Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Discernment of Heroes - Week 5

This is our fifth week of heroic discernment here at the Guild Review, but since we started on Ash Wednesday, we're a week ahead of the official Lenten count. In other words, it's the 4th Week of Lent, which began with Laetare Sunday. Although Lent remains, with its sorrows and penance, the Church reminds us that Easter is coming.

With that in mind, we continue our questioning of the hero that each one of us is called to be. When Matt Bird writes scripts, he suggests several elements which we'll consider. Each of these makes good sense in terms of films, but will require some unpacking for practical discernment.

Secret you're keeping: Bird comments that "no matter what kind of movie it is, this can add a lot. Secrets make it a whole lot easier to add subtext to dialogue." I'd like to consider this in conjunction with a second matter... Secret being kept from you about your past.

Some of us have been keeping real secrets from our employers, our friends, our families, and often even ourselves. I'm not talking about complicated aspects of your life that you've never explained to certain people because, well, it's complicated. I'm talking about those dark corners of our hearts that we wished didn't exist, the kind that make you feel the need to take a shower or get some fresh air just for having thought about. Such secrets often involve shameful sins, the likes of which we should take to confession before Easter. In other cases, our darkest secrets pertain to things that have been done to us. With God's grace, we need to confront those things. Sometimes that simply means being honest with yourself or forgiving someone you haven't seen in years; at other times it means a very long road to healing, one that will require extended support from family, friends, a spiritual director, or professional counselors.

One need only watch a few movies - particularly movies involving super heroes - to realize that not all secrets are dark. A fairly standard plot line involves the hero who does not know that he is a prince or that he has super powers. As Christians, we already know some of the most important facts about our past. We are created in the image of God and by virtue of our baptisms we not only have our sins washed away, but become Priest, Prophet, and King with Christ. That's some serious business! Still, the details involve some working out. Thus, let me propose two questions: First, what "secrets" about yourself have already been revealed to you? Think back to our second week, for example, when we considered "special skills". Was there a time when you did not recognize these? Their presence may have been revealed in a single epiphany, or gradually over time. How did that happen for you?

Second, what kind of secrets might be revealed in the future? You could say, "If I knew that, they wouldn't be secrets!" And you'd be right. So think of this as a kind of brainstorming. What hobbies do you have that might turn out to be more than hobbies? What interests did you drop years ago that you might pick up again? What further education might you pursue? Like all brainstorming, this should include a mixture of whimsy and practicality. Even if you're not likely to ever return to school, you can probably say with certainty that you could go to law school some day, but medical school is definitely out (or vice versa). Likewise, if you are married, a call to the priesthood or religious life is extremely unlikely - and would be unfortunate, in a sense, requiring as it does the death of your spouse - but the call to the diaconate or some third order, lay association, or covenant community is possible. Such brainstorming is not a crystal ball or proof of God's will, but it does help place things on your radar which might not otherwise have been there.

This relates to another element Bird discusses, the biggest shock coming. He comments that "whether they’re the hero or villain, everything shouldn’t go according to their plan. Make them improvise!" This makes sense for a scriptwriter because audiences want to see something that mirrors reality; everyday life is full of struggles, and if the hero has none, it is hard to empathize with him. Just as we can brainstorm about future possibilities, future secrets (in the good sense) revealed, it is worth also considering future downturns. What if I lose my job? What if the relationship I'm currently in doesn't work out? Asking such questions now, before these eventualities arise, offers several kinds of insights. First, having thought through some possibilities ahead of time, you may be able to better improvise if the need arises. Second, you may realize new directions you'd like to pursue. If the thought of losing your job makes you smile, consider a career change!

Finally, there is one more dimension to secrets: the good secret the hero keeps from others. Aragorn, for various reasons, does not reveal to everyone that he is the king; Gandalf often keeps his thoughts to himself, only telling people as much as they need to know. Think too of Mr. Darcy's conduct at the end of Pride and Prejudice. Often your good qualities or good deeds are known to you alone. Indeed, on Ash Wednesday Jesus reminded us to "beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.... When you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." Thus, we should not meditate on our hidden virtues in a way that is an occasion for pride. Rather, we should consider them so that we can lay them at God's feet and ask him how they might best serve him.

Today's image of Mr. Darcy and Lizzy Bennet, by C. E. Brock from 1895, comes via Wikipedia.
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