Monday, June 25, 2007

Sacred Silence

I've been working on a play about the life of Jesus (an exercise, by the way, that I would commend to every believer in Christ). As part of my process of wrestling with how best to dramatically portray certain aspects of Christ's life and ministry, I have been watching as many movies about Jesus as I can get my hands on.

Last night, at the recommendation of a good friend of mine, Göran and I watched Pier Paolo Pasolini's Gospel According to St. Matthew. The opening scene of this visually stark, spiritually poignant portrait of the life of Jesus begins with a close-up of the face of Mary. As the camera moves outward, we see that Mary is pregnant. The camera then cuts to the face of Joseph. He is taking stock of the situation. We read betrayal, anger, and disappointment on his face. The camera then cuts back to Mary's face. We read her anguish. Then, most devastating of all: no angry confrontations, no bitter recriminations. Joseph just quietly turns and walks away from Mary. There is not a single word of dialogue in this scene. The entire story is told with camera angles, facial expressions, and then Joseph's resigned departure.

In the next scene, we see Joseph on the road. Suddenly, the angel appears, and we hear the first spoken words in the film: "Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins." Joseph turns back.

In the third scene, Joseph returns to the home of Mary. Mary sees him coming through the doorway. In the expressions on Mary's face we see helplessness and anguish give way to relief. In Joseph's eyes we see that anger and disappointment have melted into heart-felt apologies. Once again, there is not a single word of dialogue.

And I realized as I was watching this, that the true power of these scenes is the dramatic way in which they illustrate that the most important things in life cannot be said. There are certain truths of which only God can be the witness.


Beck said...

Haven't you noticed that after you've experienced a real communication with Diety how impossible it is to describe the emotion, the power, the impact with words? And even when you do use words to share with another person (be it one-on-one in a private conversation, or perhaps in a testimony meeting etc.)the true essence is shared spirit-to-spirit, without words! Words get in the way...

Thanks for your insights.

J G-W said...

Beck - words utterly fail. Sometimes the only adequate expression is weeping.

The power of this particular scene in Pasolini's Gospel was the reflection on what this must have been like for Mary - to know in her heart what God had called her to, and to be unable to explain it. And to face the possibility of losing everything as a result of it. And then, what inexpressible relief it must have brought her, once God spoke to Joseph, allowing for complete understanding and forgiveness.

Also interesting to me what kind of a test this must have been for Joseph. God could have revealed his plan to both of them at the same time, but he did not.