Some stories are told.
Some stories are portals to transformation.
When my spirit takes a hit, the piles on my desk can wait, and I settle in to watch As it is in Heaven. The story takes us on one man’s journey to recover his lost joy. Or, more succinctly, to recover and replenish his heart.
Daniel Daréus (Michael Nyqvist) wanted to live in order to create “music that opens people’s hearts.” Music as sanctuary.
Daréus becomes a successful international conductor whose music does indeed, open people’s hearts.
His own heart, however, is in bad shape.
And in need of repair.
Even if we don’t have the words, we know (or feel) this kind of loss. Or absence. In a way, even more so now.
We may not be eminent conductors, but we know what it feels like when something is missing, and that something is the music of our heart.
Who knows the reasons for a cracked or wounded heart? In Daréus’ case, he knew the loss of a father and a childhood of persistent and physical bullying. The movie picks up after he has achieved international acclaim. And we watch him suffer a heart attack on stage, at the end of a performance. He “retires” from music and retreats indefinitely to Norrland, in the far north of Sweden, to the same village where he grew up and endured a thorny childhood. Daniel buys, and lives, in the old elementary school.
It doesn’t take long in a small village before the news of his distinguished presence is known. (His name has changed since his childhood, so no one knows his “history” with the village.) Immediately, he is invited to spend a Thursday night listening to the church choir. He is asked only to listen, and maybe “offer some helpful advice,” but their intentions of persuading him to lend a hand are obvious. Eventually, he reluctantly agrees. And after the parish minister offers him the position of cantor, Daniel accepts.
Yes, this small town has a church choir made up of the usual motley normality of people, including (among others) Inger, the repressed wife of Stig, the parish minister; Lena, charismatic and vivacious and love interest of Daniel; Gabriella, wife of an abusive and violent husband; Siv, the town gossip; Holmfrid, overweight and insecure; Arne, obsessive-compulsive businessman; and the slow mentally-affected Tore.
Daniel accepts the challenge.
He tells them that the music is inside.
He tells them that each one has his or her unique tone. They must find (or uncover, or recover) it.
Oddly, there is no “plan” to his instruction or teaching. And yet… as he entices the group to create music that speaks to the heart, he rediscovers the joy of music that he has lost.
But this joy comes at a price. Whenever we find our way back into our own skin, there can be an amalgamation of love and envy and misunderstanding and accusation and power struggle and oppression.
The truth is this: we tether our identity to any number of hitching posts, our status, our self-righteousness, our anger, our pain or our grief. And whenever we do, we give up who we are, the very reflection of God inside of us (in our hopes, dreams, creativity, yearnings, generosity) in order to placate or impress or please or to just plain run and hide.
Yes, Daniel’s journey towards the healing of his “heart” is full of pain, mistakes, difficult relationships, and emotional hurt. The same is true of every one of the people in the choir. Each one is struggling with hurt — abuse from those they love, oppressive religious “righteousness”, misunderstandings.
But here’s the deal: when the grace of unconditional love and acceptance seizes them whole, inspired by the transcendence experienced as they enter unabashedly into singing and music, they are transformed — not from the outside in, but from the inside out. Watching the movie, the tears fall and I say, “Sign me up for some of that.”
Sign me up for creating sanctuaries to refuel our hearts. Where we say no to shame, hatred, belittling and divisiveness.
Where we say yes to inclusion, courage, vulnerability and love.
Let us be that place.
And I love this. It is a transformational community made up of flawed people who accept one another for who they are, they commit themselves to loving each other and lovingly serving others by sharing their passion, that comes to life in their music. As they sing together, they transform the lives of others — not by imposing a false religiosity; not by demanding that certain rules be kept — but by allowing the grace they have experienced to flow through their lives and wrap around those who hear them. By experiencing their full humanity and the grace of others who accept them as they are, they can’t help but pass this on to others. It is unforced, inspiring, and life-changing.
Heaven occurs wherever real people, who struggle with what it means to be truly human, experience gracious, unconditional acceptance. The priest in the film is arrogant, self-righteous, puritanical and controlling. In a climactic clash between him and Inger (who has left him), the priest tells his wife to ask for God’s forgiveness. In one of the most powerful and memorable lines in the movie, his wife responds unequivocally, “God doesn’t forgive; He has never condemned.”
The director, Pollak, has said that, to understand the film, we need to realize that the entire message of the movie is in this one line — “The idea that absolute, complete love doesn’t condemn.” (Amanda Wilson, Sydney Morning Herald)
The power of the music is the power of Grace.
It is not something added to my life.
The music gives birth to what is already there. Now.
A place where we count. A place where we matter. A place where someone knows us, and sees us, and is willing to open their arms, wide. No matter what.
Maybe it’s not that we are afraid of love. Maybe we are just afraid of not being loved back.
Out in the garden, Autumn is center stage. Our weather is cooling, and you can feel the garden unwind.
I’m off to Washington’s Pacific Coast for a couple days to walk beaches, read a good book and enjoy a pint or two at sunset.
Quote for your week…
A song will outlive all sermons in the memory. Henry Giles
Notes. As It Is in Heaven is a 2004 film directed by Kay Pollak. It was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the Hollywood 77th Academy Awards.
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In the mailbag… because your letters affirm us all…
–I’ve forwarded your daily dose to a handful of friends likely in need of your nourishing reminders of this life, yes! blessings, Shauna
–Hi Terry, This SM resonated with me. I was taught early in life to love and savor every moment we live, to care for and love my fellow man and give thanks to my Lord for his may blessings. This is how I’ve lived these 85 years of my life. And, coming from the beautiful island of Puerto Rico, I “dance”. Sure helps to deal with everyday life I look forward to Sabbath Moment every week. Thanks Rita
–I love looking up at the moon in the middle of the night, dancing anywhere including in the kitchen while cooking to the annoyance of my boys, and delight in the hummingbirds. P.S. We love reading your Sabbath Moments too. They are so much light in a dark time. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart to the top, thank you. Namaste. Maya
–Hi Terry, Thank you for your words , Always uplifting. If you haven’t read it yet, I think you will like “ Braiding Sweetgrass” by Robin Wall Kimmerer. You’ll know why when you read it. Keep on! Linda
POEMS AND PRAYERS
Hold your heart in all tenderness.
Something healing this way comes.
It is now that my life is mine
I’ve got this short time on earth
And my longing has brought me here
All I lacked and all I gained
And yet it’s the way that I chose
My trust was far beyond words
That has shown me a little bit
Of the heaven I’ve never found
I want to feel I’m alive
All my living days
I will live as I desire
I want to feel I’m alive
Knowing that I was enough
I have never lost who I was
I have only left it sleeping
Maybe I never had a choice
Just the will to stay alive
All I want is to be happy
Being who I am
To be strong and to be free
To see day arise from night
I am here and my life is only mine
And the heaven I thought was there
I’ll discover it there somewhere
I want to feel that I’ve lived my life!
From: As It Is In Heaven
Py Bäckman / Helen Sjöholm
God bless our contradictions,
those parts of us that seem out of character.
Let us boldly and gladly live out of character.
Let us be creatures of paradox and variety–
creatures of contrast;
of light and shade; creatures of faith.
God be our constant.
Let us step out of character into the unknown,
to struggle and love and do what we will.