I recently visited my Netflix Queue to see what I might expect in the weeks ahead.
What I saw was a list with all of three titles, none of which was particularly compelling.
I’m sure that the reality of that short, unexciting roster says all kinds of things about my mood lately.
And right now, I don’t want to explore the possible implications.
But I will confess to a distinct lack of enthusiasm. And I also will assure you that I immediately went about fixing the length of said queue.
I added more titles, and as I did, I selected Tree of Life, which recently got an Oscar nomination for Best Picture.
… Actually, I didn’t just add it.
I put it at the top.
And so it arrived.
And so I watched it last night.
I can’t recall the last time I saw a movie that was quite so “trippy.” (I’m guessing Terrence Malick is a fan of recreational drugs.)
What I loved more than anything, though, was how the visual poetry of Tree of Life was set up.
As early as possible, I got the message. We have two choices: “nature” or “grace.” And those of us who pick grace might never be thanked for it.
Having not before considered these two as ultimate options (that also are in conflict with each other), I was immediately drawn in. And during a long montage that revealed what we call “nature,” I was reminded of its qualities.
Nature is intense, cruel, and explosive.
That is nature.
And therefore, if you accept Malick’s thesis as to the other choice, grace must be calm, kind, and gentle.
I think that’s about right.
I didn’t look at the clock while it was happening, but the montage I mentioned just a moment ago went on for quite some time. And while it was mostly a long, long series of shots that revealed nature in all its intense and explosive cruelty, there also were moments of grace. Many moments of grace.
But the message was not about grace. The message was about nature.
And that got me thinking about a phrase we use: “It’s just human nature.”
And so, with a newfound appreciation for the meaning of “nature,” I revisited that phrase.
It’s just human nature, perhaps, to be intense, cruel, and explosive.
It’s a survival impulse. And because nature is, above all, so powerful, it’s human nature to take actions that are based on a desire for power. (A desire, perhaps, that comes from fear of a greater power.)
Unless… you recognize that grace is another option.
To be graceful is to take a risk. Your calm, kind, and gentle manner – grace in action – is unlikely to be rewarded. That manner will not pay the rent or provide you with acquaintances who can get you ahead in this world.
Being graceful goes against nature.
But maybe, that's why we NEED it?
…And then there’s the mention of God.
Oh yes, God figures into Tree of Life.
And from what the story told me, the purpose of God is to help both sides explain their situation.
That’s why we need to believe in God.
What else can possibly explain (or excuse) this conundrum?
What else can explain pitting us against each other century after century?
… Each other.
The ones who follow nature and those who believe in grace.