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Forty days of my favourite things

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Set 'tone of gratitude' when starting the New Year


The new Star Wars film invites us to review the highlights of our childhood myths with the eyes of adult experience, writes C.S. Morrissey.The new Star Wars film invites us to review the highlights of our childhood myths with the eyes of adult experience, writes C.S. Morrissey.

Before the silver white winter melts into spring, the Christmas season lingers for a while. The crisp apple strudels should keep coming, along with plenty of schnitzel with noodles.

One of my favourite things to do is to leave up the tree, the decorations, and especially the lights right until Candlemas. That’s because Christmastide does in fact extend from the Nativity (on the 25th) to the Purification (on Feb. 2).

The commercial holiday season may start up 40 days before Christmas. But if you take your bearings from the liturgy, you can find pleasure on a road less travelled.

You can invert the imperatives of Mammon by celebrating for 40 days after Christmas, of which the Twelve Days are just the beginning.

If you want to join me in “keeping the Mass in Christmas” (by which I mean following the ancient rhythm of the liturgical calendar), I also recommend the practice of cultivating gratitude during these 40 days of Christmastide.

Instead of looking directly forward with resolutions for the New Year, gratitude instead looks indirectly forward by looking backwards first. You set the right tone for the New Year, by remembering everything good from the past: symbols of the love surrounding you on your life journey. 

One of the things at the top of my list is Star Wars. I can remember how it threads through different times of my life, beginning with the time when, as a child, I had a cast on my leg.

I first learned of the movie by limping through a store and spotting the Del Rey Science Fiction paperback book ($1.95 in 1977) of the novelization of the first movie. My mother bought it for me.

Along with many in 2015, the new Star Wars movie became part of my extra-liturgical Advent rituals. I found it interesting how, in our culture, going to this movie was akin to the ancient Greek Eleusinian mysteries: one had to keep silent about what actually happened at the event, so as not to spoil it for those who had not yet been initiated.

For me, this highlighted how going to the movies, especially in the theatres, keeps alive a main function of ancient religious ritual, even for those who do not profess any religious belief.

“Spoiler alerts” are a sign that the movie-going experience, in general, is meant to be a secret religious ritual in the dark, the experience of which brings a catharsis of emotion.

There is much I liked about the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. As J.J. Abrams confirmed, he intentionally strove “to go backwards to go forwards,” remembering plot elements from past films in order to craft a new story that sets characters up for the future.

As I considered at length in a movie review (“The Reality of Myth and the Force of Star Wars”), which I wrote upon first seeing the film, the most important part of the new story is not what is repeated from the past, but rather the way these common elements are thoughtfully redeployed, in order to speak about adult themes with symbols from childhood.

After seeing the film again, and reflecting on it some more, I would add only a few points to my earlier observations on the symbolism of the cruciform imagery and its association with light.

At an important juncture in the story, Han Solo is shown tumbling into the light, not into darkness. Moreover, this action of his has earthshaking consequences.

It is what empowers Rey when she closes her eyes, remembering the words of her teacher Maz. She thereby taps into the power of the Force, and not the Dark Side.

Rey is obviously on the right side, as her homophone name indicates: she is a “ray” of light, which the Force awakens as a new hope for a new generation.

What’s new in this new film is that this hopeful cyclical fact is placed within a serious drama of Shakespearean proportions: the great tragedy being that the camaraderie of Luke, Leia, and Han is rent asunder.

In this sober historical context, in a meditation worthy of Tolkien, we are invited to review the highlights of our childhood myths anew, with the eyes of adult experience.

When Rey, drawing upon the power of the light (bequeathed by the efforts of her precursors), is able to vanquish Kylo Ren, notice what her final combat move does to the inverted cross of Kylo Ren’s infernal lightsaber.

Her maneuver plants the Cross, into the snow, right side up.

The snowflakes won’t stay long on my nose and eyelashes. But I am forever grateful for such richly symbolic, thoughtful storytelling.

Not to mention the fact that I can now add something new to my list of favourite things; namely, the site of an ancient Christian monastery for Celtic monks, the Irish island Skellig Michael: the first Jedi Temple.

Dr. C.S. Morrissey is a Fellow of the Adler-Aquinas Institute who teaches the Great Books for the Ignatius-Angelicum Liberal Studies Program. His Web site is:

Last Updated on Saturday, 16 January 2016 09:34  

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