I watched Braveheart twice in two weeks last December. It usually gets my blood pumping and my heart screaming, but I wasn’t looking at it my typical way.
Braveheart is a well made movie. It’s long, epic, has a great story. And by “great story”, I’m implying that it has a character who is forced into conflict to acquire his goal or ending point. William, the protagonist and patriot, comes home from a pilgrimage after being orphaned by war, sets out to avenge the woman he was to wed (who was killed she refused a man who was making an attempt at rape) and reclaim Scotland from the tyranny of the King of England, Edward I. William summons up Scotland and the odds are extraordinary: the Scots are outnumbered by thousands, they’re common farmers with pitchforks and sickles, there are nobleman taken by greed to sacrifice freedom, and the list goes on and on. Although historical fact might be bent a bit to create, arguably, one of the greater stories told on film, it’s a story. It inspires people.
I don’t want to talk about how God loves the pitchfork people reclaiming their rights.
What I do want to talk about is one what one of the nobleman says. Robert the Bruce, son of the highest nobleman of Scotland and heir to the same throne, is compelled by the speeches and battles of Wallace. He eventually betrays Wallace, thinking the best and strongest move for Scotland is to have him lose. Realizing he has made the wrong choice, Robert the Bruce sends for Wallace to meet with him and the nobles again to advance against the English. The other Nobles sabotage Wallace and turn him over to the English. Robert confronts his father, who is pulling political strings behind his back. His father tries to reason with him, saying that there’s too much to sacrifice.
Robert replies with something beautiful:“Wallace fights for something that I’ve never had. I want to believe.”
Why does he say that?
What makes a human say, “I want to believe?”
Here’s the problem with certain perceptions of Christianity: we’re convinced it’s not necessary and the world doesn’t need it. But Robert the Bruce, though he’s not alluding to Christianity, wants to believe. Why? Because something beyond William is controlling him and propelling him into a new adventure that he doesn’t know the end of. William only knows the tug and pull of what he believes. What he has inside of him isn’t necessarily a call from some higher power, but it is something beyond himself.
Whether a Christian or not (even religious or not), there are times when something beyond ourselves takes us by the collar and whips us around. To the artist, it’s when the paint seems to swirl into colors on its own. For the writer, it’s when the main character seems to speak the words for you. For the poet, when the author’s breath is stolen from their own words. The “beyond” is something worth living for. What if, like my good friend Rilke says, we would live “as a sign unto this urge and a testimony to it (Letters to a Young Poet, 2)”?
Someone close to me once said that there’s no reason to live life with a passion guiding you. Really? There’s a verse in Proverbs that I’ve been rolling around in my mouth for a while, trying to see if I can tell what flavor it is. I think I’ve got it. It’s in Proverbs 29:18, “Where there is no vision, people perish.” Okay. “No vision” is close, but doesn’t get the cigar. There are other translations, though, that put it into a better frame with the words used. One translation (NIV, 1984) reads, “Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.” I like that one. That hits a bit closer to the mark. I’d like to think William is getting something that Proverbs talks about. He gets a revelation of, “This is not how things are supposed to be” and he runs with it. He realizes that if he doesn’t live for this, or for something as great as this, it won’t matter. He realizes nothing will matter.
When we don’t go by what’s beyond and we just plain, ol’ exist we don’t help the problem.
If the problem with your perception of Christianity is that it’s not necessary, I’d ask you what is necessary. You can float however you want if you want to get by, but you’ll just get by.
For me, I’m going to live by it. I’m going to live with the “beyond myself” throwing me around the world like it has the past four years of my life like a rag doll. Let’s all go get it. If we fail, so be it. Let our efforts see more fruit than our vanities.
May G-d give us the clarity either way.