Thursday, 22 October 2009

A Living Doll

(Do you remember the song? It suddenly rang out in my years. ...Gotta do the best to please her just 'cause she's a living doll...)

The inspiration for writing this blog entry is a Japanese film by Hirokazu Kore-eda, whichI was privileged to see a couple of weeks ago. His recent Still Walking is, by the way, the winner of Oslo Kinos lanseringspris and will now be running in film theatres.

I fished The Air Doll out of the blue, one of several hundred festival films, one I never heard of, one I picked by accident just to watch a Japanese film by a reputedly famous director.

It kept haunting me ever since, coming back through memories of the things I read, gender discussions, other films, spiritual conversations and even all things Japanese.

After ten minutes of watching it, I remeber thinking - I cannot believe a man filmed this. The first thing my friend told me after it was over, was: was the director a man? Yes, my dear, the director was a man. Paradoxically, this was the most spiritual film I have ever seen, specifically Christian films aside. The fact that it reminded me of the controversy discussed in the link above - whether women have souls - is I think in line with what the director intended, even though his creation is so multi-leveled it is bound to have a life of its own.

Why is it a paradox that I found this film spiritual? You see, it is about an inflatable sex doll. A cheap one. Her owner comes home every night to her, talks to her, dresses her, eats with her, and... you know. She is a sex doll, after all. Made to be a substitute. Made to fulfil sexual desires.

But she finds a heart. She opens her eyes and starts to breathe. She finds a heart and starts to lie. Empty inside. Understanding her emptiness. Even her name is someone else's. Looking for the Other. The Other that is not a substitute.

The film was shockingly correct in pinpointing the modern/permeating attitude to sex, but also the sense of emptiness and loss, this all-consuming search for the real thing, for the Other in all the things that only increase empriness and drag further away from reality. However, one aspect of it, what I reacted most to, was this 'living doll' thing, something the classical feminists would have been incredibly proud of, whether it was the director's intention or not. Of course, the gender tension takes on a rather dramatic turn in the very end, but it only reinforces what we already understand. Nobody wanted her to have a heart. A slim, lovely, silent, dressed-up beautiful doll. Who never has a headache, mind you. Why would she need a soul???

Highly recommended! I think everyone could relate to the big-city emptiness Kore-eda presented, and the gender problem cut to the heart. Grown-up men were all teary-eyed in the end and my friend told me she would have started weeping aloud had it not been for fear of humiliating me in public...

Saturday, 3 October 2009

On Taize and lectio divina.

Taize prayers have meant a lot to me for various reasons for a half of my life now, even though it is a river that I never enter twice.

Yesterday, while praying, or singing, or whatever one may call it, I realised the Taize practice was much like lectio divina. Of course, I had no idea what lectio divina meant 15 years ago, when I first got my taste of Taize in Wroclaw, Poland. But instinctively, I realised even then that the repeating texts somehow penetrate my thoughts, envelope them and then rise above them, taking these thoughts into a prayer, dedicating them to God. Distractions are somehow a very minor problem with a Taize kind of prayer.

What occurred to me yesterday, and what I had no idea of before, is that the practice of lectio divina has exactly the same pattern and purpose - repeating the Word, chewing on it, until it becomes part of you, until it becomes part of your thoughts, the ever-present threads of memory and ideas and realisations. And it shouldn't matter that some of these thoughts have nothing to do with the Word that I medidate on. The whole purpose of the practice is to offer them to God along with everything else, good and bad, to consecrate my whole self by the healing word.

Expressed in words, this all sounds very dry and clinical. I think this is because it is understood by practicing. With the added dimension of music and harmony Taize songs made the practice real and present for those who never felt drawn to institutionalised religion. I could only praise br. Roger's genius...

Thursday, 1 October 2009

One of my days on Gozo

It is pleasantly hot, nothing like the excruciating August heat. The house I am staying at is gorgeous, neither words nor pictures do it justice. The lower floor is some 300 years old, used to be a manger, with holes in stones for tying the animals still intact. There is a huge roof terrace, a courtyard, an inner well, a balcony onto which two bedroom open, it is a paradise! And in a quiet dead end street lined with plants in huge pots.

Church clocks beat time every quarter of an hour. Technically speaking, I don’t even need a watch here. I think they stop some time during the night and start again at 5 am. Oh yes, from 5 am on, life begins…

I started my first day on Gozo, rather confused yet, and unable to find the right church, with a mass at 10 am. Then prayer in front of the crucifix.

What is it about Malta that makes me prioritize the right things at once? I have only been gone for 5 months, and yet again - people who are important are forgotten, the mass and prayer that should be the centre of all life, of all day, are somehow shoved aside. Not neglected, but just, somehow, not in the centre. Is there too much to do in our over-civilized world? Too many choices? Too much information?

In Marsalforn, I got on a bus, and as the driver was starting the engine, I noticed with my side vision that an elderly lady one row behind me on the other side made a sign of the cross and characteristically kissed the crossed fingers. As much as I was tempted to think of this being directly related to the Gozitan/Maltese driving technique, the recent Scripture came at once - never say or do anything except in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Yes, it’s that simple, isn’t it?

When I prayed in front of the crucifix in the basilica today (St George), I suddenly thought: “This is where I want to be, yes, exactly in this niche, in this corner tucked away from the world, in this place, in this state of mind”. After a few seconds had passed, I realized this was exactly what Peter wanted to say when he saw Our Lord transfigured on the mount. He wanted them all to stay as they were - in that feeling, in that place, in that moment. The Lord didn’t answer him anything…

Neither did he answer me, of course, but as minutes passed by and I looked at the crucifix again, I almost saw it. Peter couldn’t stay. Neither could Our Lord. He had to go to the cross. As a matter of fact, so did Peter. We all have to follow in the footsteps of our master, and if even he could not remain in that state forever who am I to expect perfect choices in perfect circumstances? I remembered my last evening in Whitland last year and the way I suddenly saw the cross as my own… I suppose, it will only be in heaven that we will actually be able to experience this perfection constantly.