I listened to a film critic’s debate about whether current cinema has become too easy for us to watch. Films like The Help or the Shawshank Redemption were criticized as being too sentimental, too satisfying to watch–providing no deep insight into humanity, moving us nowhere. A few of the critics lamented how movie viewers need to demand to see more challenging movies rather than seeking movies that make us smile. While they probably aren’t going to win that argument in the marketplace of stories, I felt properly chastised. When Netflix surfaced a film called Pi, I thought, “okay, I’ll give something that is ‘edgy’ a try.”
More than once I wanted to turn it off. It seems that when film pushes the boundaries, it invades the psyche. I was reminded of the time when all freshmen, including me, who took Humanities Core at UC Irvine had to watch A Clockwork Orange. It was a similarly unpleasant experience.
The premise of the movie, Pi, is that a mathematician (Max Cohen) finds the pattern that describes the ups and down of the stock market. Because the number of digits matches a number a group of esoteric Jews seek, they believe that this same number is the one that underlies creation itself–or is the pattern that is God. Max is already subject to migraines, and knowing this pattern increases their frequency and intensity. Further, within these episodes are harrowing visions. In the earthly world, the knowledge Max holds sends bad people after him from every direction. His solution to all of this craziness? <spoiler alert> Drill a hole in his head. <end spoiler> Who wouldn’t want to watch this for 2 hours?
The movie’s intensity made it into my dreams and woke me up in the middle of the night. I realized what was missing in this man’s search for truth, what was missing in his search to understand the ultimate code of the universe, was relationship. There is one friendship, but that too is lost in the search for the numerical pattern of the universe. When a girl knocks on his door bearing Samosas, he slams it shut.
His compulsive need to find a pattern, to know what the pattern means, made me think about that tree in the Garden of Eden, the one God said not to eat from. It was the tree of knowledge. The serpent said eating from it would not kill us but would make those who ate of it like God. Might this movie be a meditation on what it means to disobey God’s garden command? For it was the human desire to know what it is God knows that took Max out of all relationship and led him into hell.
After the drilling, there is one more scene: heaven. Where, on earth, a young girl can give Max complicated arithmetic problems which he solves quickly in his head, in heaven she sits with him on a bench, gives him a math problem, and he smiles and says, “I don’t know.”
The Bible suggests, from the very beginning, that we are not made to know everything but we are made for relationship. We are made for relationship–with these words I join a chorus of preachers. But I will differ from many by saying that the Bible isn’t interested in giving you the 10 ways to make your relationships last or in helping you find your life long partner based on 30 bits of scripture. The fact that such a message means snipping scripture from its context suggests humans are at play. Remember that the apostle Paul makes clear that, if we can help it, we should not enter into marriage because it will distract us from following Jesus. The Bible isn’t interested in helping you find your lifelong love. But the Bible is intent on inviting you into love.
The Garden of Eden warns when we allow our search for anything to get in the way of relationship with God we lose ourselves. It isn’t that the pursuit of knowledge is bad. There was much to learn about in the garden, and God was there to be Adam and Eve’s guide. But when their search for truth overrides their relationships what is left is scary. The Garden of Eden story seems less frightening than was the movie in that it describes not one who has literally lost his mind, but how the world really is…pain in childbirth, backbreaking work to till the land, and a distance between us and God. If we’re looking for something more akin to a nightmare we might recall those scenes from the prophets where God is fed up with loving a people who refuse to love. There the enemy is allowed to enter into the people’s homes, to destroy their place of worship, and to send them away. The language of God’s ire is vivid and abundant.
There are many who draw out that Biblical language and state that they will not believe in any religion with such a God. They miss the point. It is exactly because the “chosen people” turned away from relationship with God that God became the one who condemns. When we turn away from love, from loving, from relationship, we are left, as was Max Cohen, with people, with a God, who just want to use us. However, when we turn towards love, we experience God’s love.
Relationship is at the heart of faith. Faith deepens when we choose to love God and love our neighbors. And faith compels us, when we are struggling, to do the things that allow love to take hold of us.
Practically speaking, from my own experience, this means that when we are feeling low, apart, even attacked, it helps to enter more fully into relationships, to become more vulnerable, and to allow love to act. It is the opposite of what I want to do when I’m tired, uncertain, or hurting. My first impulse is to run away, whether it be in imagining a solo road trip or playing on my computer. I confess, I allow myself a little of both. But what’s even better…? Being held tight by my family and holding them tight; sharing some of my life with people I meet at the gym as they share of their lives; allowing the people I meet in church to walk with me and I with them in the ways of faith; writing these messages where I seek to know God’s word for this time and place and reading the writings of others who are engaged in a similar task; reading and watching creative endeavors–some that are satisfying to watch and others which wake me up at night; and prayer. Some prayers I focus on Jesus, in others I rest in God’s word, sometimes I talk a lot, other times I’m quiet. None of these are “the way,” but each is an example of how I enter more fully into love at this time of my life.
Thankfully, I suspect none of us are as extreme as Max. When someone knocks on the door with Samosas we are going to, at the very least, open the door. But still, the question remains…how will you move closer, be more intimate, love more deeply God and neighbor? What are the habits you already have or one you might add into your life which allow you to remain open to love? Within your list, there is your garden where you walk with God.
In Christ, Heather