Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Tree of Life & the Glory of God

How do I know I loved the movie "The Tree of Life?" Because it is still with me. I am now listening to the hauntingly, pensive musical soundtrack by Alexandre Desplat. I have scenes going over and over in my mind. I think it was for me an important, God-thing to see this movie.

"Tree of Life" is about the macro-cosmic within which our human micro-realities have their tiny place. Think of the Lord of Heaven and Earth becoming flesh in a tiny baby in a tiny country on a small planet in a gargantuan universe at a point in time. Think of the speck of flesh and consciousness that now is "you." Who are you, that God is mindful of you? And yet He is, according to Malick. God is vast, and he thinks of you.

"There are two ways through life: the way of nature and the way of grace. We have to choose which one we'll follow," the mother's voice declares early in the film. "Therein lies the story." (Kristen Sharold)

I felt grief watching "Tree." A son dies, we are not told how. The father, Jack (Brad Pitt), comes to his senses. He begins seeing "the glory" all around him, which has always been there had he noticed. His failure to be the consistently loving father to his lost son pains him. He and his wife (Jessica Chastain) imperfectly raise, love, and nurture their beloved son only to lose him so early. I thought of Linda, my incredible wife and mother of my sons, who lost a baby, whose dead body I cradled in my arms, almost 26 years ago. All of this, in the midst of the vastness of the glory of God; a golden fleck of suffering in an unbelievably temporally and spatially vast, shimmering cosmos.

The relative smallness and briefness of our suffering is positioned speck-like against the history of God's universe. Like the sufferings of Job which demand, at least for Job's "comforters," some explanation.  Terence Malick's film opens with a quotation from the book of Job, where God asks Job,: “where were you when I founded the earth…while the morning stars sang in chorus and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” (Job 38: 4,7)

"Tree of Life" shows us the meaning and relevance of God's answer to our suffering. In watching "Tree" I think I got a glimpse of it, of its real sensibility, its to-the-point-ness. God gives us a whole-being response, not simply something "rational" and "logical." We paint our little existences against the massive universal backdrop of God's creation, surrounded by "the glory." In "Tree" Malick exegetes this idea and finds it compelling. The universe is inflamed with God-bestowed beauty. Within this human creatures have dignity. And hope, as Jack becomes a person of faith. He stands on the beaches of God's glory and we hear the words, in Jack's mind, "I give you my Son."

Sharold writes: "In the tradition of Augustine's Confessions, The Tree of Life is the story of a single life drawn upward to God. Jack O'Brien, the main character, asks, "When did you first touch my heart?" and the rest of the film formulates an answer."