Richard S. Vosko

Musings on religion, art and architecture

Homily: I See You

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1 Samuel 16, 1, 6-7, 10-13, Psalm 23:  1-6, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41

In Hindu theology an avatar is the manifestation of a God in some shape or form. Sudipto Chattopadhyay, who writes a blog on movies, commented on the religious storyline in the film Avatar. Whenever the world seems to be in big trouble, he wrote, Vishnu, a major Hindu God who protects the universe, would take on a mortal form to save the people. “It was the only way human civilization would … reach salvation.” [1]

A troubled world? God coming to the rescue in human form? This doctrine sounds a lot like the Christian belief in God who became human to enlighten and bring salvation to the world.

The scriptures today help us grasp this notion of God as enlightenment or illumination. In the first reading David, a one time underdog, is anointed as the leader of the Israelites and the spirit filled him. As the story goes God saw something in David that others did not. How does one get to see inside a person?

The fourth gospel attributed to John is also called the “book of signs” because it contains seven miracles intended to build up faith in Jesus as the chosen one. Originally this story was just about a blind man healed by Jesus. The author added the trial scene probably to reflect the expulsion of Jews, who became Christians, from their synagogues. [2] The miracle is a sign that Jesus is the revelation of the creator God. Might we say an avatar? A later interpretation suggests that the healing at a pool of water (Siloam) is a reference to baptism which in the early church was known as illumination. Those who are baptized are illuminated. Those who are illuminated are the holy ones of God.

In the movie Avatar, the Na’vi, the people of Pandora, greet each other saying, “I See You” (which is the theme song for the film). This is not like our “hello” or “how are you?” Rather, it means I understand and accept you. I validate you. Again in the Hindu tradition this greeting is a recognition of the divine spark present inside a person. In the film the Na’vi are portrayed as an enlightened people. Isn’t that what we believe? That Christ the Light is present in us; that we who are baptized are illuminated?

We do not need to be told how sinful we are all the time. We know that humans are imperfect. What we have to do now — to do what is pleasing (2nd reading) — is turn our attention to the sacred side of humanity. If we can learn to recognize the holiness in one another our relationships will be devoid of suspicion and jealousy, We can trust others. There will be no gossip or slander. Everyone we meet, especially those who are vulnerable to the inequities in society, will be given a chance to lead dignified lives. We will come to see people as they really are; not what we want them to be.

The same would be true of how we relate to our planet. Instead of abusing it and wasting natural resources we will come to acknowledge the sacredness of the environment. In the movie Avatar, the Na’vi connected with nature, one of the core teachings of Hinduism.

Avatar did not win the Oscar for the best picture as you know. Instead, “Hurt Locker” an up close film about the war in Iraq did. (This coming week is the seventh anniversary of the start of that war.) Can we draw something out of this Oscar selection? Lobbying aside, if the judges in some way reflected a populist viewpoint, then a film about a real war in Iraq is more significant in the public eye than the virtual, idealized world of Pandora. How much we identify with one  the other could say a lot about how we see ourselves and the lives we lead.

The directors of both films used cinematography to draw the viewer so much into the stories there is little room to escape. The 3-Dimension of Avatar and the “in your face” explosions of the bombs in Hurt Locker draw the audience right into the stories. There is no room for observation. You become one with the narrative.

Lent is just that kind of season. A time for us to be drawn into the paschal event where there is no room for spectators. It is a time to be totally taken up with stories of life, passion, death and resurrection; to embrace them and call them our own. The mystery of a God who became human, a doctrine shared by other religions, takes us beyond where we are to a land of possibilities. In many ways, if we let ourselves go, we can take on new forms, new shapes, new avatars.

1 http://passionforcinema.com/vishnu%E2%80%99s-tenth-and-last-reincarnation-decoding-avatar

2 Fuller, Reginald. Preaching the Lectionary: The Word of God for the Church Today (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press. 1984) pp. 47-48.

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Author: Richard S. Vosko

Richard S. Vosko, Ph.D., Hon. AIA, is an internationally known sacred space planner. He is a presbyter in the Diocese of Albany who enjoys the classroom as much as the pulpit. On Sundays he presides at worship at St. Vincent de Paul Parish, Albany, NY. For more information on Vosko’s background, his projects, publications and speaking engagements please go to his website. For his homilies and occasional musings about religion, art and architecture go to his blog. Comments, questions and suggestions are always welcomed there.

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