HOW TO FIND FAITH AT THE MOVIES: Crossing Your First Threshold

| 04-22-AD2013 | [7]

Previously in his series HOW TO FIND FAITH AT THE MOVIES, John has invited readers to join him on a hero’s journey, with the following posts: 

  1. The hero is seen in his ordinary world: The Fool’s Quest to Understand
  2. The hero is called to adventure: Issuing the Call to Adventure
  3. The hero is reluctant: The Role of Reluctance
  4. The hero encounters wise ones: Encountering Your Wise Ones ( Part One & Part Two)

In this post John invites his readers to cross their first threshold of the hero’s journey to faith via the movies.

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We have come a long way in this faith journey, having just completed Act One, so to speak. Now, crossing the first threshold of the hero’s journey, we enter Act Two. As we begin, we will consider the following questions: (5.23) Where is your sufficient proof found? (5.24) How do you deal with your rising emotions? (5.25) How do you deal with arguments? (5.26) How do you measure good will? (5.27) What desires keep lifting you upward? (5.28) What are the pros of the issue?

When facing these questions about an issue, especially about faith, do we each go it alone or do we have others to go with us? To answer this question, let us first imagine that each of us has a character inside who may be called “The Hermit” and this character has one main question to help us go forward: What kind of “proof” are you looking for?

5.23. THE HERMIT:  WHERE IS NECESSARY AND SUFFICIENT PROOF FOUND?

In the Disney movie, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, Bryan Adams sings the song Here I Am. That song conveys something of the feeling of our inner “Hermit” when he breaks out from the concerns of Act One. There is a great sense of freedom when one crosses the first threshold and enters onto the journey in earnest.

The “Hermit” is not  someone who can be called “you” by someone else. The “Hermit” is thus not your “you.” Nor is the “Hermit” inside you the self you refer to when you call yourself “me.”  The “Hermit” is thus not your “me.” Your “Hermit” is the someone in you that you call “I.”

When your “I,” your “Hermit,” crosses the threshold and begins to move forward on the journey, there is a tremendous feeling of exuberance, like when you first went swimming in the sea.

Yet there is also the danger of an undertow.

What is the undertow in the context of a faith journey? At the heart of it, it seems to be a matter of what constitutes your personal “proof” about the issue in question. And not just any “proof.” There may well be many necessary “proofs” to consider, but each person eventually runs into what constitutes “sufficient” proof.

Consider the movie Siddhartha as an example of a person, born with the name Siddhartha Gautama who was later called the Buddha, who took such a faith journey and looked for the source of proof for his issue concerning the meaning of life in the face of such widespread suffering.

According to Wikipedia, the plot may be briefly summarized as follows:

The film tells the story of the young Siddhartha …, born in a rich family, and his search for a meaningful way of life. This search takes him through periods of harsh asceticism, sensual pleasures, material wealth, then self-revulsion and eventually to the oneness and harmony with himself that he had been seeking. Siddhartha learns that the secret of life cannot be passed on from one person to another, but must be achieved through inner experience.

The film is well worth viewing, though probably not by pre-teens.

While beautifully executed, the film is a cautionary tale for those who are examining Buddhism as a viable alternative to Abrahamic religions. It depicts the undertow effect of swimming in the ocean alone. For example, Siddhartha does abandon his families.

In contrast to Siddhartha’s approach of withdrawal from and response to the world of suffering he found all around him, i.e. his Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path, Roman Catholics may prudently recall how Jesus Withdraws to Pray.

Though the “Hermit” in Siddhartha was ultimately alone, the “Hermit” in Jesus is not alone. His “I” is a “We,” so intimate is he with Our Heavenly Father and their Holy Spirit.

Jesus found great strength to endure the suffering of the world by communing with Our Heavenly Father and the Holy Spirit. He understood where the undertow was coming from, who was causing it, and did not yield to it.

Nevertheless, Siddhartha’s understanding of the need for truth and a path are not to be overlooked. That would be an oversight. In separate posts I plan to address Truth or Consequences and the Decision-Maker’s Path in response to Siddhartha’s understanding. But for now, let’s go deeper into what happens when we are faced with suffering.

5.24. Relief: How do you deal with rising emotions?

One way to deal with rising emotions is listening to different kinds of music.

Here’s a link to the Doobie Brothers with Michael McDonald song Minute by Minute. It’s an example of how we try to defend ourselves against hurt when the “proof” we were looking for fails to materialize. The effort to contain our emotions rather than distract or express them can be a “minute by minute” kind of thing. We hold on in the hopes of getting some form of relief from the hurt and suffering.

What do you do when the relief does not come? Consider what happened to The Donner Party.

This documentary is one of the most powerful I have ever seen. It is not for children. Many adults may find it difficult to watch. But the lessons learned are outstanding, especially in terms of our fundamental desire to find relief from suffering.

Moreover, despite the obvious repulsion we have to the facts of some cannibalism that sustained some of the group, there is a little known story at the heart of this ordeal that I find breathtaking:

The most famous of religious experiences came when Virginia Reed [one of the children among the Donner Party] was in her family’s cabin late at night, while her family slept, and she felt she would soon die. Inspired by the faith of the Roman Catholic Breen family, and her own fear, she then vowed to be a devout and loving Catholic, if she could just live long enough to just see her father again, and hopefully the Lord would also spare her family from death.

 

“I am a Catholic although my parents were not. I often went to the Catholic church before leaving home, but it was at Donner Lake that I made the vow to be a Catholic. The Breens were the only Catholic family in the Donner party and prayers were said aloud regularly in that cabin night and morning. Our only light was from little pine sticks split up like kindling wood and kept constantly on the hearth. I was very fond of kneeling by the side of Mr. Breen and holding these little torches so that he might see to read. One night we had all gone to bed — I was with my mother and the little ones, all huddled together to keep from freezing–but I could not sleep. It was a fearful night and I felt that the hour was not far distant when we would go to sleep — never to wake again in this world. All at once I found myself on my knees with my hands clasped, looking up through the darkness, making a vow that if God would send us relief and let me see my father again I would be a Catholic. That prayer was answered.” – Virginia Reed, “Across the Plains in the Donner Party.”

 

The disciples of Jesus, including we Roman Catholics, understand how our prayers to Jesus can indeed calm our emotions when they act like The Storm at Sea.

But what about the arguments we get entangled with that give rise to our emotional seas. (In this regard, be sure to follow up these questions by considering my upcoming post on Truth or Consequences.) Getting tangled in another person’s net can be troublesome, if not deadly to our spirit. So…

5.25. Stepping: How do you deal with arguments?

In Journey’s song Don’t Stop Believing, there is a fairly straight-forward answer to this question. You must become more and more aware of your starting point as you enter into arguments so that you will be able to contend with arguments being presented by others. Often their starting points are unconscious. The steps you take in arguments, with yourself or others, are important to note. They will either take you from your starting point or lead you to it.

So what is your key starting point? Is it something or someone you know or something or someone you believe?

Consider one of my favorite movies: High Noon.

I suspect most viewers would say that Gary Cooper’s character “Will Kane” is the hero of the movie. On the other hand, I see Grace Kelly’s character “Amy Fowler” as the hero. Why? Because “Will Kane” does not change in the movie and “Amy Fowler” does.

“Kane” certainly does not stop believing in what he thinks is right and certainly has to contend with all sorts of arguments given by the towns people he is trying to help go up against the bad guys. Yet, it is the decision made by “Amy Fowler” that truly answers his plaintiff request that she not forsake him. When she takes the step she does, she reveals that she has found her new starting point, believing in him.

For those of us wanting to take a Catholic Stand, note well how High Noon has the newlyweds, “Will” and “Amy,” forsake the “Christian” community that would not take a stand with them against the evil threatening the community.

When the Gospel describes the way in which Jesus Walks on Water, I am reminded of “Amy” and how she took the step to follow her husband. By joining with Jesus in his starting point, you may find yourself able to walk on the waters of any argument about faith.

Many of the followers of Jesus try to do this, but like the towns people in High Noon, not all stay the course. Do you wonder if it’s will power they or you lack? Just any kind of will power or a specific kind?

5.26. Measure: How do you measure good will?

Please let the haunting song, Calling You, introduce you to the specific kind of will power that I find most desirable.

The movie, Bagdad Cafe, in which the song plays a prominent role, is one of those movies that casts a spell and demonstrates the measure of good will you want to look for.

Like the German tourist, left in the desert after a fight with a spouse, you may be at a loss concerning how to cope with your sense of abandonment before you find the starting point you are looking for. You may even be feeling like you have been robbed and left with nothing to make your way forward.

The movie’s story reminds me of the description Jesus gave of The Good Samaritan. When you feel abandoned with your faith issue, do you expect that a “Good Samaritan” will find you, relieve you, help you take the next steps, encourage you with good will sufficient to prove others can be trusted, especially Jesus? Or, does “The Hermit” inside you hold you back and keep you alone with the issue?

When I first began to take my own issue personally, and not just intellectually, “The Hermit” in me was quite exacting and fine-tuned my issue as I have previously articulated:

Whether, since I will someday die,
I want to take only those courses of action that
satisfy my love of life?

Has your “Hermit” helped you or hindered you in taking your issue of faith personally?

Whether you find yourself wanting to withdraw from suffering as Siddhartha did, wanting to be relieved as Virginia Reed did, wanting a spouse not to forsake you, or wanting to heed the call of others seeking to help you, perhaps it is time for you to focus on your issue as I focus on mine and see how to it works out.

5.27. Striving Upward: What desires keep lifting you upward?

When you or I focus on our issues, over time there is likely to be a growing sense that something or someone is driving us to answer the issue. The Chariots of Fire theme song  captures the growing intensity for me and the magic of the race for the answer’s finish line as well. But at the beginning, it is a song without words to give deeper articulation to what the issue is truly about.

In my issue’s case, there is certainty in the words “since I will someday die,” but it not without some apprehension that I acknowledge it. Yet, that certainty anchors my issue, and in a way may well anchor all issues. Similarly, when I write “satisfy my love of life,” I also feel profoundly comfortable with being alive as opposed to the alternative. These then are two aspects of my issue I would list in the “pro” column.

This leaves my phrase “Whether…I want to take only those courses of action…” Is this a pro or a con about my issue, especially when I write in the word “only.”

The recently released musical of Les Miserables helps me sort this out.

For in this movie, we have the classic tale of the hero “Jean Valjean” (played by Hugh Jackman) being pursued by “Javert” (Russell Crowe). A must-see-and-hear movie, voices break out into song throughout as the story of “Fantine” (Anne Hathaway) and her daughter, Cosette, unfolds against the background leading to the Paris Uprising of 1832.

While the movie can be analyzed on many levels, two strike me when I focus on my faith issue. First, on the level of character, I see “Fantine” representing the life of emotions, “Javert” the life of reason, and “Jean Valjean” the life of free will.

What about Cosette? To me she represents the innocence of soul each of us expresses through our own personal life. On this level and in this sense, my soul is carried in “The Chariot” of my person contained by my emotions, my reason, and my will. At various points, one of these three aspects takes the reins of “The Chariot” of my person, constraining the other two as I try to make my way.

Second, on the level of story, I see that the formal cause of “Jean Valjean’s” commitment to “Cosette” for his love of “Fantine” as the natural result of the final cause he was given by the “Bishop” at the beginning. When “Jean Valjean” is arrested for an apparent theft of the “Bishop’s” silver:

“The bishop approached him and said, in a low voice, ‘Do not forget, ever, that you have promised me to use this silver to become an honest man.’ Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of any such promise, stood dumbfounded. The bishop had stressed these words as he spoke them. He continued solemnly, ‘Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul I am buying for you. I withdraw it from dark thoughts and from the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God!”

When I look back at my issue in light of these two ways of analyzing the movie, I see that my desire for an answer comes as much, if not more, from outside me as from inside me.

I’ve come to see my desires as gifts. They remind me of how Jesus Lifts Up the Down-Trodden. Like the “Bishop” in Les Miserables who followed him, Jesus gives me his hand more and more as I climb the steps my issue presents. It seems like Jesus is always one step ahead of me and has “been there and done that” before I even see the obstacles to faith coming.

Does this mean that I must be prepared to take only the courses of action Jesus took in order to be his follower? Not ready to answer, yet? Well, pay attention to the end of Les Miserables and you may discover the courage that “Javert” did not when you see how “Jean Valjean” and “Fantine” reunite in the presence of the “Bishop.”

5.28 THE CHARIOT: What are the pros of the issue?

Our desires can, of course, blind us to realities or lead us into situations that are counterfeits of what we really need or want. What a Fool Believes is a song that sings about this problem, with the anguish a fool feels about something that was desired, but never came to be.

The basketball movie, Hoosiers, tells the story of the pros of fighting back against seemingly insuperable odds.

It puts on display the ways in which the pros of an issue are approached from different angles: by emotion (the community of Hickory), reason (the teacher), and will (the best player on the team), but also by something that the coach, played by Gene Hackman and the alcoholic assistant coach, played by Dennis Hooper, truly share. What is that?

In effect we are shown how the reins of “The Chariot” are not truly held by your emotions about your issue, nor by your reason. Nor by your will.

Where is The Chariot you are riding going and by what power does it move forward?

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Next time we will reach the stage of our journey where the hero experiences tests and helpers, of which there are many. But for now, please concentrate on your issue and take the step to go beyond the first threshold. Thanks in advance for your participation.

HOW TO FIND FAITH AT THE MOVIES

Using

The Decision-Maker’s Path ™

By John Darrouzet

(Cumulative Ordered List of Themes, Questions,

Musical Warm-Ups, Movie Links, and Meditations)

 

No. Theme Question Musical
Warm-Up
Movie Meditation

HOW TO FIND FAITH AT THE MOVIES: Crossing Your First Threshold

5.23. THE HERMIT WHERE IS NECESSARY AND SUFFICIENT PROOF FOUND? Here I Am Siddhartha Jesus Withdraws to Pray
5.24. Relief How do you deal with your rising emotions? Minute by Minute The Donner Party The Storm at Sea
5.25. Stepping How do you deal with arguments? Don’t Stop Believing High Noon Jesus Walks on Water
5.26. Measure How do you measure good will? Calling You Bagdad Cafe The Good Samaritan
5.27. Striving Upward What desires keep lifting you upward? Chariots of Fire Les Miserables Jesus Lifts Up the Down-Trodden
5.28. THE CHARIOT WHAT ARE THE PROS OF YOUR ISSUE? What A Fool Believes Hoosiers The Prodigal Son Returns

 

© 2013 John Darrouzet. All Rights Reserved.

 

About the Author:

John Darrouzet is a successful Hollywood screenwriter, an accomplished lawyer, a student of decision-making, and a deeply committed Roman Catholic layman who is FINDING FAITH AT THE MOVIES. Read more about John here.
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