Hidden and Revealed

For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come toward the light, so that his works might not be exposed. But whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God. (John 3:20-21)

These words we hear the Lord Jesus say to Nicodemus at Mass today echo what He said about “nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” (Luke 12:2-3)

I.e. No one keeps secrets from God.

While I was trying to nurse my poor back I had the chance to watch the recent movie version of Anna Karenina. When Anna and the Count are beginning their affair, they picnic together in a secluded spot. But Anna nonetheless worries about being overheard. The Count says, “There’s no one around.” Then she looks up through the trees to the sky.

Anna Karenina picnicThere is always Someone around.

Does that mean that the Lord Jesus invented the idea of “transparency?”

Well, not exactly… He also counseled—and practiced—discretion. He spoke openly in parables, but only explained them in private to His chosen ones. He ordered His disciples never to cast pearls before swine. He knew all along Who He was and what the Father willed for Him, but He was mighty cagey about spelling it all out. He told the people He cured to keep quiet about it. When demons recognized Him as the Messiah, He commanded them to be silent. He ordered us, when we pray, to go to our inner rooms to do so.

We certainly want “transparent” organizations, as opposed to shady, corrupt ones. The Lord Himself declared, more or less, something that we all know: Honest people welcome investigators. Honest people have nothing to hide. In fact, honesty gives us the luxury to forget the things that we tell people today. If all the things we say today are true, then they’ll be true tomorrow, too, whether or not we remember. Liars have to lay awake nights remembering all their lies.

The light of truth will reveal all in the end. The truth will vindicate the honest and will condemn the dishonest.

Zubaran agnus deiBut, until then, not every moment calls for “full disclosure.” I had a girlfriend in college, and we agreed that our relationship had to be based on “100% honesty, all the time.” You can see how that worked out.

Being genuinely trustworthy has two sides: 1. Always speaking truth. 2. Keeping silent a lot of the time. We just heard the consummate example of this two weeks ago: During His Passion, the Lord—Who did not shy away from speaking the truth at the proper time—went from quiet to absolutely silent. People asked Him questions, to which He certainly knew the answers. But He opened not His mouth. It was not the time. Speaking would have served no purpose.

The truth is always bigger than what we mortals can know or express. May we seek it always, live in it always, testify to it when we should, and spend the rest of the time listening for it.

More Great Clooney? No.

Perhaps long-time readers will remember that George Clooney’s “Up in the Air” rocked my world. It rocked me like I haven’t been rocked since Daniel Day Lewis managed to make Tomas a million times better than anything Milan Kundera ever invented–in the movie version of “The Unbearable Lightness of Being.”

Then Clooney decided to go after the solitary-monk-with-bad-habits thing again last year. So I was pretty siked when “The American” DVD showed up at the local library.

Ever read Anna Karenina?
Two instants in the movie thrilled me:

1. The sound of the reports of a custom-built rifle cut the movie’s cloudy silence like music.

2. When it seemed for a second that the mystery of Clooney’s character’s identity and destiny might be revealed in a clever, intelligently plotted manner, I thought, ‘My gosh, Hitchcock has come back from the dead!’

But I hoped for too much. When all was said and done, I stared at the screen. “Seriously?” You’re not allowed to make movies that don’t make sense.

Then it occurred to me. A specific problem has ruined the movies: No one has retained the skill of film editing.

A film editor must hold himself utterly aloof from the production process. When the time comes to cut the endless reels into the shortest-possible feature, the editor must understand the future audience’s total ignorance of the whole business. The audience should not be required to have read beforehand about “what the director is trying to do.” The film editor bears the burden of relating to the ignorant masses.

Regrettably, no one bothers to shoulder this burden anymore. My theory: The problem arises from the fissiparation of movie watching as a coherent activity. Editors do not detain themselves with the art of producing a single movie that makes sense. After all, the market devours DVDs containing deleted scenes, “director’s cuts,” and “extended editions.” Sitting and watching the movie through once, just as it is—like we used to do in theaters—this act no longer provides the editing norm.

…By the by: Long-time readers may also recall our euphoria when Ernest Shackleton’s long-lost cases of whiskey were found encased in ice. The Scottish-distillery descendant of the original maker has now come out with a reproduction of the Antarctic bottles.

Another thing…

…to keep in mind is:

In order to win the ACC tournament, the Virginia Tech Hokies will have to beat:

1. Georgia Tech on Thursday, which is eminently doable.

2. Florida State on Friday. (Tough.)

3. Duke on Saturday. (Been done!)

4. UNC on Sunday.

If Tech makes it to the final, I will root with the Blacksburghers. Otherwise, go Tar Heels!

…May I make one other observation?

If you are like me, you have watched “The Lord of the Rings” movie trilogy more times than you care to remember. The movies are now a decade old.*

When the movies were first released, I was livid because they departed so shamelessly from the books. But I soon persuaded myself to go easy. After all, film is a different genre, and some concessions must be made.

Does it make sense for Aragorn to be felled in a skirmish with Uruk scouts, only to be revived by a kissy-kissy from Liv Tyler? No, it makes no sense. But this is a movie.

Does Viggo Mortensen ‘own’ the role of Aragorn, as Peter Jackson put it? Um…Does Pierce Brosnan ‘own’ James Bond? Does Vivien Leigh ‘own’ Anna Karenina? Does Jim Caviezel ‘own’ our Lord Jesus Christ? NOT. No. Not at all. Good yeoman efforts, yes. But ‘own?’ Please. (By the by, in my opinion, George C. Scott does in fact own Rochester, so you can forget about this new Jane Eyre movie.)

However: I can live with Viggo Mortensen.

Should poor John Rhys-Davies, an accomplished Shakespearean, and poor Gimli son of Gloin, who could kick any of our butts before you can say the word ‘midget’–should the Dwarf warrior be reduced to silly comic relief? No. But…We will let it go.

So I have had a decade of peaceful coexistence with these movies. But two particular things still rankle. They both concern the final film, and they have helped me to realize exactly what these movies are.

1. How is it possible that the script-writers thought it was plausible for Elrond to demand that Aragorn “forget the Ranger,” and become the man he was meant to be? Makes NO sense. The Rangers are the Dunedain, the remnants of the most excellent men, the Numenoreans. Even if we leave that aside, Aragorn’s majesty derives precisely from his humble, hardscrabble Ranger resourcefulness. If he were no Ranger, he would be no king.

2. In the greatest betrayal of all time, how could Peter Jackson possibly have thought that it was alright to remove the most important part of the whole plot? The climax of the book is NOT the destruction of the Ring or victory over Sauron’s armies. The climax of the book is when the Hobbits return to the Shire and clear Saruman’s petty dictators out of it.

Oh–you didn’t know that Saruman went north into the Shire after Isengard was reduced to ruins by the Ents? You didn’t know that the evil wizard engineered a sinister take-over of the the Hobbits’ homeland by wastrels he found wandering the roads around Bree? You didn’t know that Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin had to show the punks who was boss when the heroes returned home from Gondor?

Well, that’s because you wouldn’t know it, based on the dagblame movie. Since the movie pretends that such things never even happened!

So, what are Peter Jackson’s movies? They are an extremely good comic-book version of the “The Lord of the Rings.” It is hard to imagine a better comic-book version.

*This is the beginning of a LONG series of ‘Reflections on the Oughts Decade.’

Genesis at Nine Years Old

The fact that we were talking Russian, and simultaneously reading the beginning of Genesis in church, reminded me of this scene from Anna Karenina:

The constricted and imperious Karenin has come to the schoolroom to teach his son his religion lesson.

Young Serezha tells his father that he has seen a family friend while he and his tutor were out for a walk in the park.

“She told me you’d been given a new star. Are you glad, papa?”

“First of all, don’t rock your chair, please. And secondly, it’s not the reward that’s precious, but the work itself…”

Serezha’s eyes, that had been shining with gaiety and tenderness, grew dull and dropped before his father’s gaze…His father always talked to him–so Serezha felt–as though he were addressing some boy of his own imagination, one of those boys that exist in books, utterly unlike himself. And Serezha always tried with his father to pretend to be that boy out of a book…

Karenin then insists that Serezha recite some Gospel verses and the list of the antediluvian fathers.

The verses from the Gospel Serezha knew fairly well, but at the moment when he was saying them he became absorbed in the contemplation of a bone in his father’s forehead, and he lost the thread…

The passage at which he was utterly unable to say anything, and began fidgeting and cutting the table [with his penknife] and swinging his chair, was where he had to repeat the patriarchs before the Flood.

He did not know any of them, except Enoch, who had been taken up alive to heaven…Enoch was the personage he liked best in the whole of the Old Testament, and Enoch’s translation to heaven was connected in his mind with a whole long train of thought, in which he became absorbed now while he gazed with fascinated eyes at his father’s watch-chain and a half-unbuttoned button on his waistcoat.

Serezha did not in the least believe in death, of which they talked to him so often. He did not believe that those he loved could die, above all that he himself would die. That was to him something utterly inconceivable and impossible. But he had been told that all men die; he had asked people, indeed, whom he trusted, and they too, had confirmed it; his old nurse, too, said the same, though reluctantly.

But Enoch had not died, and so it followed that everyone did not die…

By this point in the novel, Tolstoy already has managed to penetrate to the depths of five adult souls, skewering them in full view with both merciless accuracy and humane sympathy. Just when you think the man cannot be any more insightful, he presents the inner life of the nine-year-old, and it is as believable as the sun in the sky. Was Tolstoy a man or a god?

Click here to read the whole chapter. Better yet, quit wasting time on the computer, and go take the book out of the library. Anna Karenina is just about the best examen I have ever used to prepare for Confession.