God Goes Ahead of Us (Bruce Epperly)
We are on a journey. Life is full of mystery. We have a heading, but we're not sure where it leads. The question that we have has been -- where is God in the midst of the journey? We ask this question often because, God's presence isn't always tangible. But, we seem to know, intuitively, that God is there in the midst of the journey.
Bruce Epperly continues his Lenten reflections with an engagement with the film Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I've not seen the film, but Bruce finds spiritual food present, and so I invite you to join him on the journey, so that you and I can sense God's presence in our midst.
God Goes Ahead of Us:
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
I enjoy going to movies and relaxing at home with a Netflix or an On Demand film. Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to see two inspiring movies on successive evenings, Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez in The Way and the 9/11 inspired film, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. Both are journey films in which truth is discovered in the walking. Whether on the streets of New York or along the Camino de Santiago, the journey is fraught with danger and filled with unexpected and illuminating surprises. (I recently wrote a response to The Way, “It Will be Solved in the Walking” - http://www.bobcornwall.com/2012/02/it-will-be-solved-in-walking-bruce.html.)
Oskar Schell, a complex young boy, who tested inconclusively for Asperger’s, mourns his father’s death in the Twin Towers. A year after his father’s death, while he is rifling through his father’s closet, Oskar knocks over a blue vase, containing an envelope with key inside. The mysterious word “Black” is marked on the envelope. Assuming that the key involves a puzzle from his father, he sets out on adventure throughout the boroughs of New York City to meet and question all 417 “Blacks” listed in the phone directory. Oskar is met with a variety of responses, mostly positive, on his heroic journey. But, no one seems to have any knowledge of his father’s key. Still, he persists, making 417 visits in search of his father’s spirit, not wanting to let go of their special relationship and hoping that in the walking he will find away keep his father alive in his heart.
All the while, he grows more and more distant from his grieving mother, whose constancy and love is seldom recognized by her equally grieving son. Their distance bounds on alienation, as the boy takes his anger at his father’s death and absence out on his mother.
Deep down, however, there is a deeper story, an undercurrent of providence that accompanies Oskar’s journey. Oskar’s mother, Linda, has discovered the nature of his quest and each afternoon, she sets out across the city, visiting the people that he plans to question the following Saturday. She has gone ahead of him, preparing the way, with no guarantees that his journey will be successful, just not solitary. Her journeys often mean that she arrives home later than usual. What Oscar mistakes for his mother’s neglect is actually her concern and support for his journey.
Could this film provide us with a metaphor and model for the pervasive but behind the scenes as well as ever-present workings of the father-mother God? There is a father who creates puzzles and adventures for his children, and who, in the process of personal and global evolution, lures us beyond our safety zones and inspires us toward new horizons. Without the father’s inspiration and guiding push, there would be no growth.
There is also a mother whose loves insures that wherever we go, there is a way prepared. Neither father nor mother can insure that we will find the “key” to our quest, but their love enables us to grow and to find ourselves at home, even when we appear to be lost. Of course, the roles the roles can easily reversed, the father can be the way maker and companion into the future and the mother can be the inspiration for the journey, but in either case, the child will live adventurously.
We live in a rough and tumble world. Tragedy is as pervasive as celebration, but the companioning God, pushes us forward, making a way for us – now and in adventures beyond our imagination – through all the unexpected adventures of life.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, HolyAdventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process:Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.