Saturday, 30 July 2011

Rustic reflections on parish life

I am now officially in residence here at the parish of St. James and St. Mary’s. And fortunately, unlike a certain politician, I did not have to lose an election to do it. Instead, I retired. I am now discovering the customs of our rural congregations on a full-time basis.

For example, a few weeks ago, St. James hosted the annual sold-out spaghetti dinner. The event was a study in logistics, given the small old-fashioned kitchen and the equally cramped parish hall. The day before, enough pasta for 125 (including takeaway) was cooked, oiled, packed it into Pyrex bowls and covered with saran wrap for reheating the next day.  

We also assembled the pasta sauces in massive slow cookers– at least they were larger than I had ever seen. Since most families host from 25 to 50 family members at Christmas, such capacious vessels are de riguer in local pantries. Greg walked over from our house periodically during the day of the supper to stir the sauces (regular and hot and spicy; no vegetarian this year). By 5:00 o’clock, so many electrical appliances were in use, including an electrified Thermos cooler for the ice cream, that the lights in the parish hall were kept off to avoid blowing the fuses.
We were in competition with the Legion’s Thursday night supper where roast beef was being served. One of our loyal helpers disappeared there – for his dinner. Afterwards, he told me he just does not like spaghetti sauce “served that way” i.e., on pasta. If he is going to have spaghetti, he wants “the kind that comes in tins.“ 
Meanwhile, the attendees were greeted by Greg and waited in the church until there was room at the two long tables in the parish hall. Greg delivered to shut-ins part of the time last year but was pressed into full-time duty in the church by a new warden who advised him this was a more seemly activity for the rector. She sat nearby taking tickets.
I am still learning to be useful. I tried opening  tins of tomato sauce and would have been quite effective had I been able to work the electric can opener.  My forte was wrapping cutlery in serviettes and setting out them on the place mats tastefully  provided by the Primates’ World Relief and Development Fund.
The first time I tried to help at St. James – some years ago – was at a funeral reception. I wandered into the kitchen after the preparations were complete and noticed pieces of plastic wrap seemingly strewn across the kitchen table. I decided to toss them in the garbage.  Then I hesitated – fortunately – because the rows and columns of saran were there on purpose  – to wrap the  left-overs. Waste not, want not and traditional methods are there for a reason seem to be the guiding principles here.
At our sister congregation of St. Mary’s, my learning curve was both steeper and more public.  The Christmas bake sale and silent auction includes a cup of tea and a snack using fine china cups and plates. As the tea ended, I began to clear the little tables.  One of the convenors sped across the room. “No, no dear, don’t take those to the kitchen.” “Oh,” I said. She explained that each lady brings a card table and a basket containing the table cloth, cutlery, cups, plates and serviettes and then after the event ends  –about one hour after it begins – she packs everything up and takes it home to wash. “If we did it in the kitchen here, everyone’s china would get mixed up.” 
Speaking of ingenuity in limited circumstances, take a look at the ladies in the altar guild who change the banners at the front of the church. This used to involve clambering over, around and above the organ console until the husband of one of them –like everyone around here, a hockey enthusiast – suggested a solution.  He cut down two hockey sticks to equal lengths and put a notch in each end to hold the rod. Now two ladies can stand on the floor and easily lift the banner into place.  
The Bishop’s recent  episcopal visit to St. Mary’s caused a bit of a flurry. The pictures of all past rectors and several bishops hang in the parish hall where they provide an ecclesiastical je ne sais quoi for many social events.  Unfortunately, the diocese now sends only one set of bishops’ photos to each parish despite the number of congregations it may contain. So in addition to his usual Sunday morning duties,  Greg  removed  the photos of Bishops Bob and Terry from their place of honour at St. James  and made sure they were in a prominent position in the parish hall at St. Mary’s for the duration of lunch.
Greg’s responsibilities go beyond stirring sauces and purloining portraits. He also takes out the re-cycling on garbage day and throws salt down on the sidewalk if he gets to church first on icy winter mornings.  I, on the other hand, have avoided responsibility for anything on-going and predictable. I am available on a purely pro tem basis. However, I have joined the Evening Guild that meets in the afternoon, and my adventures there could provide fodder for another rustic report if readership should demand.
In the meantime, I am going bicycling with one of the wardens as soon as she gets air in the tires of her bike. She is over 80 and can’t use a hand pump the way she once could.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Spending time alone

I have just spent the better part of the week by myself. Well, I did go for coffee at my neighbour’s on Monday, and I went cherry picking on Tuesday with a group of friends, but other than that it’s just been me and an itinerant hummingbird. 

Greg is off at a workshop; I could have gone too, but I thought it would be restorative to be by myself.

I like it. In some ways, it’s like being 10 or 11 years old and on summer vacation. It’s an odd feeling that I can get up when I feel like, have breakfast when it suits me – or not – and get dressed once I get round to it, actually even more freedom than when I was young!

Am I shiftless and lazy? Gosh, it is hard to relinquish the “shoulds.” I am put off by being so self-conscious about observing what I do all day. When I was a child, I wasn’t constantly judging the worthiness of my activities. 

I find I am slow in the mornings and gradually wake up over the day. I go out for my bicycle ride after dinner, not in the early morning. Greg has the car, so being alone in a village means my bicycle is my only means of getting around, aside from walking. This is fun, but also a bit unsettling. What if I had to have a car to deal with an emergency! 

Also, I can feel guilty that I spend a bit too much time reading newspapers on line and keeping up with Facebook, and I neglected to put out the garbage.  

Nevertheless, yesterday, I planned the route for our upcoming trip down East via New England this year to avoid the bridges and traffic tie-ups in Montreal. It was challenging, as there is not much in the way of east/west freeways in that neck of the woods. I used Google Earth to take a look at the intersections of some of the secondary roads we'll be taking. As navigator, I am now familiar with what they look like. How amazing it is that I can look at the actual roadway to see what to expect. 

I also spent quite a while with a dream I had back in January which I’ve been mulling over since. How helpful to look at it more closely without any interruptions or the self-imposed sense that I should be doing something else.  

And it is odd to reflect on the word “spending” in reference to time. As if it is a quantifiable amount in a budget which of course it is when you are an adult and know you have only so much allotted to you. However, I’ve been reading William James’s Varieties of Religious Experience and am taken by his comments on saintliness. I am most assuredly not a saint, but his comments on what he terms “religious imperturbability,” common to many religion and philosophies, have stayed with me:

“The transition from tenseness, self-responsibility and worry to equanimity, receptivity and peace is the most wonderful of all of those shiftings of inner equilibrium.”

So I am entertaining this new point of view; I am enjoying the freedom to play with time, to live in the moment at hand and not to judge how I am “spending” it.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Poem: The framework of healing

Here is a short poem I wrote while I was convalescing from surgery last September. I have revised it enough - time for it to see the light of day:

The framework of healing
At home in bed after my surgery,
I gaze through the open window
into the poplar leaves,
which glisten and shimmer
in the autumn sunlight —
endlessly shushing,
sending their trembling vibrato down the branches,
which are not highways for the flighty squirrels after all,
but long nerve connectors:
the old dendrites
transmitting the impulses of those agitated receptors
to deep into the ancient ground 
beneath the window sill,
to a place I cannot see,
but where all my secrets are hidden.

Lorna Harris
September 2010

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Pigs is pigs

Well, I asked at church about those pigs: The farmer who owns the field has several barns where he raises pigs. Those that die are placed in that container awaiting the dead stock collector. Usually they are baby pigs, so they don't overflow the container and can't be seen from the road. However, in this heat, adult pigs have become overstressed and have died, and therefore they don't fit as well in the bin.

No answer as to why it is taking so long for the disposal to occur, not to mention why they had to die as they did in the first place. 

I like Temple Grandin's approach to the humane treatment and slaughter of animals we eat. Something about just tossing them in a bin is not appetizing from any point of view.

The irony is that the waste bin is situated several yards in front of one of those earnest billboards adjuring its viewers to consider life sacred "from conception to natural death." 

It's an unintended - but jarring - juxtaposition.

Saturday, 23 July 2011

The hog days of summer

A very odd sight on the way to Grand Bend this morning: a waste container not 20 feet from the road overflowing with carcasses of  very large pigs. I phoned the OPP and had a frustrating time explaining this to the person on the other end of the line. Yes, they are pigs ... yes, they are dead!  I began to feel as if I was in a rural version of the Monty Python dead parrot skit. Finally, she said the police would investigate.

Later, I  looked up the regulations on the removal of dead stock in Ontario. Yes, this means of disposal is illegal!!

I will ask at church tomorow if anyone knows anything more! Parishioners who live north of Parkhill use this road to get to church, and they know of all things agricultural.

Greg, who suggested the bad pun in the title of this post, doubted what he was seeing, but I saw them too. It was quite off-putting - like things coming out of a jack-in-the-box, and they were still there when we returned after breakfast.

After phoning the bemused constabulary, I made sure I had the correct location using an address on a mailbox and Google maps. Sure enough, in street view, there is the container in the field captured in a drive-by photo earlier this year. It is empty in the photo, but not now!!

More later if I find out the answer to this. I'm sure my many followers are waiting with bated breath. I am now off to a beef  BBQ at the Legion. Thank goodness, it is not a pork roast or I would prefer to stay home!

Thursday, 21 July 2011

A cane changes everything – on public transit

I have moderate arthritis in my right hip. I hasten to say it is not the ravage of age, but the result of  “an old athletic injury.” The one time after high school when I played volleyball, I was clobbered by a larger team-mate going for the ball I had called.   That was at a company picnic nearly 25 years ago, and over the years, my hip has degenerated (along with my enthusiasm for athletic conviviality).

As a result, I now use a cane.  I bought it at Shopper’s Drug Mart. It is black, has nifty “brass” fittings for adjusting the length and a sporty handle. I have resisted the temptation to put my name and address on it with sticky tape or to tie a ribbon to it to identify it from a distance. To my eyes, it is a dashing as well as helpful accessory.

So far, I have not permanently misplaced it, but store clerks have reminded me when I have left it behind. I appreciate this. But there have been other more unexpected consequences — especially when I ride on public transit.  

Now when I take the train, no more standing in line for me and my aching hip; I receive pre-boarding no questions asked.  Sometimes upon seeing me and my cane, Via Rail personnel even call me “dear” and offer me the use of the elevator. When I get where I’m going, the conductor frequently offers his hand as I clamber down the steps. I take it. I feel it does most men good to feel useful (in an unencumbered way), and I avoid pitching headfirst onto the pavement.

But riding the TTC has been the biggest eye-opener. Normally, Torontonians do not give up their seats. Oblivious to those less agile, they sleep, or fix their attention on the latest bestseller, the commuter newspaper or the floor.  Despite those guilt-inducing public address announcements, they ignore the pregnant and elderly. But to my surprise, now that I ride the subway using my cane, people not only notice, they react. 

I have had several young men rise and offer me their seat.  Sometimes I am all right standing, but not often, and in any event, such gallantry should be encouraged, and I am happy to help. They are bashful.  It’s quite sweet.

My encounters with women have been a bit more complicated.  In one case, I happily accepted the offer of a seat from a strapping young woman, a Bay Street beauty with a fashionably draped scarf, sensible shoes and a Blackberry.  Too late, as I made eye contact with her mid-section, I realized that she was probably about four months’ pregnant and might have appreciated the seat herself. Or was she merely plump?  Fortunately she got off two stops later, thereby relieving me of that moral dilemma.

Just yesterday, I was packed with the other transit sardines in the first car of a subway train which had been delayed and took on more passengers than necessary. When it finally left the station, I was standing about half an inch away from a very affectionate pair of women. The taller of the two was a ringer for Jennifer Jones, and her partner had very short hair with lightning stripes shaved above her ears.  Trying to find somewhere else to look, I squelched the thought that the latter ought to be have been taller. The stereotype was unworthy of me and probably irrelevant, given the apparent nature of their relationship.
Thus, alone with my questionable thoughts, I became aware of Jennifer Jones looking at me with riveting concern and asking a bit too loudly if I wanted to sit down.  I said it was all right, I didn’t mind standing. Undaunted, she continued with fervour, “Because if you want a seat, I’d be happy to ask someone to give theirs up for you.” 

By now fully alert, I again declined her offer, but I did thank her earnestly for making it.  Idealism in the young ought to be encouraged. Then I oozed closer to the front of the car where I feigned interest in the next station and wondered why I attract this attention.  

Do I appeal to some primal desire to protect the weak and fragile?  Likely not, as Torontonians’ primal desires don’t seem to run along those lines, at least not on the TTC. Maybe there is an implied threat offered by someone with a cane, especially a dandy cane like mine.  Do people see my cane as a potential weapon?  Or do people simply fear I might topple over and land on them?  It is a mystery.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Hidden Things: Reflections on the 2011 Summer Dream Conference

The Haden Institute’s summer dream conference at Kanuga , North Carolina  is a wonderful experience, for it transports me out of my normal round of activities. I always make notes on the various lectures and workshops intending to read them later, but have rarely done so. This year, however, my recent retirement offered me the opportunity to re-read my notes a few days after returning home.

Getting caught up with the news

Also, after getting back, I had to catch up with events that had happened while I was away. Dominating the news coverage in Canada, in the aftermath of the Boston Bruins’ winning the Stanley Cup and the Vancouver Canucks’ humiliating at-home loss, was the riot in Vancouver. The chief of police and the mayor both opined that it was the work of a small number of anarchists and criminals from elsewhere who had come deliberately to ruin the expected celebrations. Vancouverites were seen as just too nice to riot.

However, as the story unfolded (especially on Facebook), the faces of those who were to blame turned out mostly to be the ordinary children of middle class parents living in and around Vancouver. This unpleasant discovery led to questioning in the media about why these seemingly normal, well-brought up kids acted the way they did. 

Unexpected sub-text

I was curious too, and as I read my conference notes, I noticed a sub-text, which was given vitality in my imagination because of the Vancouver riots. Mind you, no one addressed this issue directly during the conference, but hindsight showed it lurked about the fringes — of my unconscious, at any rate.

Jeremy Taylor

So imagine my surprise when after seeing the image of the riots, I read the following words in my notes on Jeremy Taylor’s lecture: “What do we do with unregenerative archetypal male energy?” I took this to mean a type of male energy that is self-referential, entitled, potentially destructive and consequently incapable of creating and supporting life.

 Joyce Rockwood Hudson

Then I read my notes on Joyce Rockwood Hudson’s presentation on the masculine in which she described John as the warrior Beatle with his “tough, brazen, and hard masculine energy.” I reflected that perhaps this one-sided aspect of masculine wholeness was evidenced in the mayhem in Vancouver. Not being balanced by the other three parts of the masculine, the misplaced warrior energy of the young hockey fans led to the vandalism and looting.

In He, Robert Johnson calls this behaviour red-knighting: lots of energy but very little regenerative purpose, or as Emma Jung and Marie-Louise von Franz call it, in The Grail Legend, “a streak of ruthless masculinity which will entangle him (Perceval, the young knight-in-training) in difficulties.” The Red Knight symbolizes “emotion and barbaric thoughtlessness” which are components of Perceval’s shadow and similar to the covetous negative energy released by the young people in the crowd in Vancouver.

Murray Stein

Then, in re-reading my notes on Murray Stein’s presentation about individuation and the Bible, I found another example of ruthless masculine energy: In the creation myth in Genesis, Yahweh “defeats the amorphous dragon-like Mother figure who rules the water, Tiamat.” Murray added that to establish ego consciousness, “the unconscious had to be defeated.”

I asked myself why defeated? Were there not other ways to relate to the unconscious and its chaos: Differentiation of its contents might reveal Wisdom, who much later in the Biblical account says she was beside Yahweh during creation.

Yahweh is shown to resemble other jealous primitive Gods — like Kronos who ate his own offspring. Because of his anger at humankind’s disobedience, Yahweh decides to bring on the flood to drown his creation. In my imagination, this is God’s shadow side, evidence of his inability to properly relate to his feminine relational side, something he realizes just in time before he annihilates what he so carefully created.

Often our lives stick at this point in individuation, and we find it hard to move forward to a better understanding of and relationship to what we do not know or want to know about ourselves. We just want to destroy what will not obey us: In Vancouver, the Canucks were supposed to win, not lose. Therefore, it was accounted justifiable to take to the streets in anger and to do so in the chaos of a crowd.

 Jean Orost

Referring to Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power, Halifax Chronicle Herald reporter Stephen Maher wrote that people in crowds struggle violently to avoid dispersal and “seek discharge, often by smashing windows and doors, symbols of boundaries that hem us in.” Jean Orost’s workshop on the door provided insight on the various levels of symbolism involving doors, including the idea of exclusion, but also the concept of crossing over the threshold to transformation, a theme which arose in Kirk Webb’s workshop on fairy tales.

 Kirk Webb

Jack and the Beanstalk tells about the transformation of a boy who, in various versions, is described initially as either lazy or inexperienced or as a failure at work in the world beyond his mother’s house. A giant living in the sky has stolen his birthright, and Jack climbs the ladder-like bean stalk beyond the clouds to get it back. Kirk alluded to the Biblical story about another thief and a ladder, that of Jacob, who supplanted his brother Esau to inherit from his father (Genesis: 27 and 28).

Kirk said, “We often become ‘murderers’ when we can’t control others and get from them what we think we deserve.” This observation about Esau echoes the crowd’s emotions in Vancouver after the prize they felt their team deserved was taken from them. They felt they could, as it were, murder their normal civil relations with their fellow citizens by smashing windows, stealing merchandise and setting cars on fire.

To apply the projective dream technique to this fairy tale, “If it were my fairy tale,” Jack, who is a bit of a delinquent, is actually on a quest to destroy the complex he has around the kind of father who would “grind his bones to make my bread.” Growing up fatherless, Jack is possessed by a highly inflated and negative idea of what a father is. His imagined father has grown to giant-like proportions of greed and blood thirstiness, perhaps to over-compensate for Jack’s lack of success in launching his own life. To properly enter his own life, Jack needs to slay this complex and be in a better relationship not only to his masculine side but also to his feminine.

In one version of the tale’s ending, Jack asks his mother for the axe (of discernment, perhaps), but significantly, he asks her to stand aside while he wields it to chop down the beanstalk and cause the giant’s death. He then can live happily with the mother side of his nature (he’ll no longer feel nagged or pitied by her) and in some versions, he marries a princess. He will also be able to connect with the memory and the wealth of his real father, who was apparently in many versions, a true knight full of generosity and good will to others. Jack won’t be trashing downtown Vancouver when his team loses, in other words.

Or as Jeremy also said, “We must show up for our lives and not put off the encounter with unsatisfactory relationships in our lives, holding back for a theoretical ‘later’.” This encounter involves what we are unconscious of, what we might prefer to have hidden from us in our shadow, whether it is our personal shadow or the collective’s. Otherwise, riots will continue to boil up seemingly out of nowhere – both in our inward and personal lives and in society at large.

Monday, 11 July 2011

Spinning in the deep – a review of CRASH

Life keeps tumbling your heart in circles
till you... let go
till you shed your pride and you climb to heaven
and you throw yourself off.
now you're out there spinning
in the deep.
in the deep.
in the deep.
in the deep..
("In the Deep" by Bird York from Velvet Hour)

A movie soundtrack is like wallpaper for the ears; it’s there, but we don’t pay much attention to it –– at least not at first.  This song, the end of the sound track for Crash, encapsulates many of the themes of the film, which is also about the tumbling lives of many people. 

Crash, directed by London, Ontario native Larry Haggis, has been criticized for looking like a made-for-TV movie, for “hitting us over the head” with its message about racism and for having  an appropriated title.  Nevertheless it won the 2006 Academy Award for best picture and has struck a chord with a lot of people. The woman at Future Shop who rang up the CD for me spontaneously commented, “That’s a good movie, some bad language, but a good movie.”  The woman who does my hair said she liked it and called it a surprising movie, “There is a lot going on it.  You could watch it over and over again and enjoy it.” Indeed you can. There are a lot of themes projected on the literal movie screen that are also projected on the screen of our collective imagination.


The film opens with a series of fragments: snowflakes falling in the darkness, tire tracks on snow-covered pavement, blurry circles of light and the tips of a chain link fence.  An unidentified voice talks about losing his "frame of reference" and another person observes how being spun around a couple of times in a car accident can jostle that frame. Protecting one’s fragile self from brokenness, being enclosed by a frame of belief, and spinning a story that might involve escape from this enclosure all define this film.

The conversation we overhear occurs after what seems too have been the first car accident, but this collision actually occurs near the end of the story –– an unexpected, disorienting change in our own frame of reference. The word, “Yesterday,” appears in the corner of the movie frame and with that, the audience is spun around to the past to observe the daily round of a group of people in Los Angeles. The title of the movie refers to many different kinds of collisions.  What causes them to crash into one another? Is there any way out of their driven unhappy lives?

Knee-jerk reactions

One cause of their unhappiness is their knee-jerk habit of jumping to conclusions about situations. A burgled shopkeeper insists his locksmith is a cheat when the latter suggests correctly that the door frame needs fixing not just the lock on the door. This complex-driven judgment almost results in catastrophe later on.  The ego-bound characters dislike the other, the stranger who can’t or won’t speak English. But likely they fear not just the alien in the exterior world, but their own alienated inner self. One character admits, “I feel angry all the time and I don’t know why.”  An experienced police officer observes to his former partner, “You think you know who you are, but you have no idea.”

As a result of their lack of self awareness, they operate from a frame of reference with very fragile, easily permeated boundaries. Trespassing on each other’s personal space often occurs. This intrusion involves real physical space in the actual crashes, falls and assaults. The trespass also occurs because they seem to feel that their honour, dignity and self-worth have been apportioned to them by others and are in danger of being taken away.  Humiliation is a constant threat.  A wife tells her husband, “I was humiliated for you. That man took away your dignity.” One of the black kids, who theorizes constantly on black victimization (while making a living from car jacking) asks, “Why do they put great big windows in a bus – to humiliate people of colour reduced to riding the bus.”  Later on, he is told, “You embarrass me; you embarrass yourself.” Honour lost and honour restored drive most of the characters.

The ego-imprisoned characters lack a relationship to Self, to their own integrity as opposed to the integrity accorded them –– or not –– by others. A young policeman is advised by his supervisor to lie about the real reason he wants to change partners.  Behind them, on the police station wall is a poster advertising “integrity.”   On the other side of the hall is a cement-block partition –– a series of small, rectangular, concrete boxes dividing up and enclosing the space.  Later in the closed space of the front seat of his car, the young man pays a horrifying price for his unawareness of who he really is.

Lack of connection

That scene is one of the most intense of many that reveal the lack of a feeling connection amongst the characters.  The crash victim we first encounter muses about the literal lack of touch, “You crash in order to feel something.” Later he is untouching and  tactless towards his mother and his girl friend and suffers for it.

Almost everyone treats women poorly.  The characters’ lack of connection to inward feeling values is projected onto the women they meet.  Men repeatedly relate to women by ordering them to do things: to go home, to go to bed, to calm down.  The women, failing to connect to an inner masculine and therefore in the throes of a negative animus, are demeaning and sarcastic.  The politician’s wife snaps at her maid for not unloading the dishwasher; the actor’s wife accuses her husband of “shuckin’ and jiving” and when he reacts adds, “Anger… a bit late, but nice to see!”

Only the viewers are able slowly to put together the whole picture.  We are the only ones who, seeing the cause of the events, can imagine different solutions from the ones the characters find unconsciously in a split-second.  On a bus an old woman knits –– an unexpected image and one which suggest someone ought to be making whole cloth out of these fragmented lives.  Spinning is unconsciously parodied by a politician who uses “spin” to describe the take he wants his media advisors to place on his story of being car-jacked.  Ironically, the police are the tools the film writer uses to knit the stories together –– but only from a structural point of view. They are as unconscious and compromised as everyone else is.

Frame of reference

Only twice does the camera and thus our frame of reference rise above the action. The first occurs when the camera shooting the action from above pulls back to reveal a television series being filmed. What we think is the “real” movie is just a movie-within-the-movie. This irony might remind us to look outside the frame of our own personal stories –– or at least not to confuse what we think is real with what is merely our projection.

The other time occurs at the end of the movie when the final shot swoops up and reveals an empty intersection with the square box created by the lines for pedestrians clearly visible. There is no traffic.  This box may be a symbol of the limits around the characters: many self-imposed, many imposed by chance encounters.  The intersection is often a place of choice or new direction –– but not in this film.  The shot ends by revealing one of the least likeable characters getting out of her car by the curb and then arguing over yet another collision. 

Close-up shots

At the other extreme are the very few close-up shots –– all the more memorable because the film is shot mostly in a series of medium-range frames.  In two of these situations, a male character is calming the fear of a female.  In one, the policeman redeems his previously humiliating treatment of a woman when he asks permission before touching her in order to rescue her from a burning vehicle.  In the other, the locksmith father weaves a magical story to his five-year-old daughter hiding under her bed, to encourage her not to fear that bullets may once again touch her life. In frightening situations, they calm down long enough to touch and look at the other and see who is really there.

What else can redeem these people? Ironically the action takes place at Christmas –– the time when, according to the Christian myth, the divine embodies wholeness in the person of the Christ-child. The incarnation is supposed to bring peace to both the inner and outer worlds.  Images of crèches, Santas, Christmas lights, trees and parcels abound in the movie. But these reference to the promise of new life are either ignored, misinterpreted or not heard at all by the characters. When the car jackers drop their hit-and-run victim by the nativity scene at a hospital Emergency entrance, “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” is on the sound track, heard only by the audience. 

One of the characters carries a statue of St. Christopher, (literally the Christ-carrier), the patron saint of travelers, which his companion calls a “voodoo-assed” thing.  In the end, it does not protect him.  Another character completely under the spell of rage and frustration almost commits an unthinkable act. He believes he was prevented from doing so by an angel in the form of a little girl.  The audience knows what really happened – or at least we think we do.  Is the old man’s conviction in divine intervention just a sentimental belief in magic or has he been offered the miracle of an epiphany?

Final scene

We too want to believe there is more to life than accidents and chance.  In a final scene, one of the car jackers makes a conscious decision to do the right thing.  He no longer embarrasses himself.  In another part of town, the politician’s wife is finally able to accept an embrace.  Several characters wander about in the snowy cold or look out at the weather, which has been described several times as unusual for Los Angeles, the city of angels. They receive messages of love from home on their blackberries. This is not as amazing as angels singing from on high about the promise of peace and wholeness, but it is a start.

Why the sacred is important

A society that no longer recognizes that nature and human life have a sacred dimension, an intrinsic value beyond monetary value, commits collective suicide. Such societies cannibalize themselves until they die. This is what we are undergoing.
Christopher Hedges


Sunday, 10 July 2011