Thursday, October 29, 2009

Seals and A Serious Man

I went to see the Coen brothers' latest movie last Saturday night. It is called A Serious Man and is a dark comedy about how we understand our existence and the meaning of life. As the directors are Jewish they have drawn heavily from their understanding of Jewish faith, customs, and the nominal Jewish culture of the 1960s. It has a message like many Hollywood movies which can be summed up in the words of a Grace Slick, Jefferson Airplane song played incessantly throughout the movie: "When the truth is found to be lies and all the joy within you dies, don't you want somebody to love?" The main character gets hit by Job-like catastrophes, has a King David moment on the roof of his house, and finds himself questioning all he has ever believed. The Coens seem to insist upon an absence of meaning in the universe and that the only answers lie in having a good hedonistic time with sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll.

Now I am not a film critic or a philosopher, but as I walked home I found myself considering the message of this movie. If God is unknowable and the universe is meaningless then we truly are in a difficult predicament. I found myself talking to God and seeking to take every thought captive to the faith I profess. It occurred to me that the Coen brothers start at the presupposition that there is no God who communicates with us. I start from a place where I believe there is a God who communicates and so as I walked I prayed.

As I walked along the seawall of False Creek a seal popped its head out of the water and began swimming at the pace of my walk. A second seal raised its head and swam beside it. The two swam along beside me for a while before diving below the surface and disappearing. I commented to God that it seemed like He had given me a sign to reassure me but that it was so brief that it would be hard to know. As I continued to walk, the two seals appeared and kept pace with me again before diving and disappearing below the surface. I said to God, "If I were a man like Gideon I might ask for a third time." As if on cue, the two seals appeared beside me a third time, swam beside me for a few more meters, swam out into the middle of the bay, disappeared below the waves, and did not return.

I shared this story with a few trusted friends in my faith community. One friend said, "It made me chuckle, because it's not some miraculous display or even a small voice in your head, just this cute little show God put on for you to make you smile and give you a bit of reassurance."

Now skeptics will say that was all a coincidence and I cannot say it wasn't. There was no one around to witness this and even if there was what would that prove? Yet, I walked away from that moment amused and reassured. I felt that the Coen brothers were missing something in their understanding of life. Next time, I'm going to ask God to make the seals do tricks! :>)

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