Books Life

The Ballad Of X

“It would be nice if people were to understand that science is a special exercise in perceiving the world without metaphor, and that, powerful though it is, it doesn’t function as a guide to those very large aspects of experience that can’t be perceived except through metaphor.” —Francis Spufford, Unapologetic

“If modern science is a religion, then one of its presiding deities must be Sherlock Holmes. To the modern scientist as to the great detective, every mystery is a problem, and every problem can be solved. A mystery can exist only because of human ignorance, and human ignorance is always remediable. The appropriate response is not deference or respect, let alone reverence, but pursuit of ‘the answer.’ This pursuit, however, is properly scientific only so long as the mystery is empirically or rationally solvable. When a scientist denies or belittles a mystery that cannot be solved, then he or she is no longer within the bounds of science.” —Wendell Berry, Life Is A Miracle

“My father uses a blue highlighter to remind him of the good bits he reads, but it has trouble sticking to sunsets or thunderstorms or the cries of the meadowlark in the spring. His guitar is more helpful.” —N.D. Wilson, Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl

Sometimes, solving for x requires writing a song.

Books Film God

The Purple Rose of Heaven


Just read this in the peroration of N.D. Wilson’s (magnificent, challenging, tempestuous) Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl:

If the Maker of the world were to descend to earth, how would you expect him? If you heard that the Infinite, the Spirit Creator was entering into His own Art, wouldn’t you look to the clouds? Wouldn’t you look to the cherubim in their storms; wouldn’t you expect a tornado chariot?

There really must be meaning in the universe, because I read this passage the morning after watching Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo, which asks similar questions N.D. Wilson does. Cecilia, the downtrodden waitress in Depression-era New Jersey with a tool of a husband, goes to see the film-within-a-film The Purple Rose of Cairo so many times that the character of Tom Baxter, the wide-eyed archaeologist, feels compelled to call out to her in the midst of the movie. Tom is so transfixed on Cecilia that he breaks through the screen into the real world and runs away with her.

Tom isn’t the creator (or the Creator) in the story here, but he is the infinite made finite. The eternal, the Art, come down to earth. Not by a cherubim storm or tornado chariot, but by a brave step into another dimension. Cecilia is astonished. All those times she came to the theater alone to watch the film for hope or escape, they are now dwarfed by the source of her hope made tangible before her eyes. Looking at the screen was her way of not looking at the ground, but now, in a way, she gets to look at the clouds.

Alas, the dream would just be a dream, seemingly over as quick as it started. The entr’acte cannot last forever, for the show must go on. The art must return to its frame, and the viewer to her life. But the film’s bittersweet resolution doesn’t negate Cecilia’s soulful resurgence. She watches Fred croon to Ginger: Heaven… I’m in heaven.

Fade to black. Next showing in twenty minutes.