Shadowlands and the magic lantern…

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.

40 thoughts on “Shadowlands and the magic lantern…

  1. That is a wonderful thought. I liked the movie too, by the way and most of the writing of CS Lewis, though oddly, I’m much more a fan of his theological stuff than of Narnia. I didn’t grow up with those books. Too Christian for a Jewish household, but my son grew up with them.

    Prayer changes YOU. Because the act of prayer throws your soul outward instead of inward. It is the opposite of worry. Thank you for the thought.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. ‘prayer throws your soul outward instead of inward’… I love that idea, Marilyn.
      I too love the works of Lewis…including Narnia, though, as I was brought up on them, and it took me a while to realise how Christian many of the lessons they offered were… they were just familiar tales about how to be decent human beings until I grew older and looked deeper.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Beautiful, Sue. Perceptive and profound. As you’re implying in your last para, God is not separate from us. The Oneness of which we are all part is ‘God’. Praying to ‘God’ is an appeal to that essential part of our own selves.

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  3. A nuanced post. I was drawn by the image and my love of the movie: The Shadowlands. For me, the scene that struck me most, was where Anthony Hopkins comforts the boy who has lost his mother by reminding him, “The pain we feel now is for the joy we felt then.” I have never forgotten that—even if I may be paraphrasing it. It has helped me through my times of grief!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Perhaps off topic, I know, but that photograph is truly impressive. I am about as far from religious as one can get, but seeing the lines of the tree’s shadow impresses on me the truth that religion can mean so many things to different people.

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    1. Thank you, Ken. I loved how the shadow of living wood played on old stone, framing the wood of the door. I belong to no Church myself, nor do I follow any orthodox or organised religion… but I am not sure I can say I am not religious, even though my faith is personal.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. God is an integral part of me and I am an integral part of God. He conceived me and I can understand who he is as well. There is no separation. I do not attend a church, and I do not need to in order to have this relationship.

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  6. Hi Sue,
    This was exquisitely written and I truly appreciate how you’ve expressed your experience of prayer and take on the movie. Very well put.
    I have a rather interesting take on Shadowlands. I’m not sure whether people are aware that CS Lewis’s stepson, Douglas Gresham and family lived in Tasmania for a time and my husband went to school in the small town of Scottsdale with his son, James, who had the misfortune to have his initials embroidered onto his hand-knitted school jumper in the days when everyone bar him and my husband, had machine knitted ones. Needless to say, the Greshams stood out in Scottsdale, but it was also a place where you could do your own thing too and go off the grid. It still is.
    Best wishes,
    Rowena

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  7. Hi Sue. I picked this up via a pointer from Rowena and wanted to offer a hearty Amen! Very well said. I would only want to add that I’ve found God big enough to take me in whatever frame of mind I’m in. He can respond to me when I’m calm and reverent or angry and tired of waiting for him to help or guide. Bu as this thread makes clear – my discussions with Him always change me – often lining me up with what he wanted to do for me anyway. Warmest regards.

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    1. Whatever our beliefs or frame of mind, Gary, I think prayer will always change those who pray with sincerity. At the most prosaic level we are taking time to frame our thoughts… which is not as common as it should be. For those with faith in a higher power,
      prayer allows us to turn our faces to It and perhaps see a little clearer in Its Light.

      Like

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