Monday, 3 April 2017
Tale Older than Time
Beauty and the Beast? I'm going to do that thing where you say 'Ah! That's a bit like Jesus, that is.' Sorry.
So Adventure Girl and I finally went to see the new movie version. The 90s cartoon version was her favourite film as a little girl, and the movie took me back to hazy Sunday afternoons slumped on the sofa, catching up on sleep while my little girl with her endless energy spun around the room in her somewhat torn yellow Belle dress, the songs whirling through my dozy, tiny-children-sleep-deprived head. As I watched the new film, some of these words came back to me, conjuring up the taste of yearning the story always left me with. I want adventure in the Great Wide Somewhere, I want it more than I can say, Belle sings to a sweeping backdrop of stunning mountain scenery. It struck me that in our lives we are all longing for the great wide somewhere, we are all looking for the big adventure, all drawn towards the soul-level keening for more, and that every story we tell reflects this hidden truth deep within humanity: We are made for more.
Jaded cynics' comments regarding Stockholm Syndrome aside, I thought about some of the themes in the film and wondered why they always grabbed hold of me so. I think the central motifs are of redemption and restoration. Here we have a prince, a bit of a nasty piece of work by all accounts, selfish and rude, turning away an ugly old hag begging for shelter and getting something of a shock when she morphs into a fearful - if beautiful - enchantress and curses him and the entire castle in one fell swoop. It's only when and if he learns to love that they will be released from their bonds, she says, but he'd better do it by the time this rose drops its final petal. So we get the rather grumpy beast who can't find it in him to treat people very nicely, including Belle's father and Belle herself when they drop in. Belle, of course, is a poor village girl, shunned by others for being 'different'. Adventure Girl always liked her the best of all the Disney Princesses 'because she has some sass about her'.
You know the story - Beauty melts Beast's hard heart. You see it beginning to soften, amid the harshness of perpetual winter over the enchanted castle. Love is doing its unique thing, weaving around hearts and minds with transformative power, leaving little room for doubt or fear. And this is where it differs from the norm, where justice is done and the baddies go down: this baddy is changed. This baddy is redeemed. He's given another chance, grace is extended to him freely and gloriously as Belle makes the decision to forget his previous bad behaviour and love him anyway.
You can see where this is going...
That unconditional love is something we can all grasp hold of and all be changed by, poured down over us like morning dew. God is all about redemption. Second chances. Lavish grace.
And then there's the restoration, the dazzling, triumphant restoration. As the beast is transformed, not only back into human form but into something different than before, something softer, something capable of love - so the enchantment is broken and the castle is set free. The imagery is startling; dark grotesque gargoyles utterly remodelled into golden, stunning eagles and angels and cherubs, broken pieces fallen to the ground in the misery of despair and disrepair swept up and re-attached to where they belong, reminding me of a passage in Isaiah:
They will rebuild the ancient ruins
and restore the places long devastated;
they will renew the ruined cities
that have been devastated for generations.
The sense of joy as the ruins are rebuilt and renewed is tangible. The castle is set free from its bondage to decay, from its constant winter, and spring comes quickly, flowers opening in delight all over the awakening gardens, darkness fleeing in the face of the light flooding in. Things are put right, restored to their former glory and beyond. The beast is given a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Even the enchantress is redeemed in the new version, breaking the spell herself even when it seems too late, even when the final petal has fallen and the cursed objects lay too still on the battered ground. She observes a love stronger than death and chooses life. She goes against her own law of the curse, and chooses freedom.
Tale as old as time, tune as old as song, Mrs Potts sings over the couple twirling through the larger-than-life ballroom. The truth is, we are in that tale, the story as old as time, the song older still. The God outside time who made us for the great wide somewhere, made us for more than this. Made us for glorious relationship with him and with each other. J.R.R Tolkien said that we’re all searching for an overarching story, a story where things are made right in the end, because that will be our story, where justice will be done and mourning will be no more. That’s why we love stories with happy endings, we want things to be resolved, we’re desperate for injustice to be wiped away and for the poor village girl to get her prince.
I love that they added some words to Tale as old as Time in the new version, right at the end. 'Winter turns to spring,' sings Mrs Potts, 'famine turns to feast.' How glorious a picture of our faith and the hope it holds, the life in its fullness offered, the transformative power of the gospel.
May we know our winter turning to spring, our famine turning to feast. May we choose to live in the story which will end with love winning. Even though we're in the battle still, the conflict where the beast is still trapped in his enchanted cage and the village girl is desperate and afraid, we’re trapped in our seasons of pain and mourning and fear, yet may we know times of provision and laughter and hope as we wait for the story to come to its yearned for climax, the ending which carries us through to eternity in a contentment we can’t even conceive of in this life.
Tale as old as time? Or a story even older. Song as old as rhyme? Or the song which streams through history and beyond, bringing redemption and restoration, hope in the darkness and as many second chances as we ask for. Irradicable, indestructible hope and love which never, ever fails us.