Every so often, I need a break from whatever is currently occupying my attention. Occasionally, I will watch a film. These are usually whatever I can find online and I seldom have a clear idea of what I fancy until something catches my eye.
Now, I freely admit that I am useless where films are concerned. I have neither been a movie buff, nor followed fashion. I’ve never… except for one brief period in Paris… had access to a cinema that showed arthouse films and even many of the cultural and cinematic classics escaped me, including those popular movies counted as old favourites by many.
Most movies aimed primarily at women have never really attracted me; Gone with the Wind was fifty years old before I saw it, I never did see Grease and I only watched Dirty Dancing only because it was a Christmas present. Anything more modern than that has probably escaped my notice until recently. Most of the films I know well are the black and white ones that hit the TV screen during my childhood. Stuart, who has excellent taste in films, has stopped asking ‘if I have seen’ and merely assumes, quite rightly, that I probably haven’t.
Wandering through what is available free online, I can be drawn by some weird and wonderful things. It may be a name or a screenshot, a title or a premise. I have watched some appallingly bad films… some so bad I just had to keep watching… as well as finding some real gems. Just because everyone else has seen them, doesn’t stop them being new to me… and within those gems are sometimes odd details that set me off thinking.
One such detail was a moment in Shadowlands, a biographical film by Richard Attenborough, based upon the marriage of C.S. Lewis, creator of the Narnia stories to American author Joy Davidman. Having read much of his work and being completely unaware of this film, I felt almost duty-bound to take a couple of hours off to watch Anthony Hopkins’ portrayal of Lewis. The dialogue was well written, his performance as well crafted as always, and it is a very moving film. There is a moment within the film when the grief-stricken ‘Lewis’ cries out, and it stopped me in my tracks…
“I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time – waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God- it changes me.”
For one, brief and fleeting instant, I understood something I have always known. ‘It doesn’t change God – it changes me.’
Prayer can take many forms, prayers are offered for many reasons… but prayer, as I personally understand it, need not always be religious.
As a child at Sunday-school, we were taught a very simplistic idea of prayer. Given that our world was but a pale shadow of the heaven to which we were supposed to aspire, we were taught how to pray in the hope of getting there. I could never quite get my head around the idea that by kneeling humbly in prayer we would be able to convince any god to give us what we want. I was never convinced, either, that a god big enough to create the entire universe was just waiting for my rote-learned praise and/or apologies and requests. The way we were being taught to pray made me feel as if we were treating God like a pick ‘n’ mix counter.
Didn’t ‘He’ get fed up listening to ‘bless Mummy and Daddy and Grandma and Grandad and…’ ad nauseum? Why should ‘He’ make me a good girl? If ‘He’d’ already made me, shouldn’t I at least be doing that on my own?
So I fell out with prayer for a while. Or with religious dogma. Or both. But the conviction of some vast and cosmic Intellect, the guiding Principle behind Creation, never left and, as I grew up a little more, I began to seek a new way to pray.
I found it in the land… in the way the heather covers the hills in summer, in beech woods carpeted with bluebells, in the sparkle of minerals in rocks and the chorus of birds that greets the rising and going down of the sun. Prayer was not about mouthing a few platitudes to a god, abasing oneself or presenting him with a shopping list. I felt it should be a continual celebration of the life we have and share. Prayer was not something to do at all… it was something to be.
With that revelation came the beginnings of joy and an inner freedom that remains to this day. That was why the phrase from the film had struck home; I recognised it… “because I can’t help myself.” And seeing life as the prayer has certainly changed me.
I am not sure I agree with the rest of the quote though. ‘It doesn’t change God’… I think it might, though not in the way we were taught as children, when we were given to understand that our supplications might change the mind of God and convince ‘Him’ to grant our wishes, like the genie in a magic lantern.
I no longer believe this world to be a pale shadow of anything… I believe it to be itself, just as it is and, that, if we are here, it is for, and with, a purpose.
If we, and all we know as life are part of one universal Life, do we not ‘change God’ through the essence of our experience? And, if we see life itself as the prayer, and live our lives within it, then we are adding to a well of understanding from which we may all drink.