I am pretty sure I have said enough about Terrence Malick’s film “The Tree of Life” on this blog.
The only people who have had to suffer through more “Tree of Life” talk than readers of “In A Spacious Place,” are those who sit patiently listening to constant references to the film in my Sunday sermons. Yesterday I performed a wedding and Malick even found his way into the wedding sermon.
It is time to take a break from my most recent magnificent obsession. But, before I lay it down, I want to make one more attempt to explain what it is about this film that has had such an impact in my life.
This post is actually my wife’s fault. We were sitting outside on the deck yesterday. The sun was warm. We could hear birds in the yard and watch as they dipped their heads to drink from the birdbath. We were surrounded by trees blowing gently in the wind. Heather said, “You should write a blog about ‘The Tree of Life’ as an experience of enlightenment.”
She’s right. My experience watching Malick’s film was the experience of having my heart broken open. It started the moment Mrs. O’Brien collapsed on the floor in grief and it continued as Mr. O’Brien received the tragic news of his son’s death over the phone. In neither case did they utter a single word. There was nothing to say. Jessica Chastain and Brad Pitt made the O’Briens’ sadness palpable. My rusty old heart began to break open on the anvil of their grief.
From this intimate moment of personal tragedy and the brokenness of all creation, “The Tree of Life” expanded out into the universe. I was catapulted into an instinctive awareness that the pain of a mother and a father losing a son is held in a much greater picture of cosmic power and energy than I often allow myself to contemplate.
It is not that the film sought in any way to diminish the sadness. It simply called me to open to the possibility that the tragedy of a child’s death might be part of a greater drama in which life is carried along by an invisible creative force that is oriented towards the full becoming of all creation.
Then “The Tree of Life” drops the viewer into 1950′s Texas and the daily little dramas, challenges, struggles, and joys of the O’Brien family.
Each moment of this intimate family story is filled with sparks of grace and goodness. Around every corner, there are intimations of a transcendent reality that Mrs. O’Brien calls simply “love.”
“The Tree of Life” opened my heart to the reality of eternity, not as a far away and distant place, but as an experience that is available in every moment and every event of every day. There is no need to wait for “heaven” in the future; heaven is available today, and tomorrow, and the next day. The challenge is simply to see.
“The Tree of Life” helped the eye of my heart to perceive the beauty of wind blowing in the grass, the stirring gift of cascading water, bird sounds, evening light filtering through the trees, the gentle touch of compassion, and the kindness of one person towards another.
Enlightenment in “The Tree of Life” is not some overwhelming emotional experience. It is a heart that is vulnerable to the beauty and tenderness of the present moment.
The power of this film is that, by some mysterious force, it caused my heart to soften. It allowed me to experience the invisible force of life that permeates all of existence.
“The Tree of Life” opened me to the place within myself where I perceive that all the disparate and apparently fragmented parts of life are held in a unified reality of love and light. This is the foundation of all existence; it is the experience of centuries of spiritual tradition have called “enlightenment”.