On the Tenth Sunday After Pentecost (A brief soul/spirit study)

This is the day that the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice in it, and be glad.

Today Paul is telling the Christians in Corinth that he serves Christ, and the following struck me, after recently watching ‘The Ciderhouse Rules’ with its intertwined messages about abortion and possible suicide, as well as redemptive selfsacrifice :-

Paul says to the Christian Corinthians:

You are kings…

which the doctor in The Ciderhouse Rules echoes with his

“Goodnight, you kings of New England, you princes of Maine!”

I may have that messed up, apologies for a faulty memory. But I love that message in general; we do love that message to the children, as they chuckle in their beds.

Paul contrasts the apostolic role to that of the ordinary person, saying about the former:

…we have become, and are now, as the refuse of the world, the offscouring of all things.

Such is the deeply felt position of all true leaders, all prophets, all saints, all true heroes even of our latter times. It is the burden they carry, as does the doctor in the movie, and in the end, the father who has sinned greatly as well – a burden some souls in our time find too impossibly great and to our sorrow they are taken from us long before we are ready to say goodbye.

The Gospel reading that attends this message in my Old Church calendar this morning is short; I give only the first part:

And when they came to the crowd, a man came up to him and kneeling before him said, “Lord, have mercy on my son, for he is an epileptic and he suffers terribly; for often he falls into the fire, and often into the water. And I brought him to your disciples, and they could not heal him…

To me, this speaks to the soul/spirit burden of ministering souls among us (who are on the hard road to enlightenment, yet still only human). In the Gospel story, the disciples come to Jesus after the incident and ask, privately, “Why couldn’t we heal the boy?” The answer is given:

“Because of your little faith.” [Matt. 17:20]

Thinking again of the movie, the true kings of the earth are indeed the children, for they have great faith, and their parents through their parenting then also have access to that faith, even when they themselves have sinned terribly – in the Gospel the father, who had been disappointed in the failure of the disciples of Jesus, persisted, as parents must, in his quest to save his son. In the movie, the father who has sinned greatly also persists in his quest, and ultimately recognizes her departing, violent act as his.

Sure, it’s ‘only a movie’ – as Scripture is ‘only God talk.’

But still . . . Goodnight, all you precious kings of all the earth, you princes of Gaia.

11 responses to “On the Tenth Sunday After Pentecost (A brief soul/spirit study)

  1. interesting twining of the film and scripture, juliania. i had to look up ‘outscouring’ though. :) john irving is one of my very favorite authors, and i share one of *his* favorites: charles dickens. yah, the ‘princes of maine’ did come first, but i usually hash it up myownself.

    i wonder if you might roughly identify all the people you speak of in this paragraph; i got tangled up in it, and wouldn’t like to comment on it without knowing. nice to see you again.

    “Thinking again of the movie, the true kings of the earth are indeed the children, for they have great faith, and their parents through their parenting then also have access to that faith, even when they themselves have sinned terribly – in the Gospel the father, who had been disappointed in the failure of the disciples of Jesus, persisted, as parents must, in his quest to save his son. In the movie, the father who has sinned greatly also persists in his quest, and ultimately recognizes her departing, violent act as his.”

  2. Thanks, wendye; thanks muchly. I was a bit befuddled at first by the ‘out’ until I recognized it as the Scriptural ‘off’. (Heh.) I saw the two sets of parentings as:

    First, the Scriptural set given in the reading which commences at Matt. 17:14:
    ” … a man came up to him…” (as quoted above)

    That father has already tried the disciples for a remedy but hasn’t given up even though they couldn’t help him. In other similar stories, Jesus says ‘Your faith has made you well’ or ‘Not even in Jerusalem have I seen such faith.’ So when he talks about the disciples’ lack of faith, to me the implication is that there is not yet a link between the parental faith of the father and the faith of the disciples, such as is necessary to save his son.

    Second example: the black father who runs the cider house (should have been separate words, I realize now, as I’m hoping the library has the novel, just about to go look) and his young daughter. Their story, the violent outcome, is what I saw as a child’s faith in her parent ultimately destroyed but potentially redeemed by his insistence that he had knifed himself after she has done so.

    I realize most everyone else knows the movie and most likely the film – the juxtaposition merely sounded in a timely way for me as those episodes, three in all really if the Corinthians text is included, ricochet off one another and questions get asked that are not immediately obvious if you look at only one of them in isolation.

    I thought by doing so to arrive at a broader and more positive definition of faith that’s a bit more complex than the one generally contemplated in religious terms. There’s much more in the movie/novel, of course, than just this aspect of it (of faith), but there it was, so I just explored it a bit here. Hopefully not too hard to understand.

  3. I should have said above:

    …his insistence in being present to her abortion and later holding himself accountable for his own death in the knifing…

    Both parts of the sequence of suffering are important.

  4. ah. well, still a bit beyond my understanding, partly because ‘not enough faith in the father’ was determinant in no healing.

    but as you hadn’t mentioned mr rose or rose rose, i wasn’t sure who you were calling the sinning father, which could even have been dr. larch. as i remember it, rose rose wanted the abortion, as it was conceived by rape and incest. i reckon you could stretch a point and call her faith in him redeemed, i’d certainly never thought of it that way.

    but given that in the end, both homer and dr. larch believed that both their ‘lord’s work’ and their ‘devil’s work’….were all the former in the end, that was one of the main themes of what irving called this ‘didactic novel’. that, and of course, that given so many situations in life, that a set of rules isn’t desirous in so many cases, but that each person must find their own way to the truth and personal morality/ethics, while considering their lives, those of others, and the future.

    i remember melony (?) opining that not one woman who ever left st. cloud ever walked with anything other than a heavy step, no matter which procedure they were there for. heartbreaking imagery. that, and that besides candy, iirc, no woman was ever accompanied by a man.

    thank you for twining the two, even if i don’t quite find it a easy to understand than you’d hoped. :)

  5. oh, and if you don’t find the book, and can wait, i can send you mine later, plus a couple others of irving’s. just now, the wolf’s rather seriously at the door, so…i need to spend my pin money to help pay for all the stuff that’s breaking down here. yikers, what a string it’s been.

  6. No worries, wendye. My library actually had a pristine, hardcover edition that hadn’t been checked out by anyone. (Something I love but you have to be extra careful if you like to read and eat. That smudged page is me.) I didn’t check, but I’m pretty sure there will be others of his writings, so do save postage monies and pacify that wolf!

    My first impression is that book and movie diverge quite a bit, so my links before this exploration may not hold true after. I have finally reached the cider house rules, which come exactly at the midpoint of the volume.

    Second impression was that, hey, this book reminds me very much of “The Bone People.” So I looked, and yes, this published 1985, that 1984. Somebody could perhaps write a doctorate thesis on why these two seem so similar – it isn’t obvious from the plot lines, but some of the characters, especially the female one (who didn’t even appear in the movie version) – she does remind me of the Kerewin character . . .

    I suppose both novels could be called sagas?

  7. interesting on the parallels you’re seeing. unhappily, it’s been so long since i’ve read either (even though several times apiece) i can’t say. and i’d seen the ‘cider house’ film in the past, but i don’t recall now knowing if some book characters were morphed into one, left out, or what. i do remember some stunning imagery that stayed with me, though. more stills than motion. kathy ? who played one nurse is a special favorite of mine, as are mcguire (maguire?) and caine, of course.

    i will say that ‘the bone people’ left me shuddering and shivering many times as i read, holding my breath waiting for what would come next. such a fine story, and yes, ‘saga’ would fit nicely.

    oh, earlier i’d forgotten to say that i’d thought you may have been referring to either homer or dr. larch as ‘surrogate fathers’, which, of course they were in their own ways.

  8. Sorry I didn’t address your earlier comment, wendye, that –
    “ah. well, still a bit beyond my understanding, partly because ‘not enough faith in the father’ was determinant in no healing.”

    It does read that way in Matthew, and could be interpreted that way, that Jesus is berating the father for his little faith, but further into the story it becomes clear that it is the disciples’ little faith that is the issue – had they more faith they could move mountains. The father, indeed, seems to have enough initiative to not give up but to take the case to Jesus and have it then successfully result in healing.

    In pursuing this point, the faith of the father, in the novel, it was a long and complex path to travel, and I have to admit I skipped through a lot of the unwinding complications, so I have probably missed a lot. The comparison holds up, but there is a crucial difference that the father doesn’t actively participate in his daughter’s medical procedure as he did in the movie.

    That is the ‘tell’ which separates the novel from the movie in conveying precisely the message your query conveys. In the book, the father is a more passive element and could be accused of lack of faith, at least until he is at death’s door. Once he is, he exhibits fatherly faith in extending his suffering and enabling his daughter’s escape, while insisting he has mortally wounded himself. So, even in the ‘real world’ and in spite of the obvious shortcomings of that world, that faith is there waiting in the worst of times.

    The book does convey the enormous faith of the surrogate father, the doctor at the orphanage, towards his charges and particularly the orphan Homer. That’s the best part of the book, I think. Also, Homer’s attachment to his own son, which was left out of the movie. That’s what makes them, as you say, ‘princes of Maine, kings of New England.’ (Interesting that is said to the boys; the girls get a prayer from their female supervisor.)

    I have a bit more to say, but I will do that in a separate comment.

  9. Continuing on from my previous comment, I will quote you again, wendye, because I heartily agree:

    “i will say that ‘the bone people’ left me shuddering and shivering many times as i read, holding my breath waiting for what would come next. such a fine story, and yes, ‘saga’ would fit nicely.

    Shuddering and shivering is a perfect description for both novels, as is ‘didactic’ which you also use to describe ‘The Cider House Rules.’ And both are about family, aren’t they? The freedom and possibility to have family in a tortuous if savagely beautiful world. I was struck that the orphanage is very womblike. Faith abounds there, and innocence, and lies are told kindly to preserve that innocence. The savageries of the outside world very abortionlike, resembling both the surgical procedure and the horribly wrong-going alternatives.

    Lastly, for now at least, the novel and book diverge on another point. In the movie, the orphans get to watch (over and over) the movie ‘King Kong.’ But in the book, it is entirely through the reading of three novels that the orphans are entertained, and those novels are read over and over and passages in them return to the orphans as they go out into the real world. The novels are:

    “Great Expectations”
    “David Copperfield’ (for the boys)
    “Jane Eyre” (for the girls.)

    In the lightless womb of the orphanage, St. Cloud’s, no movies and even no television (Dr. Larch chucks the one they are given away after trying to watch the McCarthy hearings.) But a love of literature is wonderfully present, the sound of the voice reading.

    The father’s voice is part of the womb baby’s experience, not just the mother’s. The innocent baby is born into a startling and shiver-producing visual world. Read to your womb babies, fathers! It’s a lovely message.

    I also love that in his womblike ether-daze, Dr. Larch writes letters to the country’s ‘father’ figures to promote safe abortions – first with FDR and Eleanor, who ought to be sympathetic to his eloquent pleas; last finally giving up on Eisenhower. And here is one of the two epigraphs that precede the novel and really make my day:

    “Conventionality is not morality. Self-righteousness is not religion. To attack the first is not to assail the last.”
    –Charlotte Bronte, 1847

  10. no, juliania. i get that. i should have capitalized The Father, as in
    belief in god as the healing force in which greater faith was required. perhaps it’s hard for you to understand that non-believers, or even apatheists like myownself, don’t find that terribly…what…noteworthy? wish i could find a better term.

    and even after reading the rest of your similes and metaphors several times, i’ve backed out without addressing them three times now. would that i had the leisure time for a lengthy conversation these days, because irving’s work, and himself as a favorite author of mine, could be great fun. but alas, i am backed up with chores to the gills, what with gardening, trying to harvest and process its goodies (i’ve cut the extensive basil patches back thrice now for lack of time…. ), household repairs up the wazoo, and have communications galore requiring belated attention.

    i’d meant to work with the basil today, but was reminded earlier that folks are coming to install a new oven today at noon, lol. eeep, i’d forgotten, of course.

    but i thank you for giving me all that food for thought, and reminding me of the divergences between book and film. a day or two i was thinking of some bits of ‘a prayer for owen meany’, his best, imo, to bring to you as a bit of a foil to what you’d surmised above, but of course…i can’t remember now. if i do, ill bring it. ;)

  11. Ah, I didn’t twig because it isn’t faith in the Father Jesus is talking about here, but faith that he himself can do the healing. At least, that’s the question he usually asks in any similar situations, do you believe I can do this? (One reply from one desperate parent would be ‘Lord, I believe; help thou my unbelief.’) And the blind man who is given sight, when he’s questioned replies that he has no idea who this man is, just that he was blind and now he sees. So that was the reason for my miss, wasn’t thinking of Father and theological implications, just the thrust of the stories, the enormous need for a healing. As it happens more mundanely in the book, but as excellently (Irving even calls it a miracle) because the doctors are so good at what they do.

    Yes, garden chores – totally understand and night’s coming on fast, so they gotta get done!

    The book is amazing – I went back and read the parts I’d skipped, learned a lot more. Irving’s family background figures in prominently and he’s done amazing research. The connections I made are purely my own connections from my own sortings – somebody else would make entirely different ones I am sure. So, no worries at all.

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