Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Shack—A Poetic Retreat

Lent is a perfect time to take stock of our lives and examine our hearts on the Gospel values that Jesus teaches us in the Scriptures. Namely, “love one another as I have loved you” (Jn. 13:34); “Forgive… and your heavenly Father will forgive you” (cf. Mt. 6:14). Those are the passages that are easy to gloss over and believe that we are doing just that. But as I take time in silence to meditate and reflect on what Jesus truly asks of his disciples I’m shocked into awareness. For me to forgive another person for the pain and suffering they caused me, I realize I must first forgive myself for becoming angry with them, hardening my heart towards them and holding onto my grudge like a licked wound. What does it really mean to forgive? How can God expect this of us weak and pathetically-frightened-of-conflict human beings?



Movies, just like the Scripture, help me to meditate profoundly on my life, my actions and my purpose. They challenge me, if I let them, to look to the depths of my emotions and artistic sense where my spiritual values lie. Movies have that power. Just as does poetry and art. They help me to delve into a spiritual realm quite beyond where my rational, pragmatic personality usually directs me.



Mack’s retreat into the woods offers him respite from his grief
to meditate on the beauty and gift of life, love and forgiveness. 
The Shack did this for me. I never read the book all the way through because it did not touch me like the movie did. Mack Philips (Sam Worthington) reels in anguish when his young daughter is kidnapped and killed on a family camping trip. He blames himself and falls into depression and isolation from his other children and his wife. He receives a suspicious note in his mailbox one snowy night saying to come to the shack on the weekend. That shack is the place of his daughter’s murder. He goes and unsuspectingly meets Love. He encounters God presented in a way that speaks to the core of our souls, through a poetic vision of the Trinitarian God—Father, Son and Holy Spirit, represented as Papa (Octavia Spencer), Jesus (Aviv Alush) and Sarayu (Sumire Matsubara). He spends time with God trying to understand the complexities of life, the problem of suffering, the questions of grief and the difficulties of forgiveness.


Mack’s retreat into the woods, in the shack, offers him a desperately needed respite from his grief to meditate on the beauty and gift of life, love and forgiveness. He is transformed from a frightened, broken-down man, to a serene and loving father and husband. It was his Lenten journey to authentic interior freedom. That’s what forgiveness does. It frees us. And when we are truly free is when we are genuinely happy. Our Lenten journey can be a time to mediate on our need for God’s mercy, forgiveness of ourselves and others. Viewing The Shack can be a gift you give yourself to lead you into a poetic retreat reflecting upon this freedom of forgiveness.
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Sr. Nancy Usselmann is a Daughter of St. Paul, the Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies in Los Angeles and a Media Literacy Education Specialist. She has degrees in Communications Arts and a Masters in Theology and Arts. For over 25 years, Sr. Nancy has given numerous media mindfulness workshops, presentations and film retreats around the country to youth, young adults, catechists, seminarians, teachers and media professionals helping them to create the dialogue between faith and media. She is a contributing writer for Fuller's Reel Spirituality website and a board member of CIMA (Catholics in Media Associates), a member of NAMLE (National Association of Media Literacy Educators) and SIGNIS (International Organization for Media)

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