Malick’s Modern Job: “The Tree of Life”

TREEBEST (2)

 The river of temporal things hurries one along: but like a tree sprung up beside the river is our Lord Jesus Christ. He assumed flesh, died, rose again, ascended into heaven. It was His will to plant Himself, in a manner, beside the river of the things of time. Are you rushing down the stream to the headlong deep? Hold fast the tree. Is love of the world whirling you on? Hold fast Christ. For you He became temporal, that you might become eternal; because He also in such sort became temporal, that He remained still eternal.[1]

~ Saint Augustine, Homily 2 on the First Epistle of John

More than any previous era, modern Man feels small. As astronomy presses further the boundaries of the known universe, one could say that we shrink in proportion. As our cities grow larger and our buildings seem to defy gravity, this conquest of nature leaves us estranged from it. “What is Man that you are mindful of him?” asked the ancient Psalmist under the star-studded sky that greeted him each night. “What is Man?” the modern asks, as astonishing images from Hubble reveal millions of luminaries that lie forever beyond his vision’s capacity. Only silence seems to answer us from this infinite beyond. “The eternal silence of these infinite spaces terrifies me,” wrote the 17th-century mathematician Blaise Pascal.[2] Ours is an age when mankind has been put in his place, one could say. What we are learning screams “Where were you when the universe began?” Our existence appears so unnecessary, so insignificant in comparison to the vastness of time and space. Pain and suffering accentuate the sense of isolation all the more.

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life addresses this alienation. “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? . . . When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” The Tree of Life begins, quoting the Book of Job as its epigraph.[3] Director Terrence Malick’s experimental film is not unlike the Book of Job in that it sets this cosmic question within the context of an individual family’s loss. God answers Job with a riddle, but he was comforted, nonetheless.  As an artistic exploration of the problem of evil and unjust suffering, Malick’s The Tree of Life is as complex and puzzling as Job’s mysteries, with meaning that encompasses and transcends every camera movement. This film provides a modern retelling of Job with stunning cinematic lyricism, one in which the wonder of existence “shines through everything.”[4]

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The Vigil of the Enlightenment by Dorothy Sayers

lalightpollution

Light pollution in Los Angeles as seen from Space.

“For an Evening Service”

This hymn is suitable for the Vigil of the Enlightenment

The day that Nature gave is ending,
The hand of Man turns on the light;
We praise thee, Progress, for defending
Our nerves against the dreadful night.

As o’er each continent and island
The switches spread synthetic day,
The noise of mirth is never silent,
Nor dies the strain of toil away.

We thank thee that thy speed incessant
Provides upon this whirling ball
No time to brood on things unpleasant –
No time, in fact, to think at all.

Secure amid the soothing riot
Of crank and sound track, plane and car,
We shall not be condemned to quiet,
Nor left alone with what we are.

By lavish and progressive measures
Our neighbour’s wants are all relieved;
We are not called to share his pleasures,
And in his grief we are not grieved.

Thy winged wheels o’erspan the oceans,
Machining out the Standard Man.
Our food, our learning, our emotions
Are processed for us in the can.

All bars of colour, caste and nation
Must yield to movies and the mike;
We need not seek communication,
For thou dost make us all alike.

So be it! let not sleep not slackness
Impede thy Progress, Light sublime;
Nor ever let us glimpse the blackness
That yawns behind the gates of Time.

~ Dorothy L. Sayers, The Whimsical Christian (pp.6-7).

The Daughter of Saturn Arrives at Jupiter

greatredspot

“What we need for the moment is not so much a body of belief as a body of people familiarized with certain ideas.  If we could even effect in one per cent of our readers a change-over from the conception of Space to the conception of Heaven, we should have made a beginning.”  Dr. Ransom of C.S. Lewis’s “Out of the Silent Planet”

On July 4, 2016, NASA’s space probe JUNO successfully entered Jupiter’s orbit.  It  was the second spacecraft ever to do so after the Galileo probe which orbited from 1995–2003.

For me, it is beyond ironic that NASA chose to name the probe JUNO and I think C.S. Lewis would have been delighted that they a chose pagan myth to tell the story of their scientific endeavor.  Here is the thinking from NASA:  “In Greek and Roman mythology, Jupiter drew a veil of clouds around himself to hide his mischief. It was Jupiter’s wife, the goddess Juno, who was able to peer through the clouds and reveal Jupiter’s true nature. The JUNO spacecraft will also look beneath the clouds to see what the planet is up to, not seeking signs of misbehavior, but helping us to understand the planet’s structure and history.”

The stated mission?  They hope to improve the understanding of our origin.  JUNO will spend twenty months orbiting the gas giant, peering into its clouds with the hope of penetrating the myriad of mysteries that mask its making.  JUNO hopes to pull back the colorful veil of gases behind which the king of planets hides his truth from us.

This is exciting, indeed, but even if JUNO is able to expose all her beloved’s secrets, will we truly be closer to knowing all there is to know about our origin?  Perhaps.

What about the “why” of our existence?  Can science alone answer such a question?

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