The Beauty of a Truthful Story

March 2, 2008

I loved The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Watching the film reminded me of our earlier discussion of the relation between beauty and holiness. The Diving Bell and the ButterflyThere is something extraordinarily beautiful about the way the main character chose to express himself poetically despite the tediousness of the task and the utterly humiliating state of being he had been reduced to from his former position of influence and affluence. I was most impacted by our conversation afterward about the reality and positive nature of imagination. Story has in the modern world been considered as falsehood or at best as escapism, yet the tide is shifting as we come to realize the power of imagination for good purpose. I remember the story Olive Drane told us in my storytelling class last quarter about the twin boys Truth and Parable, how only when Truth was disguised in Parable’s clothing was he accepted and listened to among the townspeople. I have for several quarters now been wrestling with the concept of story and how truth plays out in the midst of it. I still don’t have it figured out, but I keep coming back to a line in my favorite poem by Emily Dickinson: “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant.” Yet one of my favorite short story writers Flannery O’Connor determined to write her message in large print on the wall so that the blind could see it. Is it subtlety or shouting that wins the day? In the film, Bauby tells his life story in painfully real detail, yet the success of his life lies in his ability to imagine, to feed his soul though he is locked in. Jesus, who is the truth, speaks often in parable and usually refuses to explain himself even to his disciples. What is the role of the artist, then? To imagine, surely, but also to explicate? It is this tension that I have yet to work out.

The class on body theology brought up several different issues for me. Not entirely unrelated to the above consideration of story and truth is the question we tried to answer: what does it mean to engage culture and image and to dialogue with truth? Our discussion reminded me of the link between beauty and holiness. Is there anything holy to be found in our visually-driven culture? If the line between secular and sacred is truly blurred, how do we bring the holiness of God into our cultural conversations about Eating Disorderwhat is beautiful? I know that in my own experience it has been very healing to speak God’s truth into the lies culture told me about my body image that I believed for so long without even being aware of their influence. I think educating people about the ways to deconstruct the advertising and entertainment industries can go a long way in bringing truth into cultural light. It reminds me of the Alison Jackson photographs and our discussion of voyeurism. Our consumerist culture buys into nearly anything these days that will feed into the need for instant gratification. The naming of the root cause as fear is especially apt and perceptive. Fear, which is the opposite of faith, and sin, which certainly gets in the way of experiencing God’s holiness, are the roots of body image issues, especially in the west. There is that appealing quality about Gnosticism, the denying of the flesh in order to free the soul. That fear of being out of control is certainly a known root cause of many eating disorders. But we were given bodies, and our bodies were pronounced good—a fact we often forget in our effort to control something. It is worth remembering that abundant life necessitates a willingness to release control and experience something extraordinary, something unknown, something beautiful.

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