Whispers of grace in ‘The Escape’

The Escape 2018

Revelation. A wonderful sense of glimpsing a world beyond the bounds of quotidian reality … this was the effect of seeing ‘The Escape’ film on Sunday night. It’s those recurring, evocative images of orange sunset glow behind black thatch of trees from speeding train window, that remain with me strongest. They remind me of writer CS Lewis’s description of his early and recurring childhood experience of a sweet sense, while gazing at the distant Mourne mountain peaks, of a beckoning mystery always just beyond and out of reach…

Tara, played by Gemma Arterton, is a housewife in suburban London with, from the viewpoint of her immediate social circle, a perfect life – nice house, two kids, husband with good job. But his scope and sympathies are limited, she’s not a ‘natural’ mum, and she becomes aware of an inner restlessness and desire for something her narrow circumstances can’t satisfy. A simple trip into London one afternoon, seeing people, scenes, and in particular some captivating art books, sets her on a quest for an inner freedom she has just begun to taste. When a cluster of domestic stresses conspires one morning to make her ‘snap’, she speeds off in the family car and buys a one way Eurostar ticket to Paris. There, she relishes fresh horizons of beauty and richness, loses herself in an art gallery displaying the ‘Lady and the Unicorn’ tapestry that had so enchanted her in the art book – and has a brief passionate tryst with a romantic French photographer.

But the morning after their night together, the revelation that he’s married, with a baby, jolts her back to reality. It’s only after a kind Parisian woman shelters her lost and vulnerable self the following night, that she finds the inner fortitude to face up to her own reality back home, and return to it – but with a hint that she is at least now more inwardly free to choose her path ahead.

I’m intrigued by the story’s wider resonances. Spurred by that inner restlessness, Tara through the prism of art has her eyes opened to a broader, richer reality than she had hitherto perceived. It’s a rich evocation of and parallel with the inner thirst that may lead someone on a spiritual quest, ‘to find God’. In our bustling western culture, a panoply of distractions – media, leisure pursuits, food obsessions, travel and more – combined with culture-bound thought habits, can effectively weave a web of blindness and antipathy toward spiritual truth and possibilities. Like the walls of domesticity and relational torpitude that imprison Tara. But just as a glimpse of a beauty beyond those walls propels Tara along a path of discovery, so a chance insight or encounter may set anyone on a path of spiritual adventure. Perhaps toward something like the ‘life in all its fullness’ that Jesus once spoke of. How we respond – ignore such overtures and allow the walls to contract and harden, or heed the whispers of grace and venture further into the garden of mystery and delight – is a choice we each are moment by moment making – and must make.

Designs on you?

universe-2742113_1920On Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme this morning, there was a short interview with astronaut Tim Peake, whose Soyuz Capsule currently resides at Peterborough Cathedral. A self-confessed agnostic and “not religious”, Peake has expressed openness to the possibility of some kind of ‘intelligent design’ behind the universe. He acknowledged that time spent viewing the unique spectacles of space, inevitably shifted his perspective. He wouldn’t be the first scientist to admit that the marvels of the natural world elicit a suitably natural awe in the human mind. For him, this has led in turn to speculation as to what lies behind such grandeur and intricacy.

I was intrigued – but also struck afresh at hearing yet another public figure expressing what’s perhaps the most common and acceptable worldview in our secular culture right now: agnosticism. Esteemed because on the surface it appears the most open-minded and expansive view, unencumbered by what many see as the straitjacket limitations of a ‘religious’ viewpoint, hemmed in by supposedly unquestioned, naively swallowed doctrines and dogmas.

By way of juxtaposition, in the bible this morning I happened to read Romans 8:31-39, which communicates a blazing confidence and joy that nothing in all creation can separate believers from the love of God in Christ. I was struck by the sharp contrast and aching gulf: between the secular scientific view which claims that the mysterious origin of all that exists, is knowable if at all, only through science; and this warm apprehension of a powerful, secure relationship of love with the Ground of our being, the living personal God.

In approaching ultimate questions of life, it seems that many people in our culture, by leaning so heavily on science and rejecting other kinds of knowledge and pathways to truth, tragically close down the possibilities that beckon. The bible is commonly viewed as an archaic collection of outmoded rules and dusty sayings, when in reality it is a rich and multifaceted record of the human experience of grappling with and embracing the divine. Its global appeal and durability don’t categorically ‘prove’ its truthfulness, but at least merit close attention, far closer and more careful than it typically attracts in secular western society.

When I personally read the bible, I find not that it dragoons me into assenting to a list of blind beliefs my intellect bridles at. Rather, it seems to open up vast mysterious caverns of a kind of truth different to – but not contradictory with – science. Spiritual truth – invisible, unprovable, but resonating powerfully in the receptive heart.

If you enter a dark cave, scientific instruments can help you discern all kinds of data. But to see the intricacies of the interior, and perhaps even glorious ancient paintings daubed on the cave walls… you need a lamp. It is the testimony of countless millions down the ages, that when it comes to apprehending spiritual realities and knowing God, not as remote speculation but in living breathing relationship… the bible is that lamp. I look forward to the day when agnostics like Tim Peake, contemplating the deepest mysteries of life, the universe and everything, try deploying not merely the torch or cigarette lighter of science, but the searching lamplight of faith, which the bible has power to seed and nurture.