Sunday, June 19, 2016

Proper 7 C- June 19, 2016

Holy Cross Monastery, West Park, NY
Br. Roy Parker, OHC
Proper 7 C - Sunday, June 19, 2016

 Monk praying at Holy Cross Monastery
(photo credit  a  monk of Holy Cross Monastery)

A textual note at the beginning will convey something of the alarm of the demons at Jesus’ sudden appearance in their territory. Translations of the Hebrew Bible have a tendency at times to turn the text into something else, and in this case Isaiah’s verse of God saying, “I said, ‘Here I am, Here I am’ to a nation that did not call on my name” actually reads, “I said ‘Behold, I, Behold I’ to a nation that did not call on my name.” This is the nature of Jesus’ sudden appearance.

I’d like to present this reflection on the Gospel story of the healing of Legion the Demoniac by borrowing some illustrative events from the autobiography of Leslie Caron, the French film actress, in particular those attending the decline of her acting and dancing career in later years.

The first movie I went to in Boston my freshman year in college was An American in Paris, the hot film in September, 1951, starring Leslie Caron and Gene Kelly among others, and I went to see it, I think, two or three times because it had just hit the theaters and was a great device for making new friends as well as diverting pressures at the beginning of the academic year. I think Leslie Caron particularly impressed me because she resembled my younger sister, and I took note of Gene Kelly because in the opening scene he rises from sleep in his Parisian garret with every hair on his head in place and perfectly made up. Early 1950s Hollywood.

Therefore, what caught my attention more recently was an interview Ms. Caron gave on NPR on the occasion of the publication, several years ago, of her autobiography Thank Heaven. The interviewer, Scott Simon, remarks, “You were 18 when you came to Hollywood with your mother. Was it both thrilling and frightening to be an 18- year-old in Hollywood?”She replies,”It was, yes, mostly forbidding. I didn’t know anything about filming and these great big holes where everything is dark except the light on you, and you’re being filmed by a sort of metallic monster. And I didn’t know anybody. And I didn’t know the language. So it was very intimidating at first. And Gene used to tell me: Honey, turn your face to the camera; otherwise your grandmother won’t know you’re in the film.”

Scott Simon goes on:”There’s a startling sentence in your book which if you don’t mind I will read. You turn the page to a new chapter and it says, What does it feel like to reach 50 when you’ve been known for your juvenile charm? Age crawls behind you and sneaks under your skin like an imposter.”

Leslie Caron explains: “It doesn’t feel good. It feels frightening. And I don’t think it’s just frightening for actresses. I think it’s frightening for every woman and possibly every man too. Suddenly men don’t look at you in the same way in the streets. And suddenly there isn’t the same, you know, kindness in the policemen if you get arrested for a yellow light. Everything changes. Suddenly you don’t get those scripts anymore.”

Scott Simon continues: “Well, you’re quite candid in the book about saying that you found some liquid consolation.” She answers: “Yes, I did. And I really was floundering. I didn’t know where to go, what to do. I did do this Auberge, the bed & breakfast. . . I rebuilt . . . there were three or four houses practically in ruins, so I had to rebuild them. And once the work was over at night, I just found myself very much alone, very empty and lonely and tired. So I would, you know, have a drink and so on, and it became a very bad habit. I was on very dangerous grounds there.”

Scott Simon: What kind of - to use the British phrase for it - pluck does it take to pull out of that? Leslie Caron: “You have to want to. You have to look at yourself and decide, do I want to live or do I let myself die? Because it doesn’t take any time at all when you’re on that bad slide to not wake up one morning. So I decided, I guess, I want to live. And I went to see a psychiatrist and I went to AA, and I did both for several years, every day, every day, every day, and pulled myself out of it. And then when you get there you are happier than anybody who’s never been down the pit. That’s the great reward, is that you really cherish joy, happiness and life. “Leslie Caron’s autobiography skirts the mystery to which she alludes in that statement; in view of the fervor with which she says it in the interview, one wonders why the omission in the book whose very title suggests transcendent territory. As for heavenly gifts, she mentions only the happenstance of timely acting jobs which came her way while she was working herself out of the pit, which I suspect was an editorial device to enhance the book’s appeal, but the obvious fervor in her interview suggests she was entirely aware of the God-informed steps at the core of the AA program to which she devoted herself: viz. We admitted we were powerless over alchohol -- that our lives had become unmanageable. We came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. We made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood God. We sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood God, praying only for knowledge of God’s will for us and the power to carry that out.

(I can imagine myself in Legion’s place in saying this): The essence of this manifesto is the realization that I am ultimately helpless in the presence of the power which threatens my existence. But, ladies and gentlemen, here’s the arresting fact about Legion as a naked crazed human being, Leslie Caron as a despairing, aging actress, and myself as an equally desperate cradle Episcopalian. Once our preliminary circuitry gets fried to reveal the depth of our helplessness, we’re apt to be amazed by the revelation of a strange hard-wiring of faith which seems to be a gift from another place, like an unperceived God who appears when God’s insufficient predecessors have vanished. This brought Legion, clothed and sane, to be sitting at Jesus’ feet, and Leslie Caron, after years of hard inner work, to testify to the joie de vie of experiencing, and emerging from, the desolation of the pit.
Does this rid us of our demons?

Not according to Theodore Roethke who says, “If my demons are to leave me, I fear my angels will take flight as well.” Apparently we’re not after a demonless self, but a balanced diet of demons and angels. My angels are not interested in a soul-scape devoid of shadow. Those of my generation will remember a Sunday evening radio program starring Lamont Cranston which began: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows! Heh, heh, heh . . . “

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