Wednesday, December 23, 2009


Warning! If you haven't seen the new movie Avatar, there are some spoilers in this post (though I've tried to keep them to a minimum).

I'm fascinated by the premises of the James Cameron blockbuster Avatar. The film posits a future in which humans have evolved the technology to be able to forge a neural connection between the human mind and an "avatar" body -- an alien body created by using the DNA of the human being connecting neurally to it. Through this connection, the human mind is literally able to occupy the alien body from a great distance away, to live and move and feel and act through it, as if it were their own body.

This connection seems all the more plausible because the story in the film also posits that all life forms are mysteriously able to forge connections with other life forms. The aliens (called the "Navi") inhabiting the world of "Pandora" have special sensors that, when they touch them to analogous sensors possessed by other life forms (both plant and animal), they are able to communicate directly with those life forms. They create an intimate bond that enables them to feel and experience what that life form feels and experiences, and vice versa.

The most sacred place on the planet Pandora is a place occupied by the "Tree of Souls." The Tree of Souls is a kind of neural hub for the entire planet. The neural connections that life forms make with each other allow them to tap into an enormous, planet-wide network in which all life is connected. When any life form on the planet dies, its consciousness and memory returns to the Tree of Souls, personified by the Navi as a goddess, as "Eywa."

Sigourney Weaver plays "Dr. Grace Augustine," a hard-nosed scientist who has devoted her life to studying and understanding life on the planet Pandora, particularly the way in which life forms are able to form these bonds and interconnections with one another and with the planet. But Dr. Augustine approaches these interconnections from a scientific and rational perspective, whereas the Navi people themselves approach them from a spiritual perspective. At a key moment in the film, however, Dr. Augustine is connected to the Tree of Souls. She becomes aware of the collective consciousness that is a part of Eywa, and she exclaims in a moment of rapture, "She is real!"

Since the movie was released last week, I've seen it twice already, and at this moment in the film I just weep. For me, it is the most moving scene in the film. Even now, just thinking about that scene sends shivers down my spine. Why? Because I have had that experience. Because for me, that moment in the film functions as an incredibly powerful metaphor of the nature of our relationship to God.

I have often tried to explain what it is like to receive a prompting from the Holy Spirit. I can only try to explain it in words. The words of human language communicate at the level of the rational, at the level of mind. They can always only ever approximate the fullness of human experience. And they can point to, but they cannot capture the Spirit.

What I can say is that when the Spirit is present, in communication with my spirit, it is unlike anything else I have ever experienced. And it is real! It is literally a sense of being connected to something so much larger and more powerful than myself. And it melts the sense of being disconnected from others as well. I so often have had the experience of being in a fast and testimony meeting where the Spirit was so powerfully present. And not just I, but all present are partaking. We are all moved. Many of us weep. And in those moments, each of us is not only connected to God, but we are connected to each other too. The Spirit opens up those connections, teaching us about our oneness.

I long for a world in which we all sense those connections, in which we all recognize the fundamental unity that makes us all brothers and sisters, that makes us part of an intricate web of life that God created, through which we learn and discover profound truths about ourself and our divine nature. Through my life experiences I have also come to learn that the intricate connections between mind, body and spirit are the key to the way that we connect. The physical bodies we inhabit are the conduits through which mind and spirit connect with the world and learn about their relationships with each other and with God. I long for all of us to make those connections as well, to learn what is learned through the intimate physical connections and relationships we all hunger to make.

But I have also learned that to experience the fullness of life and spirit, we need to move beyond the what is merely rational, what is merely comprehended by human language and human science. Like Dr. Augustine in the film, we can devote our entire lives to studying the connections, but we will never truly understand them until we actually become connected not just to each other but to the Spirit. Our understanding will always be clouded until we touch and are touched, and the realization dawns on us that "It is real!"


sara said...

Did you enjoy Contact?

Jon said...

So I have been holding off on reading this post until I was able to see the movie. That didn't end up happening until this past Monday. Amen to everything you said. That connection to the spirit and God and therefore to those around us is so sweet and beautiful and transformative.

The part that really got to me is when Jake finds his own bird to fly on. I can't remember what they are called. He's told he will know know his bird because the bird will choose him and he asks how he will know this. The answer he is given is that the bird will try to kill him. I couldn't help but think of the bird as weakness or trials or whatever. They have the potential to kill us but also have the potential to teach us how to fly.

J G-W said...

Yes, that's a theme in this film... If you want to live, you have to face death. It's sort of a reiteration of that teaching of Christ: "For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it."