03 September 2010


Friday night and I had a date! Well, not exactly, of course, but for my Birthday (the 1st) I went with a friend from quartets and orchestra to see the extended 3D version of Avatar. To engage in complete understatement, "WOW!"! I was completely blown away! Bill had seen it three times before but not the extended version. I had only heard about it from Sr Marietta, and knew it was about incarnation in some sense, and focused some on the idea of "seeing" and knowing the true person, but I didn't know much more than that. While I knew there was a Christ figure I knew nothing about him mediating (literally) between two different worlds (a definite parallel to the Kingdoms of God and an anti- Kingdom of man and the one who works to reconcile them), or about a world which was so completely grounded in God it had achieved a kind of sentience. (We Christians talk a lot about the day when this world will come to fulfillment and God will be all in all. I felt like I had seen a symbolic representation of this in Avatar.) I don't intend either to analyze or review the film (I am in no position to do either), but I do want to note some of the other symbols I thought were prominent in it.

References to The People recalled not only the Apache and other Native Americans, but also the chosen People of Judaism and the Body of Christ of Christianity --- people who become One in communion with God and/or with the earth. Then there are the trees in this film: the Home Tree and the Tree of Souls and it is through these that there is communion with those who have died (Christian Communion of Saints) as well as rebirth or resurrection (death in one form and re-embodiment in another). While the industrialists and military complex bulldoze these (or blow them to smithereens with missiles) they proclaim "they're just trees!" ("It's just a tree",". . . just a cross", ". . .just something we can get good food from," etc. . .). The notion of stewardship, of cultivating an attitude of reverence and gratitude for everything --- of actually living reverence and gratitude in everything --- as one realizes (in every sense of that word) the interrelatedness of all life is real and prominent.

And linked to this way of living is the notion of responsible or authentic freedom. Jake Sculley is a wounded, paralyzed veteran, who takes his brother's place in the Avatar program (a program which allows the combining of his twin's and the Na'vi's DNA to create a host or Avatar which can move amongst and interact with the Na'vi), but as an Avatar he moves freely and with increasing strength and grace in ways he never imagined possible as he becomes attuned to this new world and the opportunity he has been given. The world he leaves (and carries with him) is the world of science (at its best and worst) and objective measurement ("I've got to get a sample!"), mere utility and exploitation, and so, isolation where who Jake is is measured more by what he can or cannot do than by who he is in himself. It is the world where people are largely blind to the mystery that is right in front of them (scientists begin to get a clue here that this goes way beyond anything they can get their minds around!) and where, if only he can pay the price, he can get his old legs back.

The world he moves into is akin to the world of prayer (a whole other kind of original research with a whole new way of seeing!), a world of both immanence and transcendence where individual potential is always greater than the individual herself precisely because of the communion linking all things. Here Jake does not get his old legs back. He gets a new body, and is reminded early on and quite forcefully that he is but an ignorant child in its regard. Over time he learns to use that body to respond to and participate in a new vision of reality --- just as over time he learns to "see with new eyes" or "with the eyes of his heart," and to not trample upon this new world as swine trample pearls. I loved that this was a world whose characteristic values were vision, reverence, and celebration, but in light of these authentic freedom ("the power to be the persons we are called to be") was also primary.

There is tragedy aplenty in this movie seen in the truly wonton and greedy destruction of the unappreciated and unreverenced, but also and not least, in the conclusion of the People to send the humans back to their dying world with the judgment, perhaps, that they cannot "be cured of their insanity." It is too deeply ingrained, too pervasive and destructive --- and too strongly clung to. Only a handful are offered the chance to stay as the others leave this new world. "Many are called, but few are chosen," Christians will be reminded --- and it becomes clear that part of being chosen is the responsibility to make the choice ourselves and to really and fully become part of the People body, soul, heart and mind.

So all this was one level of the movie for me. There was also the sheer beauty of it all, the really dramatic scenery with "floating mountains", etc, the colors --- especially the nighttime colors full of fluorescent and iridescent greens, blues, and pinks, animals that were both wonderfully fragile and full of light, and those which were huge, powerful, and capable of great violence, flying saurians (reminiscent at least) which bonded with members of the People (Na'vi), etc. It was absolutely wonderful visually, stunning again and again --- so much so that one would need to see the move several times to take it all in.

My own celebration of my birthday and anniversary of profession extended for three days and ended with Avatar (well, I think it ended there; one never can tell). It was outstanding in so many ways (the people in my parish are so wonderful and celebrated with me and so did friends from my quartet, the orchestra, etc --- another several stories!), but this will surely be a high point. If you haven't already and get the chance to see Avatar, do so. If you get a chance to see it again (or even yet again) do it! Consider it an exercise in Lectio Divina --- not because it needs this justification, but because this is how it should be approached --- as something capable of mediating the transcendent and holy which can "speak a Word" of reminder, challenge, and encouragement to us in our need and our potential!