Yet again - I've been neglecting this blog, despite my best intentions. I had hoped to comment on the Easter visit to Catholic Slovakia and the Marian shrine of Litmanova. A deeply moving event for me - going from secular, cynical Czechia (Czech Republic's new nickname) to staunchly, vibrantly Catholic Slovakia (with its dark history of collusion with the Nazi's in the deportation of Slovakia's Jews), but that will have to wait for a later time.
Then Francis the Papa of the Roman Christian Communion released his 'exhortation' on the family, with it's warm accommodating language of primacy of conscience - for everyone except Gay folks. I followed that closely for a while, mainly at William Lindsey's wonderful blog, Bilgrimage. Where would we be without Bill's brilliant, incisive coverage of these events = and his staggering number of links for us to follow, aided by his own summations. Francis' exhortation was a blessing (in disguise?) in that the exact sentiments of this pope towards LGBT people have finally been laid bare - with no room for ambiguity, no more guessing. The only harsh language in this document - reserved for us. No room for us in this Innkeeper's hostel, and no mercy either. But there is a light shining in the stable amongst the simple creatures of the earth where we can find refuge in the night. It is up to us to gravitate towards that light. For some gay Catholics, light still shines within chosen alcoves within the institutional structure, but for most of us post LGBT Catholics, the light only shines outside the door. I have long left active participation in Catholic affairs, though the mystical connection remains strong and I continue to feel an interior calling to reflect and witness to the faith.
What prompted me to return to this blog today was my viewing of the recently released biblical film Risen - the first time the resurrection story of Jeshua and his post mortem appearances has been treated in a mainstream film, at least to my knowledge.
The film was surprisingly revelatory and new, in my opinion, despite a very rocky beginning. It's technique (CGI and soldiers with jerky overly masculinized body movements and bulging, unrealistic muscles) mirrored that of such cheap macho war epics as 300 Spartans. In other words, a technique geared to the psychological level of 13 year old boys - and other older immature males. I was actually bitterly disappointed with the opening scenes, but managed to stick with the film - and was very glad I did. By the end, I thought, well, why not imitate cheap macho historical war epics if you want to draw in a bigger audience and maintain their interest in what is a very esoteric and subtle story.
What I found so new and surprising = and for which I'm very grateful:
For the first time, a film has succeeded in conveying graphically and viscerally the horror of the whole practice of crucifixion. I was shocked by the fact that Jerusalemites had to accustomed themselves to viewing dying criminals hanging from these instruments of torture every day and in plain view. It was a part of everyday life - particularly when traveling the roads into and out of the city. Death and torture and psychological warfare techniques of the most harrowing kind - visible always. Imagine walking outside your door every morning on the way to school or work and seeing bleeding agonized bodies hanging against the skyline. This was the reality of Roman occupation, the horror of the times into which Jesus was born. Secondly, the open pits - which biblical scholars have told us was the common practice for disposing of the bodies of the crucified. Again, right out in the open, mases of putrefying corpses in full view of the general public. The horror, the horror. This was the chaotic world into which Jeshua was born. As the film makes clear, Jesus was just one of many, and in the days after his own crucifixion, other criminals were suspended from these racks of torture on the skyline of the city - in full view of the population going about their business. An atmosphere of violence, cruelty and blood for all to see.
Secondly (in no particular order), finally an Aramaic looking Jesus ( played with wonderful simplicity and a total lack of pretension by Maori New Zealand actor Cliff Curtis). And a number of the disciples also succeeded in looking reasonably Middle Eastern and Jewish.
A rock solid performance from British actor, Joseph Fiennes ( brother of the more famous Ralph Fiennes) as the Roman Centurion/official Clavius, who's stolid world-weariness and disbelief cracks with the full force of the event he witnessed. When Fiennes doubts, this man of hardened practicality and cynicism, he carries us all with him. Through his eyes we see the impact of the Resurrection upon a decent man at heart who never thought himself religious. And when he puts down his sword and embraces the ethic of the Christians (no more killing on this day) we put down our swords with him - precisely because even when doing so, Fiennes has not yet 'become' a Christian. Through the attitude of Pilot (played by another distinguished British actor, Peter Firth), we see the hardened cynic's attitude. "He's alive again? Well then, I'll kill him again."
A note for the young, Tom Felton of Harry Potter fame plays the young Roman soldier Flavius in a strong supporting role.
The genuine confusion of the disciples - not simply immediately after the crucifixion itself, but also after the 'resurrection appearances', themselves - however these are to be understood. They were in a state of stupefaction and joy - and confusion. Astounded by the events and not knowing quite what to make of them and what to do next. Simply following the signs given them each day. The film does a superb job conveying the painstaking process of spiritual discernment the disciples underwent. For the first time, far beyond the sentimental piety of the 1950-60's biblical epics, we really experience the confused state of the early Christians - and the bleak, harrowing backdrop of their conversion experience - in a land under brutal occupation. For the first time in a film, I caught the mystery and the fear and the confusion and the joy of this infinitely small band of men and women called to witness to all nations. Such a tiny, fragile beginning - founded on such an inexplicable event with no clear explanations as to what and how and why. Only an overwhelming sense of spiritual profundity and peace. So weak and obscure and fragile a beginning. The film really conveyed to me the terrible threat these very insignificant people were under, the terrible risks, the fear, set over against their newly found courage and inexplicalbe joy.
The Resurrection Appearances themselves - the film opts for a realistic portrayal, as if Jesus were actually among the disciples eating fish, drinking wine - though most biblical scholars think these are creative fictional metaphors for an essentially ethereal spiritual encounter of great power. The most that can be said with confidence is that the early Christians themselves believed something very strange had happened to the body. And the manifestations of the Risen Lord - whatever the manner of these appearances - it was not the corporal body of their crucified Master. According to the stories, every time he 'appears' they at first do not recognize him. Again, something very strange and mysterious about the body.
Finally, through the words of one of the Roman guards, the film offers quite a 'plausible' account of the Resurrection event itself -at least as witnessed by someone outside the tomb. It is very moving and - quite possibly - near to the 'truth,' though I don't think we are supposed to have anything like certitude in this matter. And finally again, through one camera shot of Roman Centurian Joseph Fiennes holding the burial cloths, we see a reverent acknowledgement of the Shroud of Turin - pointing so eloquently to the depths of this great mystery that is the Resurrection.
Though I feel the 3 out of 5 star rating the film is receiving is fair - I also feel it should be highly recommended to thoughtful Christians. Look beyond the ' macho shit' of the early scenes and you will be uplifted and inspired. I was deeply moved.