“What mighty praise, O God,belongs to you in Zion. We will fulfill our vows to you, for you answer our prayers. All of us must come to you.Though we are overwhelmed by our sins, you forgive them all. What joy for those you choose to bring near, those who live in your holy courts. What festivities await us inside your holy Temple.” (Psalm 65:1-4)
When I recall this summer, one of the things I will remember was the amount of time I spent with God. And the movies.
By the beginning of July I was toast after a long year as a university educator. I had several weeks off, and I intended to sleep a lot and get time alone with God. I pretty much accomplished both.
I did have an agenda with the latter goal, I was seeking God’s leading on my life. What I learned at the end of many hours in the Bible and Christian books and prayer was that God was more interested in me seeking Him: period.
The flicks I watched tended to convince me of this, also. I am drawn to biopics, and the one’s I have seen this year have centered on the failed lives of musicians, real and fictional.
Before the summer I had seen “Jersey Boys”, the life story Frankie Valli. I wanted to see it because I had gone to the show in Las Vegas and wanted to see how the movie treated his life.
Both the play and the flick noted Valli’s messy life, although the former focused more on his music, which made it better in my view. The singer was involved with hoods and had a failed marriage. A later relationship ended when the woman decided she would always be second in his life to his career.
Despite his success, I walked out of “Jersey Boys” thinking how badly Valli’s personal life was in shambles, even at the end.
Another flick I saw this summer was a fictional treatment of a singer who is in a rocky relationship with a pop star, played by Adam Levine. In “Begin Again” Gretta (Keira Knightley) is a gifted songwriter, but one who doesn’t care so much about fame. However, she is discovered by Dan Mulligan (Mark Ruffalo), a down and out record producer who sees her perform a song impromptu in a small club in New York .
Dan is only there because he has gone on a bender after losing his job with an indie record label, one he helped start. Add this catastrophe to his failed marriage and non-relationship with his 14-year old daughter Violet, and it is obvious that Dan’s life is in the toilet.
Gretta is in the pub for similar reasons. She has just moved in with her fellow British pal Steve because she has walked out on her budding rock star boyfriend Dave Kohl (played by pop sensation Adam Levine). The insightful lyricist has just figured out that her boyfriend cheated on her after he plays her a new song which has infidelity as a theme.
Gretta is at first reluctant to perform at the club or anywhere else. She is pushed on to the stage by Steve and when Dan attempts to convince her to let him produce an album for her, the best she can say is that she will think about it.
However, Gretta calls Dave the next day and agrees to come under his wing. What happens next is nothing short of brilliant. Dave and Gretta’s plan for their collaboration is extremely creative.
Their imagination and use of their talents are what makes the story in “Begin Again”. From their vision comes a new life for them and for several other characters in the film.
“Begin Again” will inspire those who find themselves at a crossroads to use their talents and ingenuity to take the next step when their lives are shattered. Dave and Gretta’s original thinking is a model for people who need to find a way to pull themselves out of the slough of despond.
Finally, there was the movie about the life of “The Godfather of Soul”, James Brown. “Get On Up” reveals the harsh nature of Brown’s upbringing and how it influenced his approach to life. The singer, born in 1933, was the son of a 16-year old mother and a barely adult father. The film shows the violence and immorality surrounding Brown in his youth. His mother eventually left the family and moved to New York. His father is portrayed as an abusive husband and parent. The movie shows Brown spent part of his childhood growing up in a brothel.
I felt sad for James Brown after viewing his story. It is said that it is lonely at the top and “Get on Up” emphasizes how true that was for him. His only true friend was singer Bobby Byrd, who helped Brown get into music. As Byrd’s role in their singing group diminishes and Brown’s shines, their relationship in the film becomes more like one between a boss and a subordinate.
Great men and geniuses like Brown seem to have a certain arrogance that drives others way. As the story in “Get On Up” develops, Brown grows more and more authoritarian and tyrannical in his personal and business life. The end result is that he alienates just about everyone around him.
Even as a famous entertainer, Brown can’t seem to avoid jail time. He ends up in the pokey after firing a rifle at one of his business enterprises and leading police on a high speed chase.
Valli, Brown, the fictional Gretta and her producer Dan inspired me to reflect on my own losses. By July I had no strength left and was trying to figure out how to maintain my health with changing insurance rules. In many areas I felt hemmed in. I couldn’t move. I felt I was growing old. I felt alone and abandoned.
The one common denominator in the terrible lives of all these musicians was that they did not have God in their lives. My discovery while doing all the reading and praying was that I did not need direction from God. I needed Him. I needed to give Him my life.
I had supposedly done that in the past–many times over. But this time, when I decided to quit trying to manipulate my circumstances and let God do what He wanted to do, I really meant it.
I was hoping for great miracles and a change of environment. None of that has happened. What HAS happened is that I have more joy in just knowing God every day and trusting Him.
One of the authors I focused on this summer was Catholic priest Henri Nouwen. He wrote, “Your search for communion often takes place too far from where true communion can be found. Still, communion is your authentic desire and it will be given to you. But you have to dare to stop seeking gifts and favors like a petulant chhild and trust that your deepest longing will be fulfilled. Dare to lose your life and you will find it.Trust in Jesus’s words.”
I am trying to do that minute by minute.
After all the searching for God’s leading I was led to the simplicity of believing that God exists and that he rewards those who seek Him (Hebrews 11:6) . Just as simple is my understanding that I know God loves me and that I can trust in that love.
I am not Catholic, but I went to Mass this afternoon, a week before Labor Day weekend, to honor a Catholic friend in the hospital and to pray for him at his old church. One thing this service emphasized throughout was the need for the forgiveness of sin. No drums, no hands in the air and waving, no complicated theological sermon. Just the simple Gospel.
My prayer at the end of the summer is Nouwen’s:
“Dear God, I so much want to be in control. I want to be the master of my own destiny. Still I know that you are saying ‘Let me take you by the hand and lead you. Accept my love and trust that where I will bring you, the deepest desires of your heart will be fulfilled.’ Lord, open my hands to receive your gift of love. Amen.”