Monday, February 16, 2009

Into the Wild and how stories unfold

We watched Into the Wild this weekend. Jack had picked it out, and I was very excited because I read the book twelve years ago, when I was living in South Korea, and remembered enjoying it a lot. I was not dissappointed. The movie, directed by Sean Penn, was wonderful and I was very moved.

It's a fascinating and true story of this incredibly wounded and senstive and beautiful and intense young man, Christopher McCandless, who tries to lose all the ties to society--to immerse himself in utter isolation in the wilds of Alaska, in his attempt to purge himself of the pain and woundedness of his family life and the ugliness of this worlds' systems. It's a true story, and tragically, McCandless died because of that isolation that he so craved.

He was an amazingly compelling character--he had this luminous beauty about him, as if he was really too beautiful, too pure, too "good" for this broken world--and it was if he just broke in the face of it. All the time, I kept thinking how deeply I wished he could have known Christ--how he craved Christ, it seemed to me. I hope that this helps me look at those around me differently. You meet those people, sometimes,--actually, I suspect far more often than we realize--the ones who are breaking on the wheel of this world, their own pure beauty (or as Lewis says, the weight of their glory) too much for even them to bear. But it's very hard to spot most of them-- I think.

The other thing this movie did for me was a grace-filled little tying up of a few loose threads in my life. I called my mom the day after I watched it (cause I always call her on Saturdays) and I was telling her about how moved I had been by the movie. I reminded her that she was actually the one who sent me that book when I was living in Korea, right after I graduated from college. She hadn't read it though...and my discussion with her didn't go that far, because it's usually not that enjoyable for a listener to hear all about a movie you just watched and they haven't seen. (Talk about an act of patient love on her part!)

But after I got off the phone with her, I reflected to Jack, "Hmmm, it's sort of interesting. She sent that book to me when I was in Korea. Me being there, to her it must have felt a little bit like i was in the wild. ..That venture of mine, it was just a little bit like Christopher's journey."

And Jack, with not uncommon but still surprising clarity, said, "It was more than just a little bit like that..."

He was right. In many ways I did venture into a deep and profound kind of isolation there, one I had long cultivated. And in many ways I was motivated by a strange and unhealthy and intense bitterness and frustration with everything in my history.

Honestly, without filling in any details, I came to self-destructing there in Korea.

I think I got a little more aware of how hard that must have been for my mom and dad.

But there are some profound differences, by grace, in my story.

One big difference is that I'm not much like that beautiful man. I am not that pure-hearted or beautiful and intense in spirit. Not at all...

Secondly, I did encounter Christ in that isolation. And then I wasn't alone. And all the days since that time have been a steady movement away from isolation (with some occasional months and years--including some very recent years--of self-absorbed backtracking) .

Recently, in the past year or so, by grace I have moved away from that old hurt and bitterness and shame and frustration that I had so cherished. My parents were nothing like McCandless's-- but I wanted someone to bear the responsibility for the messy feelings I had, for my loneliness (and I didn't want it to be me!) ... but now I feel only profound gratitude for the particular and wonderful and fascinating parents which I have. It's the same with my feelings about my extended family, the schooling I received, the friends I had, the tiny towns and midwestern culture where I grew up, the particular imperfect and sincere church I grew up in... All places where I poured out my contempt. But the truth is, they were all God's wonderful provision for me.... and they were beautiful and good in very real and specific and amazing ways.

I have some pretty intense sorrow that I used all that shame and frustration and bitterness as a way to keep the same controlling and selfish behaviour patterns for so many years.

But more than that, I feel grateful. In my own, far less dramatic way, I surely could have been another Christopher McCandless. We all could get lost forever in unforgiveness or in shame or in selfishness or in distorted ideas about ourselves and this world.

And again I come back to wanting to learn to move away from those old habituated sins of control that keep me in self-absorption and isolation-- because of the Christophers in the world, so that perhaps more of them could know Jesus.