In between the tennis and cricket, I happened upon Tom Hanks in ‘Castaway’ this week. One of the features of the movie is that being totally alone, he adopts ‘Wilson’ (a blood stained volley ball) as his conversation partner. He talks to ‘Wilson’ and ‘Wilson’ becomes his conscience, and everything else.
So Tom Hanks manages to build a raft, to get out beyond the breakers, and to find his way to bei9ng found. There were two things that happened on this part of the journey that particularly touched me.
The first one is that he loses ‘Wilson’. Tom Hanks is asleep on his raft, and the same wave that wakes him, washes Wilson overboard. He floats away. Tom Hanks tries to swim after him, tying himself to the raft, but the effort is too great for him in his weakened state. Wilson floats away.
Tom Hanks returns to the raft, and cries and cries.
This feels to me like a ‘middle state’ Tom is no longer on the island. The ‘person’ who has become his only companion is not needed, because Tom is no longer on the island. But Tom is not yet saved. The loss of Wilson is not voluntary, but a necessary ‘death’ to what his life has become, in order to that he might take up a new life, as yet unknown.
The next thing that happens is that, because of the kind of timber that it is, and because of the length of time that it has been floating, the raft begins to sink. The only option is to lighten the load. Tom takes his oars and himself drops them into the water. The next scene is of a huge container ship passing within 100 metres of Tom’s raft.
This scene in the movie became Gospel for me. The oars represent Tom’s ability to ‘steer’ his own life. The task for him at the moment was to ‘let go’ of his ability to steer his life, and at this point to ‘float’.
I am reminded of the image that Hildegard of Bingen used of her self: ‘a feather on the breath of God.’
And there are lots of other images that take us into the heart of Scripture. Jesus says to Peter ‘There was a time when you put on your belt and you went where you wanted. There will come a time when someone else will put a blet on you, and take you where you do not want to go.’
Or at the Annunciation. Mary has her future announced to her. She does not know how s this is going to happen, so she has to give up the ‘oars’ of her life and say ‘Let it be done to me according to your will.’
This is the message that I am getting from these stories, and this movie.
Life at the moment is in flux. I have come back from Switzerland, but the contours of my priestly life in Australia have not yet been established.
Being married is a continual process of learning what it means to let another person exercise some control over my life.
The first ‘motto’ I used in this situation was, between gritted teeth, almost, to say ‘Well I guess I have to exercise ‘mutual submission in love.’ But that sounds too harsh.
So then I took up the other Gospel story “We have been fishing all night, but at your word we will let down the nets on the other side.’ My version of this is ‘I have lived my life for the last 25 years on my own, and did all right, but because you say so, I will do what you want, this time.’
Now I think the image for me is the one from ‘Castaway’. Am I able to gently let the ‘oars’ go and to float on the raft of, what? God’s holding me?
That is the image that has most life and energy for me now. That is the one I am keeping before me.
But on a broader canvas, this scene from ‘Castaway’ is also a depiction of of the Baptismal life: Tom Hanks has established a ‘life; on the island, but in order to get to his ‘new life’ (in order to be saved, literally) he has to die to that life. Solitary though it be, it was some kind of a ‘life’. The death of ‘Wilson’ is the symbol of Tom Hank’s ‘death’ to that life. But then comes the ‘raft’ or ‘entombment’ phase of the baptismal life. This is the piece that resonates with me at the moment. The image of ‘letting the oars slip away’ characterises the trust in ‘not being in control’ that this phase of the baptismal life needs. And last, Tom finds a new life in the movie. His wife, believing him to be dead has re-married. Although there is genuine affection between them, Tom cannot simply take up the cudgels of his old life again. The last scene of the movie has Tom Hanks delivering a package to the person who should have received it but didn’t , by virtue of the plane crash that also put Tom Hanks on the island. He is literally standing at a ‘cross roads’ wondering which way to go, when an attractive woman, of about his age offers him help. He waits till she has gone, then goes down her part of the cross road. One can imagine the end.
The movies, which many people go to, hide beneath the surface the symbolic life by which we all live. But it is a shame, that as many people do not see the Gospel sources of this particular movie, and draw on them on a regular basis. This is available to everyone, every Sunday!
I can only finish with a quote from one of the first people to write the ‘script’ for the movie ‘Castaway’: the author of the Epistles of Peter. “For Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, in order to bring you to God. [like]…Noah, during the building of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight people, were [like Tom Hanks] saved through water. And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you….” (1 Peter 3)