25 July 2007

"What's in a name?"

"Hester's nature showed itself warm and rich; a well-sprung of human tenderness, unfailing to every real demand, and inexhaustible by the largest. Her breast, with its badge of shame, was but the softer pillow for the head that needed one. She was self-ordained a Sister of Mercy; or, we may rather say, the world's heavy hand had so ordained her, when neither the world nor she looked forward to this result. The letter was the symbol of her calling. Such helpfulness was found in her, --so much power to do, and power to sympathize, --that many people refused to interpret the scarlet A by its original signification. They said that it meant Able; so strong was Hester Prynne, with a woman's strength." The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne

What I find interesting about the above is both the symbol shift AND what I know about the author. Hawthorne is a descendant of a magistrate from the Salem Witch Trials, John Hathorne. Hathorne's legacy brought shame and condemnation to his posterity that even Hawthorne (his grandson) allowed himself to inherit, which is evident in the themes and conflicts of his books.

Redemption has been on my mind quite a bit as of late in light of Harry Potter, both because of the book's contents and because of the memories it has brought forth. Shakespeare's timeless question echoes to the reaches of my current state as I consider, "What's in a name?"

And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me.

The scriptures are full of examples of names, and how they reflect the individual they identify. Naomi is such an individual who forsakes her birth name because she felt she had fallen from grace, and no longer deserved to be defined as "Pleasant."

Another example comes from 2 Samuel 11 about Bath-Sheba, whose name means, "Daughter of the Covenant." How does she live up to her namesake?

3 And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bath-Sheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?

4 And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay
with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house.

5 And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.
Names and the stories behind them are really interesting to me because of the trials that have come along with the name that I inherited. My last name, it turns out, isn't tied to heartbreak exclusively from my father being an abusive alcoholic. My last name has meant "Dark/Evil foreigner" in Irish Gaelic since about the end of the 7th century. It came to pass that a bunch of vikings thought it would be a marvelous idea to invade Ireland, burn and pillage the monasteries, and wreak ten kinds of havoc all over Creation. That's a a great story to tell the grandchildren, right?

My first name didn't appear any better to me for the longest time. As I would search for character names for my stories and poetry, I would sometimes question my own name, and how well it fit me. In my mind, I didn't have an interesting name. I had a best friend growing up whose name was Guinevere, and I adored that her name had a story. Even children with Biblical names, although common, have the ability to look to the stories behind their names, and to find some measure of direction, or a lesson, or even just a sign that their parents put effort into what would identify them for the rest of their lives. And I know I only feel that way because I found out from my father that I was named after some blonde actress from the 80's. Plus, my name is also a flower, which was really detestable when I went through my stage of rabid feminism.

But I came to appreciate my name when I learned the lesson behind it. My first name actually has a legend, which I will paraphrase in order to keep from using my name in the description.

Long ago, the daughter of a poet fell in love with a brave warrior. He left to find fame and fortune, and would marry his beloved upon his return. But the poet's daughter was in a field with her father when a messenger brought her terrible news: her love had been killed in a fierce battle. With his last dying breath, he had whispered her name and pledged his undying love to her, while clutching his final gift: a small purple flower. After hearing tragic news, the woman ran to a nearby field, her gift in hand, until she was surrounded in the same purple blossoms. Her tears turned them white, and she wished that the new flowers would bring good fortune and protection to all of those fortunate enough to find them.

After hearing that story, I appreciated my name for the first time in the 17 years that I've had it. By nature, I'm very protective, and the details of the legend were so closely intertwined with my life that I wondered if my parents were really the ones who named me after all.

And as for my last name, I take comfort in the lesson I learned from The Scarlet Letter months ago that I haven't soon forgotten. If Hester Prynne can take a scarlet punishment that causes everyone to view her as filthy and unclean, surely I can take my name and bear it also. Surely I can use the agency, which has been my greatest gift, and associate my own life, my mission, my virtuous and upright nature with this legacy I've inherited. I may not be able to unwrite the stories of those who came before me. But my name, my story, will be my own; without the shame and disappointments of my forefathers.

"What's in a name?"

That's for you to decide.

22 July 2007

Seeing Christ in the Deathly Hallows

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows stands out to me; as my new favorite of the series, and as an excellent close on a series that has grown as I have grown, even in terms of existential questioning.

I remember joking with a freshman in my Physics class about how funny it would be if J.K. Rowling ended the series with some kind of religious appeal. He laughed and replied with a comment to the effect of, "That would be so weird. Why would she do that?"

Imagine my surprise when Christian undertones began to manifest repeatedly throughout the text. The church in Godric's Hollow, the Biblical references on the gravestones of Kendra & Ariana Dumbledore (Matthew 6:21) and Lily & James Potter (1 Corinthians 15: 26), the motif of the word "savior," and even the dialogue of Ron in the epilogue where he advises his daughter to "Thank God" that she inherited her mother's intellect. But these smaller instances of religious rhetoric affirm that J.K. Rowling's allegory to the New Testament was intentional.

The allegory manifests first with Dumbledore as a representation of Heavenly Father, a hypothesis that has existed in the other books since Chamber of Secrets. However, as Harry learns more about Dumbledore's personal life, and his plan for defeating Voldemort, Harry begins to ask questions that reflect core questions that all of us have probably asked our Father in Heaven at some point. This passage from the chapter "The Wandmaker" is a reflection of these questions:
"The Dumbledore in Harry's head smiled, surveying Harry over the tips of his fingers, pressed together as if in prayer.
You gave Ron the Deluminator. You understood him. . . . You gave him a way back. . . .
And you understood Wormtail too. . . . You knew there was a bit of regret there, somewhere. . . .
And if you knew them . . . What did you know about me, Dumbledore?
Am I meant to know, but not to seek? Did you know how hard I'd find that? Is that why you made it this difficult? So I'd have time to work that out?"
Dumbledore then proves to be quite a conniving character; planning for the greater good to be fulfilled at any and all costs, which may be how Heavenly Father appears sometimes, and how Dumbledore appears to one very confused Harry Potter as he learns more and more of what the purpose of his life is to be. Much like Jesus Christ might have felt, no? It actually should appear that way, because Harry Potter is a Christ figure. The evidence is both clear and plentiful:
  • Harry's nature parallels Christ-like qualities
  1. Forgives all men and creatures (Kreacher & Griphook)
  2. Refuses to kill (won't use Avanda Kedavra)
  3. Merciful to Voldemort in the end by telling him that remorse will save his life
  • Harry's actions mirror events from Christ's life
  1. Initial fight with Voldemort in the Forbidden Forest = Jesus suffering in the garden of Gethsemane
  2. Harry's willing sacrifice of his own life to save his friends = the Crucifixion
  3. Harry's return to life to finish the work he started = Christ's resurrection
Even Snape finds his place within the suggested allegory as a representation of Judas. Harry chooses to trust Dumbledore's judgement about Snape, despite how horrible his betrayal seemed to be. Like Judas betrayal in Heavenly Father's plan, Snape's betrayal had it's place in Dumbledore's plan: both resulted in a means of conquering Evil (Satan & Voldemort)

I'm sure many readers out there, like the freshman from my Physics class, did not see such a religious appeal coming from J.K. Rowling, and may even resent her for it. But such an appeal is not without a purpose. The main character, from a literary perspective, is the one the reader should be identifying with. Harry Potter is the main character, which means he is the source of the moral J.K. Rowling is communicating. When your main character is a Christ figure, that makes for a tall order of your audience, but is also very inspiring at the same time. Harry conquered Voldemort through decency and mercy, which allows the reader to aspire to be a better person; to find the Christ within us all. At the very least, Harry as Christ has the potential to inspire hope for Rowling's audience, the children that will finish Deathly Hallows and think, "If Harry Potter can forgive Voldemort, then maybe there's hope for my redemption."

I grew up with Harry Potter. I remember being in fourth grade, and our Language Arts teacher reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone aloud to us. Ever since then, I've had a deeper love for reading and stories. And much like Harry at that time, I had no idea what lay ahead of me. Now that I've reached the end of the Harry Potter series, I am at the point where I will soon close the book on my youth. However, the magic of my life has only begun, and I greet the years ahead with open arms for the adventures I know I will soon have. If there's anything I've learned from the Harry Potter books, it's to make your life extraordinary.

With my pen in hand and a prayer in my heart, that's exactly what I intend to do.
(P.S. I couldn't resist. *Giggles* Enjoy!)

04 July 2007

Reflections on Agency, from the Holocaust Museum

I went to the Holocaust Museum here in D.C., and even though I have studied the Holocaust extensively in the past, I haven't been exposed to it in depth since I've been baptized. So much from the exhibits will never leave me as long as I live. As I gazed in horror at all of the displays, my horror was real. My sorrow was profound and overwhelming, and yet I couldn't cry. For some reason, I could not cry. I could only gaze with dismay as man's inhumanity to man continued to bombard me from all sides. I couldn't speak. I could not pray. I could only keep moving, my discomfort sitting quietly in my chest like a dull ache.




It was hard for me to see the pictures of the charred, broken, mud-coated corpses, and know that they were my Brothers and Sisters. It was even harder for me to look upon the calloused features of the SS and realize that they too are my spirit siblings. The hardest of all was to see Hitler, and accept that even he is my spirit brother. I found it more than easy to despise Hitler for all that he created on this earth. Even when his dictatorship was first taking hold, and he permitted his soldiers to humiliate German women by making them wear signs that read "I've defiled myself by marrying a Jew." And what amazed me was the film on Hitler's rise to power, because there were so many places where he should have failed! He should have never risen to power. So many times, he could have and should have been stopped, especially in light of the fact that he never won a single election!

Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed. Never shall I forget that smoke. Never shall I forget the little faces of the children whose bodies I saw turned into wreaths of smoke beneath a silent blue sky. Never shall I forget those flames which consumed my faith forever. Never shall I forget that nocturnal silence which deprived me, for all eternity, of the desire to live. Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never.
Elie Wiesel

We are the shoes, We are the last witnesses
We are shoes from grandchildren and grandfathers.
From Prague, Paris and Amsterdam
And because we are only made of fabric and leather
And not of blood and flesh,
Each one of us avoided the Hellfire
-Moses Schulstein, Yiddish poet

These are quotes from the exhibits that stand out especially in my memory. They made me question the true nature of humanity, and even the nature of God Himself.

What do we possess within us that motivates us to be so cruel? We're able to spare shoes, but not people? If we are children of our Heavenly Parents, made in Their image, then how do we even possess the potential to be so evil? Some would say Satan, and I would like to say that so easily. However, I've always wondered, even feared, that Satan is no more than a scapegoat, and lives in the cruelty buried deep in the bosom of humanity-- something inherent in our nature that can only be overcome with discipline, but is always there. . .

When I got to the Remembrance Room, the ache in my chest began to loosen. A high ceilinged room of marble, lined on the outer wall with candles. Against the far wall, a torch burns in memory of the victims. Near the ceiling around the room were scriptures from Bible:

Only take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons’ sons.
Deuteronomy 4:9

The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground.
Genesis 4:10

For a moment, I forgot everything I knew about psychology, religion, even being a Mormon. I forgot myself. I forgot everything my formal education and experience had ever taught me about truth, and I asked, Why? Why would God allow His children to hurt each other this way?

But these are not the ways of God. These are the ways of Man. Without the gospel, or any variation of it, these are the things that are brought to pass.

We've been endowed with agency, which allows us to bring about any manner of horror! What a powerful gift we've been given from Our Father in Heaven, which makes me think He's trusting us. He's trusting us to do the right thing, which makes the Holocaust even more tragic.

We failed, utterly and completely, to do what has been expected of us all. And MILLIONS of people suffered and died as a result. His faith in us is both a miracle and a mistake in so many ways. It all comes back to choice-- we must choose this day, and each day, by which word we will be defined.
 
And so I prayed. I did not ask to be comforted, because what I had just witnessed was not supposed to make me feel comfortable.

I prayed for the dead; that they might have peace wherever they are now, and I prayed that I might be able to do what so many others refused to do when it mattered most: to act. I prayed for resolve, that we all might be a little more diligent to protecting each other. I prayed to remember what we all must learn. We are Brothers and Sisters in Christ! We are their Keepers! The worst and best we do unto them, we do unto God Himself!

The words CHOOSE THE RIGHT have never been so sacred. . .

Popular Posts