Archive | Spirit Matters

The Bold, Biblical Agenda of ‘Calvary’

Calvary begins with a close-up of a priest in a confession booth. “I was seven years old when I first tasted semen,” an off-screen voice announces. “Certainly a startling opening line,” the priest (Brendan Gleeson), who is known as Father James, responds. We could say the same of this film, which boldly lays out its agenda – witness its name, after all – not to convert us so much as to incite us to ponder our own agendas instead.

The unnamed voice goes on to say that, in a week, he will kill Father James because he is not a malfeasant like the priest who sexually abused him for years: The death of a “good priest” will make a statement. Cards thus on the table, James is left to sort out his affairs as well as the identity of his would-be killer. Consider this as a pre-crime procedural, then (the press notes describe it as a “who’s-gunna-do-it”)–one that is so formally constructed that we may surrender to James’ soul-searching in both senses of that term.

If all this sounds awfully literary – a sort of Swedish mystery set afire with ancient Irish angst – that’s not a coincidence. At a recent Q&A at The Museum of the Moving Image, writer/director John Michael McDonagh described himself as a “failed novelist.” But while many films of such portent might benefit from being a book instead, Calvary is ideal in its current medium. Its claustrophobic interiors, contrasted with the surf and sky of the Irish sea town where it is set, wordlessly remind us of the harsh beauty and isolation that is the human condition. And that world beyond words, the one that exists beneath the nattering of daily life, better evokes the divine experience, which is precisely what this film invites us to ponder during its 100 minutes. Continue Reading →

Bird by Bird

I love peonies so much that sometimes I forget about the enormous pleasures conferred by midsummer flowers. But my house is currently bursting with them, and the ombré of yellow, orange, and red snapdragons inject much-needed glamour into the all-work-no-play pallor of my recent days. I’d bemoan my Summer of Reckoning more but I recognize that it was a long time coming, that my predilection for the Present morphed at some point into Dissociation Nation, and that, as a lady who lunches on her own dime, it now falls upon me to catch up financially with my adult self. Still, I’ll never deny life’s small pleasures: the graceful droop of a bouquet of cosmos on my desk, the chirp of my new bird clock, with which the proprietor of The Magic Chair gifted me.

At his yard sale, the clock’s charms—a different bird representing each hour with a delightful corresponding chirp—were obfuscated by a hideous green frame. But my recent foray into home improvement taught me that anything can be transformed, and so I repainted it a sky blue that brought all those larks and cardinals and thrushes into high relief. Now the clock presides over my office, and as I write—surrounded by blossoms and birds who cheer my efforts—I feel I’m preserving my inner wilderness even as I soldier into more civilized terrain. It’s a terrain, I am learning, that I only begin to glimpse when I inch, step by step, and, yes, bird by Anne Lamott bird, into its ever-excruciating, ever-expanding unknown.

Cherries, Bittersweet

“I know that, if I want to have loving feelings, I need to do loving things. I try to quiet the drunken Russian separatists in my own mind. I pray. I meditate. I rest, as a spiritual act. I spring for organic cherries. I return phone calls.”– Anne Lamott

"All, everything I understand, I understand only because I love."
― Leo Tolstoy