Suzanne and I saw Hidden Figures recently. It’s an excellent, well-crafted movie about the successes of three black women in the pre-integration South. The all-star cast includes Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kevin Costner, and Kirsten Dunst. Hidden Figures is based on the true stories of Katherine Goble, later Katherine G. Johnson (Henson), […]
While visiting my sister-in-law a while back, we watched the movie version of Man of La Mancha. It stars Peter O’Toole as Don Quixote, Sophia Loren as Aldonza, and James Coco as Sancho Panza. I will admit at the top that I prefer the Broadway casting. Richard Kiley embodied Don Quixote almost entirely. The only other case I’ve seen of an actor so completely embodying his character was William Daniels in 1776.
Despite the casting, the movie is quite good. It is a pretty faithful rendition of the Broadway musical, which concerns Miguel de Cervantes, the Spanish writer, and his character Don Quixote de La Mancha. In the musical, Cervantes is a prisoner of the Inquisition and the prisoners act out the story in the cell.
Don Quixote is Alonzo Quijana, an elderly Spanish landowner who has read a lot of books about knights-errant and is out to restore the ethic of chivalry to his society. He and his friend Sancho go off in search of dragons to slay. Instead, they encounter windmills and other such items, and they stop at an inn (which Don Quixote insists is a castle) where the innkeeper formally dubs him.
While there, they encounter the scullery maid Aldonza, whom Don Quixote declares to be his noble lady Dulcinea. One of the most beautiful songs in the show is his paean to Dulcinea. Aldonza, of course, rejects him completely, but winds up taking his side in a “battle.”
Don Quixote continues to fight to restore the noble ideals of the knights-errant until he is felled. At the end, back at his estate and restored to his identity as Alonso Quijana, he is visited, first by Sancho and then by Aldonza, who has completely transformed. She now sees herself as Dulcinea. She encourages Don Quixote to get back out in the world.
We can learn a couple of lessons from the book Don Quixote, and from Man of La Mancha. First, whatever your vision is, follow it, no matter how many windmills stand in your way or how many seemingly ridiculous battles you have to fight. The most famous song from the show, “The Impossible Dream”, sets out Don Quixote’s vision and his quest. Do you have a vision? Are you willing “to follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far”?
The other lesson is in the form of a question. How do you see yourself? Who do you think you are? Do you see yourself as an Aldonza or as a noble Dulcinea? How you see yourself will define how you are in the world. Look how Don Quixote transforms Aldonza. Look who she becomes. If your life is not in a place you like, you too can make that transformation. You can change your inner Aldonza into Dulcinea.
This is a powerful, lovely, and very entertaining movie. If you haven’t seen Man of La Mancha in some form, I recommend that you do so.
This Saturday, Suzanne and I saw another production of the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD. This time it was a double feature: two one-act operas, Iolanta and Bluebeard’s Castle.
Iolanta starred the wonderful pairing of Anna Netrebko in the title role and Piotr Beczala as Count Vaudemont. Bluebeard’s Castle was well performed by Nadja Michael and Mikhail Petrenko. I would like to focus on Iolanta.
Iolanta, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s last opera, is based on a fairy tale by Henrich Hertz. It tells the story of a blind princess. Her father, King Rene of Provence, has sent her to live with Martha and Bertrand, two “simple” people. Iolanta does not know that she is blind or that she is a princess. This is on her father’s orders. He is especially concerned that her betrothed, Duke Robert, not find out. Iolanta is convinced that eyes are only for crying.
A messenger arrives to announce a visit from the King and a Moorish doctor. The doctor says that in order to be cured of her blindness, Iolanta must be told of her condition and she must want to be cured. He sings of the interdependence between mind and body, spirit and matter. The King refuses to let his daughter be told of her disability.
Duke Robert and his friend Vaudemont arrive at the house. Despite a sign saying that anyone who enters the grounds without permission will die, they enter. Robert has been betrothed to Iolanta since childhood, but he is in love with a woman named Matilda. On the other hand, as soon as they see Iolanta, Vaudemont is struck by her and immediately falls in love.
After Robert departs, Vaudemont talks to Iolanta and asks her for a red rose. Twice she gives him a white one, and he realizes that she is blind. Since Iolanta has no idea of color or light, Vaudemont explains light and sings of its glories.
King Rene returns and finds Vaudemont talking to Iolanta. He is furious that Vaudemont has revealed the secret to Iolanta. Iolanta doesn’t know if she even wants to see, prompting the doctor to say that this confirms his diagnosis that no change is possible without an inner desire. King Rene reminds Vaudemont of the sign and threatens him with death unless the cure works. This sparks a strong desire in Iolanta to be cured.
The doctor leaves with Iolanta and the King explains to Vaudemont that he was pretending in order to motivate his daughter to accept the cure. Robert reappears, telling the King that he will marry Iolanta if the King wishes, but his heart will always belong to Matilda. The King releases him from his pledge.
The doctor and Iolanta return. Iolanta can see! At first she is uncertain of her new gift, but she ultimately embraces it and her marriage to Vaudemont subdues her fears.
What do we learn from the story of Iolanta? Well, the doctor reminds us of the connection between our physical world and our inner, spiritual world. Iolanta’s conclusion reminds us that we do nothing without the inner idea, the mental equivalent. We have to desire it before we see it. (Quite literally, in Iolanta’s case.) It’s not just the word, it’s the inner spark of desire and knowing that causes a change in conditions.
Most importantly, we are reminded of the power of love. Although the King seems to be interested in his own desires and not in the best interests of his daughter, Iolanta’s desire to see grows from her desire to save Vaudemont, her love for him. Love conquers all. It even enables the blind to see the glorious light of God’s creation.
Another excellent performance, and another performance filled with wonderful metaphysical reminders.
For more information on the Met Live in HD, you can visit http://www.metopera.org/hdlive
Careful the wish you make
Wishes are children
Careful the path they take
Wishes come true, not free
Careful the spell you cast
Not just on children
Sometimes the spell may last
Past what you can see.
(Stephen Sondheim, Into the Woods)
Readers of this blog know that I love musicals. Today Suzanne and I saw Into the Woods. It’s a fascinating pastiche (what we sometimes call a mash-up) of the familiar fairy tales from our childhood, framed in an overarching story by James Lapine (writer of the book of the Broadway version and the screenplay of the movie version) and composer/lyricist Stephen Sondheim. We meet Cinderella, Jack (from “Jack and the Beanstalk”), Little Red Riding Hood, and Rapunzel, among others. There are even two princes involved.
The movie boasts an all-star cast, including Meryl Streep, Johnny Depp, Christine Baranski, Anna Kendrick, Emily Blunt, Chris Pine (also known for his role as Captain Kirk in the new Star Trek movies), James Corden, Tracey Ullman, and others.
There was a village on the edge of the woods. Among those who lived there was a witch (Streep) and her neighbors. When a woman becomes pregnant, the greens she needs are only available in the witch’s garden. Her husband begins to visit the garden in order to get the greens. One day, he is caught taking the greens and some beans from the garden. To rectify this, the witch demands their firstborn daughter (whom she names Rapunzel) and lays a curse on the house that they shall be barren. Their son is born, becomes a baker, gets married, and he and his wife wish to have a child. But the curse of barrenness has fallen upon him as well; so to reverse the curse, they must travel into the woods to get the witch a specific list of items: a cow as white as milk, a cape as red as blood, hair as yellow as corn, and a slipper as pure as gold.
To get these items, the Baker and his wife come into contact with Jack, who is selling his cow Milky-White, Red Riding Hood, who is traveling through the woods to her Grandma’s house in her red cape, Rapunzel, with her yellow hair, and Cinderella, with a pair of golden slippers.
Much of the plot from that point will be familiar, as it encompasses the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales. However, the characters find that their happily ever afters are not as anticipated. Yet they manage to make a happy ending while slaying the giant who is terrorizing the village.
What do we learn from all this? Well, for one thing, who knew these characters knew each other?
But on a more serious note, as one of our Center’s founding ministers, Rev. Noel McInnis, used to say, “We have freedom of choice, but not of consequence.” In every moment, we choose what to say and do, what goals to seek — and if we’re committed to them, wishes come true — but not free. There is always a price to pay. There are usually unanticipated consequences. We get where we’re going, but often not without getting lost in the woods along the way. And when we’re lost in the woods, the only thing to do is keep walking. If you don’t go through it, you’ll never get past it.
The woods represent our fears and doubts. They can be frightening, but we must walk through them. We have to walk through the woods, not around them. Once we master these fears, they’re no longer frightening. When we come through the woods, through the fear, things turn out for the best — but mostly not in the way we anticipated. They are not as anticipated for the Baker, for Cinderella, for Jack or Little Red Riding Hood, but they wind up in a happy place despite the unhappy circumstances. New chapters are unfolding, and things are working out for them in a new and different way.
We also learn a bit about blame and how it prevents us from taking necessary action. The characters’ releasing of blaming each other finally enables them to defeat the giant and create a new way of life for themselves, one that they could not have anticipated.
And then there is that lush score, including “Children Will Listen”, from which I quoted above. This is an entertaining, profound, bittersweet, and extremely entertaining movie.
Into the Woods — you have to go.
Recently, NBC has been helping to promote musicals. Last year, they had a very successful TV event with a live performance of The Sound of Music, starring Carrie Underwood. The show was so successful that they decided to do another. On December 4, NBC will be showing Peter Pan live. We’re looking forward to it.
Peter Pan is something of a mixed bag. Its score is listed as being by Carolyn Leigh and Moose Charlap, but the producers brought in the well-established team of Betty Comden, Adolph Green, and Jule Styne to replace a large part of the score.
I want to focus on two songs, one by Charlap and Leigh and one by Comden, Green, and Styne. The first song is Charlap and Leigh’s “I’m Flying”.
In the song, Peter teaches the Darling children to fly. First he sprinkles fairy dust, then he tells them that the key to flying is to “think lovely thoughts.”
“Think lovely thoughts” and you fly – isn’t that the Law in action? If you want your life to soar, think the loveliest thoughts you can and watch the results you produce.
But there is even more to be drawn from the song than that. There is a lesson in these lyrics:
(Flying, flying, flying)
I can soar
I can weave and what’s more
I’m not even trying.
For Peter, soaring is easy and effortless. He has mastered it. Reaching the heights in life is something Peter does without even trying.
In “Neverland” by Comden, Green, and Styne, Peter sings about his home, Never Never Land, Peter says:
I have a place where dreams are born,
And time is never planned.
It’s not on any chart,
You must find it with your heart.
And Peter goes on to say:
You’ll have a treasure if you stay there,
More precious far than gold.
For once you have found your way there,
You can never, never grow old.
Could fairy dust represent the substance of the Universe, abundantly sprinkled in our lives? Is it symbolic of the treasures that are “added unto you” when you seek to express the Kingdom in your own best way?
And never growing old is indeed a treasure. On his 90th birthday earlier this year, former President George H.W. Bush jumped out of an airplane. Charles Fillmore, the co-founder of Unity, wrote in his 94th year, “I fairly sizzle with zeal and enthusiasm as I spring forth with mighty faith to do that which ought to be done by me.” Neither of these men seems to have grown old.
I have long said that I fully intend to die young — at a VERY advanced age! The way that you do that is to live passionately and fully, to find your very own Neverland and live out your purpose as fully as you can. As Rev. Dr. Kathy Hearn said, “Find out who you are and do it on purpose. Organize your life around it.”
Henry David Thoreau tells us to “do what you love. Gnaw your own bone. Gnaw it, bury it, dig it up, and gnaw it still.” This is as much a set of directions to Neverland as “second star to the right and straight on till morning.”
Where is your Neverland? What treasure would you find following your heart that so energizes you that you can never, never grow old?
When we let Divine Principle guide us, we open to the greatest there is to be. Living in the realm of the lovely, we soar to a treasure more precious than gold. Be the biggest, best opening for God that you can be, and let yourself fly.
This past Saturday, Suzanne and I went to see the opening of the new season of the Metropolitan Opera Live in HD. They were presenting Macbeth, featuring an all-star cast, including baritone Zeljko Lucic in the title role, the brilliant and beautiful Anna Netrebko as Lady Macbeth, bass Rene Pape as Banquo, and tenor Joseph Calleja as Macduff.
Most of us know the basic plot of “The Scottish Play,” and Verdi’s lovely score is quite faithful to Shakespeare’s play from which the opera is adapted. Macbeth is a Scottish general. He and Banquo are returning home from battle when they encounter three witches who prophesy that Macbeth will be made Thane of Cawdor, then King, but that Banquo’s offspring will be kings after Macbeth. Macbeth and Lady Macbeth invite King Duncan to the castle and kill him. Macbeth becomes king. He later has Banquo killed. Banquo’s ghost haunts him, but Banquo’s son escapes. Macbeth is given more prophecies, to beware of Macduff, that “no man born of woman” can harm him, and that he is safe until Birnam Wood marches on his castle. Macduff and Malcolm (Duncan’s son) show up with English troops, meet Macbeth in Birnam Wood, and kill him.
Macbeth, the play and opera, carries some important lessons. One of our Center’s founding ministers, Rev. Noel McInnis, used to say that evil was “insistence on birth at the wrong time.” The prophecy is that Macbeth will be king, not that he is to be king right away. By killing Duncan, he pushes the prophecy to happen at a time when it is not supposed to. Macbeth is making something happen, not letting it happen. One of our great spiritual challenges is to get out of the way and let Spirit work through us. Macbeth kills Duncan to make his kingship happen rather than letting it happen. He kills Banquo because he is haunted by the thought of Banquo’s offspring becoming kings. In that case, he is trying to prevent something from happening.
It also tells us not to be distracted by the “shiny objects” of this world, such as power. Chasing “shiny objects” like power can bring negative consequences. Instead, we must align with Spirit to bring about the good that is ours.
In her interview, Miss Netrebko said that she loves playing characters like Lady Macbeth because they enable her to let out her darker side. New Thought songwriter Daniel Nahmod says that our dark side is not necessarily bad, just the side we don’t choose to let out. But as Macbeth shows us, if we don’t let out that side, it can turn malignant. We need to express who we truly are as fully as we can.
Finally, we learn that karma is always at work. By his murders, Macbeth sets off a chain of causation that ultimately results in his own death and that of his queen. Every choice we make carries consequences. Even not choosing carries consequences. While we are always choosing, we do not always control the consequences of our choices.
All in all, it was a very worthwhile afternoon.
“If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be,” as Yogi Berra once said. If you want to understand what this means, go see The Giver.
The Giver is in the great dystopian tradition of Animal Farm and 1984, Brave New World, Atlas Shrugged, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, and so many more. (It also evoked for me memories of the Ring cycle and Lord of the Rings.) It takes place in a “perfect” society that has eliminated war, pain, suffering, differences and choice. They have created a society where everyone is equal (except those who are “more equal,” of course), and everything is the same. Your job, your clothes, and all other aspects of your existence are chosen for you. The society’s byword is sameness, in which they see safety and liberation from all the evils of human history. Even the climate is controlled.
They also control the language. For example, they have abolished killing; instead they “release” people “to Elsewhere.” By controlling the words that people use, they control the ability to hold certain thoughts, and as we know, thoughts are the cornerstone of conditions. What we focus on expands in our experience, so if you can control the expression of ideas, you can limit the focus. (In many ways, “political correctness” does this.)
A young boy named Jonas is chosen to be the Receiver of Memories, a position wherein he will be called upon to impart wisdom to the Elders, using “the Memories”, including the collected memory of humankind. He is trained for this by the older receiver of Memories. “If I’m The Receiver,” Jonas asks his teacher, “what does that make you?” The reply is, “I guess it makes me The Giver.”
The training, he is warned, will require a lot of strength, because it entails a lot of pain. The pain isn’t so much physical as the psychic and emotional pain brought on by “the Memories.” But what Jonas also discovers is the importance of love, beauty, and all those other “things that make us human.” He is determined to share what he is learning and feeling, even though that is against the rules. He also falls in love with his beautiful friend Fiona, who does not know what to make of this.
In order to reawaken the Memories (and the feelings they entail), he must cross the border of memory. By reawakening the Memories, he can reawaken the ability of the people to live life full out, restoring the joy, love, and beauty that their utopia has taken from them. As Fiona says, “I know that there is more, but I don’t know what it is.”
At one level, this is a brilliant political commentary on freedom, individual expression, and utopianism. That Jonas’s friend, Asher, is a drone pilot is not merely a literary device. But there are spiritual lessons as well.
While Jonas is in training, The Giver tells him not to trust the limited thoughts that have been given to him, but to trust what is inside. Learning to trust our intuition is a key to spiritual advancement. It is one of the most important ways to allow ourselves live in joy, in the fullest expression of who we are and who we are supposed to be.
The Chief Elder at one point says that “when people are free to choose, they choose wrong.” And it is true that sometimes people make choices that do not serve themselves or others. But one person’s wrong choice is another person’s right one. More importantly, if people cannot choose wrongly, then they are not free to choose rightly, and it is the choices we make that define our lives.
In such a perfectly-ordered society, there is no room for beauty or love or any of “the things that make us human.” And yet, these things are central to our humanity. They are central to living the most elevated, human, passionate life that we can. Jonas’s struggle is to restore those things, for himself and for the society.
It is also a society with no diversity. Sameness precludes living your individual purpose and calling, which is essential to the joyful life.
It is that passionate life that enables us to reach for the greater, the richer, the deeper. And that is at the very core of our humanity, as expressions of the Divine.
This is a movie well worth seeing. It’s exciting, stimulating, touching, and very powerful
-Tim Phares, RScP
Sometimes castles fall to the ground
But that’s where four-leaf clovers are found.
— Richard B. Sherman and Robert M. Sherman, “Fortuosity” (from The Happiest Millionaire)
Have you ever seen something in your life crash? Have you invested a lot of energy in something, only to see it fall apart? Most of us have had that experience. When that happens, where are you looking? Are you looking at the ruins or are you looking at what else is around you?
Recently, Suzanne and I heard this song on a radio program we enjoy. There is a great video of it (the opening scene of the movie The Happiest Millionaire) on You Tube, with Tommy Steele singing this song. It’s snappy, fun, and right on point. As Richard and Robert Sherman (who composed it) noted, when castles fall to the ground, you find four-leaf clovers. Four-leaf clovers are considered good-luck charms. This is “fortuosity” – which the Sherman brothers (Walt Disney’s favorite songwriters) define as “fortuitious little happy happenstances.” They go on to tell us,
“‘Round the corner, under a tree,
Good fortune’s waiting. Just wait and see.”
Where in the wreckage is your four-leaf clover? Where is your good-luck charm in the chaos that sometimes envelops life? Can you see it?
I am sure many of us know someone like a neighbor of ours, who is convinced that “They” (whoever “They” are) are never going to let “people like her” get anywhere in life. People like this seem to scrape by. They never seem to have enough. They can see only the wreckage. If they would look, they would see the clover. But they never look.
How often do you focus on what is going wrong instead of the blessings in your life? Remember, one of the fundamental principles of the Universe is that what you focus on expands and what you do not diminishes.
Instead of focusing on the wreckage, find your four-leaf clover. Pick it up. Let it be the sign of a new and exciting beginning. You are not here to suffer, you are here to thrive. And remember that “every bit of life is lit by fortuosity.”
-Tim Phares, RScP
It’s been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Apparently, a journey of 100 feet is a little more difficult.
Suzanne and I saw The Hundred-Foot Journey, a new movie from Oprah Winfrey and Disney. It concerns the Kadam family, who are in the restaurant business in Mumbai, India. After an election, their restaurant is burned and the mother is killed. They relocate, first to London, then to a village in France,, where they open a restaurant called Maison Mumbai. On their arrival in France, they are fed and put up for a night by a young woman named Marguerite.
Across the street is a very well-established restaurant called Le Seule Pleurer, run by Madame Mallory. The place is so well established that one of the government ministers eats there. She does not want competition, especially from foreigners. She begins to take measures to make business difficult for Maison Mumbai, and Papa Kadam retaliates. The mayor warns Madame Mallory that there are elements in town who are virulently against foreigners and she might not want to be associated with them.
The two restaurants compete for business and they barely speak with each other. Meanwhile, Hassan Kadam, who is the main chef at Maison Mumbai, begins to develop a relationship with Marguerite, who turns out to be a sous-chef at Le Seule Pleurer. Eventually, events cause Madame Mallory to offer Hassan a chance to be a chef at her restaurant. (Her restaurant is rated one star and she wants to upgrade to two stars.) Meanwhile, the relationship between Madame Mallory and Papa Kadam grows friendly.
Eventually, Hassan’s reputation is so great that he is hired by a restaurant in Paris. However, he finds himself pining for the village, his family, and Marguerite, so he returns home. This is a reminder of the vital importance of home and family.
This is a lovely movie with a couple of lessons. One is seeing the larger picture. For all the differences between Madame Mallory and her friends and the Kadams (and they remain), they manage to see their oneness as fellow human beings and to learn to support each other rather than warring with each other. And they learn forgiveness. They move beyond their mutual attempts to destroy each other, beyond their competition, to establish a bond that erases any hostility that may have existed.
This is a well-done movie worth seeing. You’ll leave feeling very good.
-Tim Phares, RScP