September 27, 2008

Saints Among Us

Is there anyone who dos not recognize the name St. Patrick? Even if they do not realize St. Patrick was actually a person and not just a day on the calendar with an Irish connection. Most people can tell you that the statue of a bearded man in a monk's robe surrounded by birds and small animals so often found in gardens is that of St. Francis. And then there is St. Nick. Whether one attends church or not, everyone is familiar with a few of the saints – at least by name even if they do not know anything about the actual person.

Around the year 100 A.D., Christians began honoring those who had lived exceptional lives in their devotion to God. There are now over 10,000 named saints. We honor many of these saints as namesakes of our churches, in celebration with feast days, and in commemoration on November 1, All Saints Day. But it is important to remember that these men and women were much like you and I.

During the building of a garden by the boys at their Mission Church, a concrete statue of Mary with the infant Lord was placed behind the outdoor altar. One youth in his exuberance painted the words "I love Jesus" on the back of the statue in green paint. In telling the story, the Rev. George W. Jones said, "Sometimes patience has been at the point to break, but there has been no thought of forbearance ceasing to be a virtue. Most saints were once imps."

Saints started out living ordinary lives with the struggles and pitfalls that plague us all, but went on to live extraordinary lives. They dedicated themselves to God, unselfishly working for the good of those around them. We are all capable of saintly lives by following the example they set through their lives and their teaching. Wendy Dackson reminds us that, "Saints are people who live in the love of God, people who let the light of God's Son shine through them. It doesn't matter if they are an Archbishop in England, a civil rights leader in the United States, or an elderly nun in India – or the woman from our church who brings flowers to our hospital room or meals to our homes. Or the man who works for a better education system or helps build low-income housing. All of them share a common vision of righteousness, mercy, and peace. The saints of God are among us. The saints of God are us."

— Dan Hardison

Photo by Dan Hardison
Glendale Springs, North Carolina

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September 20, 2008

The Teacher

Walk slowly, little one
and let me walk beside you,
as you see the wonders

you will see.

And I will try to see them
through your eyes . . .
eyes, still fresh

and beauty seeking;

eyes that do not hide
behind the dimming veil

of ugliness.

Tell me what you see

when birds fly by . . .
when buds of green appear
on April's trees.

Tell me about the ripples

on the pond,
and the colors
of the flowers.

There is so much
I need to know;
so much I have forgotten.
I remember only

how to look.

I do not remember

how to see.

So let me walk along with you
and share the world you know.

I will be the learner.
You will be the teacher.

Jim Metcalf
From his book “In Some Quiet Place”.

Photo by Dan Hardison
Wilmington, North Carolina

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September 13, 2008

In Moonlight

The day is done
and darkness fills the sky.
All the beauty that was the day
is covered now in night.

When the moon is bright
and shadows of the day appear
we choose what to remember
of the day that was.

To glory in the achievements,

to learn from the failures,

to cherish the joys,

to embrace the sorrows,

to dream of what could be,

to long for yet another day.

— Dan Hardison

Photo by Dan Hardison
Wilmington, North Carolina

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September 6, 2008

Movie: Wit

There is a verse in a song written by Bill Danoff that reads, “Dream of a time when the tides ebbing now rise again. / Then you will know that to die is not really to end. / Living and dieing are both your most intimate friends.” In the movie Wit, the central character is faced with a life threatening illness and is forced to not only think about her own death, but also to reassess her life. Based on the 1999 Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Margaret Edson, Wit is the 2001 Emmy winning HBO movie directed by Mike Nichols and starring Emma Thompson.

Emma Thompson is outstanding in her portrayal of English Professor Vivian Bearing, a renowned scholar of metaphysical poet John Donne. The rigid and demanding teacher is suddenly faced with stage four ovarian cancer. Realizing that there is no stage five, she enters an aggressive experimental chemotherapy program at a research hospital where she learns, “Once I did the teaching, now I am taught.” There are only a handful of characters in the movie, but they are all wonderful in bringing different aspects of human character into contact with Bearing. Bearing now draws parallels between her life and Donne’s complex and often difficult poetry.

The perspective Mike Nichols used to film the movie was described by Margaret Edson as a way to capture the feel of an actor on a stage interacting with the audience. Much of the screen time has Bearing talking directly to the camera – as if in conversation with the audience. There are several flashback scenes where Bearing is reflecting on different aspects of her life with the image of Bearing of the present alternating with Bearing of the past. In a scene where she is explaining how she first took an interest in words, we see her with her father as a child. As the scene unfolds, the child’s image is replaced with the adult image – a wonderful portrayal of Bearing’s reflection on her life.

Wit deals with life and death issues, but it deals with many other issues as well – quality of life, respect, human dignity. Yes, it is a movie about redemption, but it is also about being true to oneself. There is a gripping scene at the end of the movie where Professor Bearing is visited by her mentor that becomes the turning point in her life as it now comes to an end.

At a conference where Margaret Edson was a keynote speaker, she gave a wonderful, entertaining, and thought provoking talk. During her talk, she spoke about the play and the movie, but she also spoke about spirituality and the relationship of body and soul. Are the body and soul two separate entities, or are they one? Wit presents hard lessons and choices about life without presenting direct answers, giving the viewer plenty to think about long after the movie has ended. Issues that we all must confront.

— Dan Hardison

Note: Wit is available on DVD. There is also a book by Margaret Edson of the screenplay for Wit.