Terrence Malick’s 1978 film, “Days of Heaven,” is a meditation on loss, destiny, and beauty. Almost everything in the film, quite literally, goes up in flames, swept away by forces over which no one has any control. It is no mistake that the film ends with soldiers boarding a train that will carry them into the chaos of battle at the beginning of the First World War.

“Days of Heaven” tells the story of an ill-fated love triangle between Bill, his girlfriend Abby, and the Texas wheat farmer they go to work for in the early years of the twentieth century.

The central character of “Days of Heaven” plays no real role in the film. Bill’s younger sister Linda simply watches what is happening. She is an essentially passive observer of the events in which her life is caught up. For most of the movie she is carried along by circumstances over which she has no control, commenting on events as they unfold.

At the end of “Days of Heaven” Linda walks off into the distance with a new friend. She says,

This girl she didn’t know where she was going or what she was going to do. She didn’t have no money on her. Maybe she’d meet up with a character. I was hopin’ things would work out for her. She was a good friend of mine.

In “Days of Heaven” Terrence Malick wrestles with the question of fate. Are we merely passive victims of powers beyond our control, or are we masters of our own destiny?

Linda’s older brother Bill has tried to control the circumstances of his life. He has schemed and worked in an attempt to make his life turn out the way he believes it should. But everything Bill does simply leads to disaster. In the middle of the film, speaking to his rival for Abby’s affections, Bill admits,

One day you wake up, find out you’re not the smartest guy in the world, never going to come up with a big score. When I was growing up, I thought I really would.

This could well stand as a summary of Mr. O’Brien’s life in “The Tree of Life.” Mr. O’Brien has worked hard to make himself a success. In the end, he says he has ended up “a zilch.” His 1950’s work ethic and his rigid self-discipline have not brought about the outcomes for which he had hoped. Forces over which he was powerless have shaped Mr. O’Brien’s life just as they will crush Bill in “Days of Heaven”.

Is Malick encouraging us to give up in despair and simply float through life carried along by the raging torrent of circumstance?

What does he offer in response to the reality that we are not ultimately the masters of our own destiny?

In “Days of Heaven” Linda sees the adults in her life being battered by the chaotic force of unlucky circumstance and the insanity of their own choices. She concludes,

Nobody’s perfect. There was never a perfect person around. You just got half-devil and half-angel in you.

In Malick’s world, nothing is perfect, or perhaps everything is perfect. The key is where we are looking.

“Days of Heaven” is one of the most visually beautiful films that has ever been made. It is filled with scenes of stunning natural beauty. The reality is, if only our eyes are open to behold it, life is permeated with glory.

For those who are able to see, no matter how difficult the circumstances may be, there is glory everywhere. The details of our lives may be challenging and painful. We may have to work long hard days. Circumstances may unfold along torturous twisting paths. But, if only we will open our eyes, the transcendent beauty is present in every moment of every day.

Our lives are not divided into “Days of Heaven” and days of Hell. For those with the subtle senses to perceive, there are intimations of Heaven all the way to Heaven.

Malick wants to train us to see. He wants to instill gratitude in the midst of pain. He wants us to know that, no matter what forces may be at work in the world, there are always moments of grace. We can enter into life and trust the beauty.

Jesus said, “Consider the lilies of the field.” (Matthew 6:28) This might well be a fitting summary of Malick’s instruction in the face of the often difficult realities of life. Pay attention to the manifestations of the Divine presence everywhere. They will carry you along.

No matter how much loss we may experience, nor how chaotic our circumstances may be, we can always open to the reality of the shining moments and they will be enough.