Thursday, April 24, 2014

"Gravity", the Octave of Easter, and Mystagogy

My husband bought me the DVD set of Gravity for me as an Easter present and we watched it together Easter Monday evening. I readily admit that my viewing of movie, beyond appreciating the plot, excellent acting, and special effects is influenced by this week of Easter celebration. But from the special features on the second DVD in this package, I know that the creators meant for this to be a story about rebirth and redemption; it's a space adventure that helps even the viewer overcome her fears. Warned by George Clooney's character Matt Kowalski (as he jokes) that he has a bad feeling about this mission, at first I did not think I could watch the disaster that was about to occur.

At the end of the movie, Ryan Stone, the neophyte, stumbles to her feet after her rebirth and baptism, experiencing gravity after being weightless, and murmurs, "Thank you". Who is she thanking? She has emerged from the womb of a tiny capsule and plunged into death before rising to a new life. How will she live from now on? At the beginning of the movie, while she feared being in space as a scientist-cum-astronaut, she enjoyed the silence and isolation. Facing her fears and overcoming one danger after another, she has to accept both letting go and deciding to go on. When she thinks she is going to die and prepares to give up and die, she regrets that there is really no one to mourn for her, no one to pray for her--and that she does not know how to pray, because nobody ever taught her how. Once she decides to try to survive, she does pray: she talks to a person she believes is in some happy afterlife so that he can give a message to someone she loves. And then she says her prayer of gratitude once back on earth.

In the early Church, this Octave week of Easter, each day celebrating the Solemnity of Solemnities, Easter Sunday, was dedicated to the neophytes, those who had been brought into the Church at the Easter Vigil. As they attended Mass during the week they wore their baptismal white robes until Low or Quasimodo* Sunday (From the Introit: Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite ut in eo crescatis in salutem si gustastis quoniam dulcis Dominus--I Peter 2:2)After that Mass, they put aside their white albs and joined the community without distinction--but they continue their mystagogic catechesis, learning more about the mysteries they had only heard about during their long catechumenate.

The movie, of course, ends with Ryan Stone on the beach, waiting for her rescuers. The movie is over, but the story hasn't ended. If she is to continue to grow in her new life, she will need some mystagogy: perhaps someone to teach her more about prayer; a community to give and receive help and support; some way to live out the change (the conversion) she's just experienced. She may have escaped the dangers of carbon dioxide, space debris, fire, freezing, and hopelessness by herself, but she wasn't alone. Kowalski was somehow there with her even after he sacrificed his life for her, and the simple Inuit fisherman Aningaaq, with his barking dogs and crying baby, comforts her. Those who trained her had prepared her; Houston awaited her and would track her once her capsule entered the atmosphere of Earth, sending someone to bring her home. Perhaps now home will be something more than going to work and driving aimlessly.

Even if you don't make connections like I have, Gravity is an exciting movie about resilience and survival. Sandra Bullock should have won the award for best actress of the year for this performance!

*Quasimodo, the bell-ringer from Victor Hugo's novel Notre Dame de Paris, is found as an infant at the cathedral on Low Sunday and is thus given his name from the Introit. More about Low Sunday here.

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