Sunday, July 22, 2007

This isn't love, or is it?

I realize that for some all the fuss about Harry Potter is most unwelcome. I like to buck fads myself, and with Harry Potter parties everywhere, I’d normally run for cover.

But I’ve known Harry a long time now. My children fell under his spell at the very beginning. When we first moved out East, the opening of the first Harry Potter movie coincided with my daughter's birthday. She invited a number of her new friends from elementary school, but a couple mysteriously declined her invitations. We learned later that it was because their churches forbade it. I could not for the life of me explain it to my daughter (“but it’s just pretend, Mom”). But that was enough for me to stand for, not against, Harry Potter, even after they came out with the overpriced Bertie Bott’s jelly beans in the bookstores.

I did, however, have a good friend who a few years into the craze told me how fearful she was about its influence on children. She’s a conservative, evangelical Christian, of Midwestern Lutheran roots, but she’s my friend and, in my eyes, a wise and wonderful woman, even though there are some things we agree to disagree on. So all I said to her was that my children simply took it as fantasy and, at least for them, I didn’t see any harm in it.

I haven’t thought much about it all in recent years. I did spend one winter listening to my daughter read out loud one of the longer books (No. 4?) simply because she enjoyed reading out loud, loved Harry Potter, and it was a way to kill time on the long drives to and from soccer. Yet some of the later books were, I thought, tiresome in spots, and some of the characters seemed to deserve better and fuller treatment. So, I tried to keep the initial enchantment in mind, and not think too deeply about it all.

Indeed, the last thing I’ve ever wanted to do is to analyze the books. I studied literature in college and I can dissect and deconstruct words and cultural concepts with the best of them. But those games haven't been fun for me for a very long time, and, for me, reading Harry Potter has been about pure and simple pleasure, the kind I used to get as a child from crawling into bed and reading under the covers until late at night. Taking it too seriously, beyond affection and adventure, always struck me as besides the point.

Yet something finally did hit me in this last book, like a bolt of lightning. As I’ve said before, I won't leave any spoilers. I just want to pluck out one line that struck me deeply when I read it.

It’s this. Harry, about half-way through, ruefully reflects on Dumbledore and says:
This isn't love, the mess he's left me in.
That’s Harry for you. So simple and direct. Not Hamlet, Ulysses, or even Frodo. Just a boy, now seventeen, who’s lost his mother and his father, his beloved godfather, and, finally, his mentor and protector, who left him with only confusing and mostly useless clues as to how to survive, let alone conquer, the dark forces threatening his world.

I happened to see that boy this week, myself. In my case, it was my son, the recent high school graduate, cocky, sure of himself, at least when it comes to ignoring unsolicited advice and avoiding any semblance of parental controls. The kid who wondered why we wouldn’t let him drive alone the thousand miles to the cabin on the lake in the Midwest, and why we won’t let him take a car off to college, called me at home, in near hysterics, because the car stalled and would not restart in what he described as the middle of a busy intersection down in the village. I told him to calm down, put the emergency flashers on, and call the police and they’d direct traffic and maybe suggest who to call for a tow truck. But he was in total, emotional meltdown, so I ended up calling for him and going to the scene and taking care of things myself.

I’m not sure when or how it came up, but at some point he said something to the effect that of course he didn’t know what to do, his dad was gone and never taught him about cars and such. That didn’t make a lot of sense. Although his dad, who worked in the auto service industry and was a life-long aspiring race car driver, certainly knew a lot about cars, his stepdad had done plenty, including teaching him to drive the manual transmission (after I gave up on him) and getting him through his final practice runs at parallel parking before taking his driver’s license test. So I took it instead as something deeper, some lurking fear, insecurity about heading off to college, all in the shadow of knowing that his dad (who died last year) was gone for good.

So when I read that line in Harry Potter, that’s what hit me full force. It’s a cry we all make from time to time, either to a lost parent or to our divine Father, who often seems to have left us in a terrible mess with no discernible clues as how we are to manage on our own. And sometimes it really pisses us off. The least they could have done is leave a set of clear instructions.

I know that pain and frustration myself, the many times I have earnestly sought God’s will in prayer and could not be certain of the answer. I wanted a clear guide, a path, and sure knowledge that I was making the right choice, even though my choices were extremely limited and none appeared to be good.

I do believe, as the Prayer Book says, that the Bible contains all that is necessary for salvation. But that’s not the same as the rules that so many crave, the maps and the clues Harry yearned for. We have God’s love and grace in abundance, but we are left to struggle, to blunder, time and time again, at times wondering what kind of love would leave us in this mess, even or especially when the mess is of our own making.

Sometimes we just don’t have the luxury of knowing ahead of time what we’re supposed to do, no matter how well we try to learn and prepare for life. It’s a hard lesson to realize that we have to take things as they come, to risk making mistakes, and to just do the best we can, sometimes finding ourselves in messes only we can clean up. Yet, even though we are very much on our own, we are not alone and we are not unloved. It takes awhile, but when we are calm and quiet inside we can come to know how deep, how broad, how high that love really is, the love that surpasses all understanding and will be with us always.


Mary Ann said...

Might I link to this post? Partly so I can recall where it is, and partly so I can introduce it to the notice of folks on LiveJournal? Thanks for considering it.

klady said...

Yes, if you like. You know, I'm a recovering Methodist :). Does that make a difference?

Thanks for stopping by. I hope to catch your thoughts at LiveJournal now and then.

Caminante said...

Great post... applicable even for me today as I go back to the doctor's to complain of persistent fatigue, weight gain, etc. and leave with no clue of what it is other than, well, it's perimenopause. I want clarity because I am tired of being tired and like Harry I don't get those nice tight clues that will solve things.

Mary Ann said...

Well, your faith background is interesting. I'm not quite sure what you meant!

klady said...

mary ann,

I just looked up your bio and (correct me if I'm wrong) found that you're a Methodist pastor. I guess it's kind of an in joke among a few of us ex-Methodists in my family, but you have to understand that the Methodist church I grew up in the 1950's and early 1960's probably doesn't look much like it does today. For various reasons, I left when I graduated from high school and did not return to any kind of church until nearly 20 years later. I'm not proud of it, and I certainly can't blame the Methodists for it, but my childhood memories of it are not exactly positive. For me it was the worst of the keep-up-with-the-Jones, superficial middle-class morality, sugar-coated platitudes way of being with Jesus (just don't take it too seriously or talk about it Monday - Saturday).

That's the child's view. Looking back as an adult, what I didn't like about Methodism (and the Presbyterians, UCC, etc., as far as I know them) was the extent to which it had a strong Protestant focus on sermonizing, the emphasis on rationality and the lack of mystery, (virtually no Holy Communion in my day -- it was only offered four times a year, and my parents often stayed home those Sundays -- and when it did occur, it was the "memorial" stuff with the plastic cups and the bread cubes). It was very wrong for me - not wrong as in incorrect but wrong in the sense of ill-suiting me. But I do admit to some affection and gratitude for the service/mission part of Methodism, and I understand that many Methodists have in recent years restored a bit of the Anglican liturgy (like more frequent Communion) if not the mind-set. So... welcome, and no offense intended.

Mary Ann said...

Ah, thanks for the information! I think that the establishment church years of the 1950s and 1960s have a lot to answer for. Their culture was pretty much one of civil religion.

I was brought up UCC, but both my parents came from RC backgrounds-- my father's more devout, my mother's more nominal. And so I didn't grow up without mystery or a sense of the importance of the sacraments, though I was born in 1960.

As you saw, I'm a United Methodist pastor. When you come through Rock Springs, Wyoming (which is, after all, a hub of the universe) stop by! My church rocketh increasingly.

Communion twice a month, BTW, increased from my predecessor's once a month. I understand that the Zeitgeist folks do communion weekly, but I don't think we're ready yet. (I am. I'm a compelte fool for communion.)

pj said...

Klady, you write gorgeously. That's all I'm sayin' for tonight. :)

klady said...

Thanks. p.j. That's high praise, especially from a published writer!

Grandmère Mimi said...

Klady, your post is wonderfully written. It reminds me again of Thomas Merton's prayer:

The Living Spirit

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.
Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.
But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.
And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing.
I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.
And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it.
Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.
I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and will never leave me to face my perils alone.

klady said...

Thank you, Mimi. It's funny, the other day I was looking for something I thought I read about Julian of Norwich quite awhile ago, which I thought said something like what the Merton prayer says. I found it again online, only to discover that it says something else entirely (perhaps the opposite?).

It was:

She was concerned that sometimes when we are faced wiith a difficult moral decision, it seems that no matter which way we decide, we will have acted from motives that are less then completely pure, so that neither decision is defensible. She finally wrote: "It is enough to be sure of the deed. Our courteous Lord will deign to redeem the motive."

So thank you, especially, for the Merton. I suppose they both amount to the same in the end -- if we earnestly seek God's will, he'll have mercy on us -- but I doubt I'll ever reach the point of being sure of the deed and only worrying about whether my motives were pure (if that's what she meant).

What I need to hear is:

"And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it."

I had hoped that with age I'd know enough so that I could more easily recognize the right roads when I came to them. Instead, it seems I've only learned how to see them more clearly in hindsight, the ones I took that brought great blessings or at least avoided unforeseen disasters -- those roads that I truly knew nothing about but which God, nevertheless, led me down.

Grandmère Mimi said...

Klady, I'm still at the deeds part, too. If the deed is obviously good, then I don't examine my motives closely.

Sometimes just knowing that God loves us and is merciful has to be enough.

Saint Pat said...

Thanks. what a beautiful, insightful post.

Sometimes we're just clobbered over the head with the realization that we are so puny and vulnerable in this universe.

Lisa said...

This is a fine essay, Klady. I hope you don't mind that I linked to it. (And I hope that doesn't bring my riff-raff over here. ;-)

klady said...

Any time, Lisa. I'll take (or take on, if need be) your riffraff any day!