This weekend I stayed at an inn in North Wales, Pennsylvania where we celebrated a baby shower for my cousin Katie—she and her husband Nick are expecting their first child—a baby girl—in October. I chose to drive to the inn the day before the shower, stay overnight at this lovely inn, enjoy the accommodations, celebrate the baby shower, and then drive home to Queens, NY.
After a lovely evening meal at an outdoor table, accompanied by piano music (including selections from LES MISERABLES) and a walk around the grounds I went to my room and got settled. The TV didn’t have the INSP network (which I have at home via Verizon Fios), so I couldn’t watch a rerun of THE WALTONS, nor did it have a Catholic or other Christian channel or THE HALLMARK CHANNEL, and the best program I could find was the movie “EAT, PRAY, LOVE” with Julia Roberts (to whom I’d gladly love to donate 10 pounds). I happened to tune it in when she was enjoying a Thanksgiving meal with a family in Rome, I watched the segment of her time in India, and I turned it off during the segment in Bali, partially because I was tired and needed to sleep and partially because I suspected the film would take a turn that I would not want to see. So this reflective critique is based on the segment of the film I actually watched.
I can understand that the Julia Roberts character (I don’t remember her name—was it Liz?—I remember that a character named Richard in the India segment called her “groceries” since she had a large plate of food in front of her) would experience the joy of eating in Rome, since the reputation of Italian cuisine is well known. But why would she have to leave Rome to go to India to learn to pray? I suspect that this is part of the anti-Catholic and even anti-Christian bias of many in the entertainment industry for which Eastern religions have more appeal. Here this woman was visiting the headquarters of the Catholic Church, St. Peter’s Basilica, and the place where many martyrs died rather than renounce their faith, and she leaves there to go to India?
I must confess that to a certain extent her character might not learn the secret of prayer in Rome, the bustling city and seat of government of the Church with all its pomp, position, prestige, politics and bureaucracy—hopefully Pope Francis will continue as he started and renew the Church by continuing to rid it of some of its worldly external entrapments and to bring it closer to Gospel simplicity. But why India? Why an ashram? She could have saved herself a lot of travel time and travel cost and gone from Rome, the government head of the Church to the HEART of the Church, which is ASSISI! There she would have encountered the legacy of St. Francis and St. Clare, who demonstrated the way of love and the way of prayer in the One Who IS the WAY, JESUS CHRIST, and in living the Gospel, and it has been said that the holiness that permeated their lives still permeates the atmosphere of Assisi, where people are still seeking to walk in their footsteps. Perhaps there she could have found the answer to reviving her struggling marriage in the words of the Peace Prayer attributed to our beloved St. Francis: “where there is injury, pardon…where there is despair, hope…to understand…to love…it is in giving that we receive…”.
But instead the scene shifts dramatically to her ride in a cab from the airport to an ashram (or whatever) in India to spend time learning to meditate from a guru. As she rides in her cab, poor beggar children are pawing at her window and she does nothing. HELLO! Here this woman is supposedly seeking God or seeking herself or seeking nirvana and she totally disregards JESUS in her midst in His “distressing disguise” of poor children! One of her first assignments is to scrub the floor. Believe me; I would not spend my money on airfare to India to scrub floors!! I pay my CLEANING LADY to scrub my floors! If she wanted to scrub floors, would it not have made much more sense to find an elderly or infirmed family member, friend or neighbor who needed her floor scrubbed! At least she would then have been performing an act of charity and humble service for someone who needed her help right where she lived! And if she really wanted to learn to pray in India, it would have been much better for her to have gone to a convent of the Missionaries of Charity—Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s order—because there she could have learned the secret of praying in silence –not to “nothing” but to LOVE INCARNATE, JESUS CHRIST in the Blessed Sacrament, and to encounter Him not only in Eucharistic Adoration but in loving Him by loving service to “the poorest of the poor”. There she could have learned BOTH to PRAY and to LOVE. And if she was interested in scrubbing floors, I am sure that they would have gladly given her the opportunity! :~ Finding God DOES involve some self-emptying, as those in Eastern religions claim, but what use is self-emptying UNLESS the end result is SELF-GIVING and in being “FILLED with the fullness of God Himself!” (See Ephesians 3:14-21).
Apparently through her prayer exercises and a friendship with a somewhat critical seeker named Richard this woman achieves a certain measure of peace. She has some flashbacks to her married life—she still loves her husband but sadly concludes “nothing is forever”. She recognizes the Presence of God within, but although it is good that she realizes that God is within and is not merely Someone requiring performance, she fails to recognize that God only enters where He is invited and welcomed and that God is NOT “us” but One Who lives in us to transform us into the person He created us to become—a unique individual but also a new, unique reflection of JESUS CHRIST.
In her new found peace and happiness she pets an elephant and the scene abruptly switches to Bali, where she meets another kind of teacher who seems to emphasize “balance” and she supposedly learns how to love. Since I had read that she supposedly has an affair in Bali I concluded that this segment was not worth watching.
I still don’t know if the “end result” of the film is that she has “moved on” and will officially end what had been turning into a “loveless marriage”, which would be a likely conclusion of the entertainment industry and too many people in real life—or if she discovers that it is important to invest what she has received from her lessons in eating, praying and loving in giving her marriage a second chance. Since this movie is based on a well-known book which, I believe, is a chronicle of one woman’s life experience, perhaps someday I’ll glance at the final chapter in a local bookstore. It’s just sad that she did not encounter JESUS CHRIST and help her husband to encounter Him. If they both had encountered JESUS CHRIST and learned to see Him in each other and put Him in the center of a sacramental marriage, then they could have endured as my parents have been doing for 63 years and counting!
Ultimately the book and film “EAT, PRAY, LOVE” shows me that the world is in desperate need of the Gospel and that we Catholics (as well as other Christians) need to pray and work harder and smarter in the task of evangelization. We already know that "the world" is "off base". We as Church and as individual Christians are called to evangelize and we see that many people in the world are trying to get their needs--including their SPIRITUAL needs--met in "all the wrong places". It has been said that "evangelization is one beggar telling/showing another beggar where the bread is." People are spiritually starving without JESUS CHRIST. We need to find better ways to reach them. We have to know something about what is going on in their hearts and reach out and give them JESUS. Obviously we have to do this in a way that never compromises Truth or any of our doctrines or moral principles. But how do they perceive the Church, Christ and Christians? Do they merely see us as "institution", "rules, regulations and rituals", and "Thou shalt not"? YES, that
is part of who and what we are, but we are about so much more! We need to give them JESUS--to show them JESUS--to help them to see JESUS as He really is--LOVE INCARNATE, MERCY INCARNATE, the GOD Who loves us so much that He came to dwell with us and share our lives, to die for our sins, to win victory over sin and death through His cross and resurrection, and the One without Whom our hearts will forever be restless until we find our rest in HIM!
© Copyright 2013 by Arlene B. Muller (Arlene Clare Muller, SFO)