Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Tree of Life




image from Tree of Life

Tree of Life (2011) is an unorthodox movie directed by Terrence Malick. It seeks to probe the meaning of existence. Why are we here? It is a sort of meditation. It revolves around a mythical 1950's Texas family composed of Father, Mother, and three sons. This family is framed in by a creation sequence which opens the movie. Although Malick draws from the modern myth of the Big-Bang as well as the myth of nebular hypothesis this creation sequence is truly stunning as is the entire movie. Malick's concepts are perfectly conveyed through symbols.

Malick draws from the Judeo-Christian tradition. The first frame of the movie is a couple of lines from Job 38:

Where were you when I set the foundations of the earth? . . .
When the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?

One concept taken from the Imitation of Christ written by the Medieval Catholic Thomas a Kempis: The way of nature and the way of grace (see Chapter 91, The Contrary Workings of Nature and Grace here). These contrary ways are embodied in the Father and the Mother. The Father is the way of nature and the Mother is the way of grace. The tension between the Father and the Mother symbolizes the tension between these two workings in us.


Malick seems to take Ecclesiastes' expression 'under the sun' to a spiritual level of meaning. In almost all the frames including the family the sun lingers in the background as if God is watching. It even halos the saintly Mother in a striking scene. The sun is a symbol for God. The movie culminates in a symbolic Resurrection sequence. In this the Mother is in a manner summoned by the Sun and is taken up to the Sun as if assumed in Heaven. The beauty of these scenes is unspeakable.




There is a symbol in the Resurrection sequence I am fond of. The camera sort of flies you over the ancient ruins on the Earth's surface. Then you are taken into an adobe house. In this house is a bedecked bride pale and lying dead on a bed. Then in a flash she is awake shimmering with light. A resurrected Bride like in the Book of Revelation. This movie has so many good things going for it that it would be impossible to comment it all in one blog. 

I credit this movie with teaching me a reason why God named the firmament Heaven (Hebrew Shamayim). From Genesis 1:8

And God called the firmament ‘Heaven.’

My understanding is that the firmament is Earth's sphere (i.e. the atmosphere, the sky). 

In the childhood scenes of Tree of Life, the Mother is holding one of her toddler children and spinning. She stops, points up toward the sky and says, "That's where God lives." And then it hit me. God labeled Earth's sphere: Heaven since he associated it with His sphere, that object that God built around Himself. God created His sphere prior to Earth and we also refer to this object as Heaven. The name is a concept relating Earth's sphere to God's sphere which is detached from all matter. Both are called Heaven. And I think God intends us to use this concept when we teach our children.

I read a book called 'The Life of Saint Joseph as manifested by Our Lord, Jesus Christ to Maraia Cecilia Baij.' Like Blessed A.C. Emmerich, Baij was a Catholic mystic nun. She had prophetic experiences of Saint Joseph's life and recorded them in this her book. There is a part when Jesus, Mary, and Joseph were living in Heliopolis, Egypt. If I recall correctly she recorded that they stayed there until Jesus was about six years old. In Heliopolis Jesus would befriend the children and teach them. Baij has it recorded that Jesus would point up to the sky and tell the children, "That is where my Father lives." Jesus and the Mother from Tree of Life do not mean this expression really or literally. It is a type of concept: a figurative association which God intended us to use.

This might explain the expression "the Heaven of Heaven". This is used by Solomon and others in the Old Testament (1 Kings 8:27):

For if heaven, and the heaven of heaven, is not able to contain you, how much less this house, which I have built?

They understood the association between Earth's sphere and that discrete sphere where God lives. The sphere of God is an object which God created discrete from matter. It is beyond matter. Up is a figurative association.  Some speculate God created His sphere prior to matter. This is where Jesus ascended too and where Mary was assumed too. This is where the just souls and good angels are taken up to in order to see God face to face. God lives there. We call it the Heaven of the Blessed or simply Heaven. Our atmosphere is an association with that discrete sphere of God we hope to go to. God naming the atmosphere Heaven is a conceptual figure. When a mother points up and says to her child, "That's where God lives" she is fulfilling God's purpose of the name.

One can also speculate as to why God chose the particular Hebrew word Shamayim to label the sky. This I will hopefully do when I get deep into my Genesis One interpretation, but I am as yet just at the surface.

So did Malick successfully convey the meaning of existence in his movie?
I think he did. It is embodied in the Mother's whispered voice overs:

Help each other
Love everyone
every blade of grass
every ray of light.
Forgive.

The only way to be happy is to love
Unless you love your life will flash by
Do good to them . . .
Wonder . . .
Hope.

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