tappert asserts Luther’s view, that “to have faith is to have God.” It is that essential quality of out and away from self, isn’t it, the ability to believe without proof, “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
Tappert describes Luther as not just as the famous agitator of the Protestant Reformation , but as a Pastor and “Shepherd of Souls.” As Tappert describes more fully:
Luther believed that Satan caused men to dwell in their sin. Melancholy and despair were induced. Men would doubt that God was gracious, they would become uncertain of the forgiveness of their sin, they would be persuaded that God hates them, they would despair of salvation.Trials and tribulations can be a blessing when they undermine our pride, rein in our hubris, or reduce our reliance upon ourselves. For we can best find encouragement by first seeking its source, to put our trust in God’s mercy and forgiveness.
We shall live to see these days renewed [by Him]. [He] must be our hope.
One day there will be no one left. Then our race will be no more, or be not us. And new people will come, work, struggle, some will make their life. But once, we were here.
And while we are here, we can find that faith and encouragement. While there is yet time. And perhaps, with His help, we can be the Pathfinders, the Heroes, the very Legends of the Past who can pass on a legacy of hope to those who are yet to come.
Links: Basil's Blog, bRight & Early, Outside the Beltway
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