Ring the bells that still can ring

Hans Rollmann
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For me the past two weeks have been a bittersweet memory trip, beginning with "Prince Caspian," the Disney film version of C.S. Lewis's children's book. I did not become an instant Lewis fan. The Oxford don's rational and forensic approach to religion as well as his rejection of academic Bible studies put me off in the 1960s. Only more recently, in part through his fiction, have I come to value more the insights of this British apologist for Christianity. "The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe" was perhaps the most theological of his novels. Its representation of law and gospel and the redemptive consequences of the death and resurrection of an innocent victim, the Christ-like lion Aslan, provide also the context for "Prince Caspian." In this sequel, the children-kings of old help to recover and restore in the enchanted world of Narnia a golden age and just reign, lost after 1300 years of oppression and decay. Lewis warned against translating his fictional worlds as simple allegories of Christ and the first century, but he allowed nevertheless some connection on a "suppositional" level, in his words, as "an invention giving an imaginary answer to the question, 'What might Christ become like, if there really were a world like Narnia and He chose to be incarnate and die and rise again in that world as He actually has done in ours?'"

Indiana Jones

I found an entirely different reconnection with my past in the latest Indiana Jones movie, which conjures up once more nostalgia, adventure, and discovery amid ever-present dangers. This time sinister Nazis are replaced by equally evil Stalinists. The cold-war backdrop of nuclear testing reminded me of the general fear of global annihilation that pervaded my childhood. The cinematic survival of Indiana Jones in a nuclear blast recalls a public lecture I attended as a child, in which a government operative solemnly told us to cover our heads with newspapers in case of an atomic attack. The rest of the movie carries us into the jungles of Peru in search of a crystal skull, needed to help aliens who brought a superior civilization to the Maya escape this miserable, warmongering world into another dimension. Somehow, I was not able to recover the same satisfaction from this well-crafted but now somewhat distant adventure flick.

Leonard Cohen

The unmitigated pleasure of my spiritual nostalgia tour, however, was Monday's concert with Leonard Cohen, who did not disappoint. His performance and that of his band and backup were strong and powerful. The audience, two-thirds grey, but generously peppered with the generation under 30, connected enthusiastically with this troubadour of love at 74, who performed repeated encores. One can describe Monday night's concert as a spiritual event, a fellowship of moderns who long for love and community but who often do not find them in pews and churches. Cohen in his inimitably gravelly but melodious voice betrayed how much religion is still on his mind. Untroubled by the weight of history and Wayne Johnston's bitter-humorous childhood reminiscences, he observed the poetic beauty in the name of the auditorium, "Holy Heart of Mary," just as he had once spoken feelingly in one of his classic songs about "Sisters of Mercy." Reminiscing about his own religious journey from Judaism to Zen Buddhism, Cohen commented that he had tried many religious ways, but in the end "cheerfulness kept breaking through." Finally, and for me personally a signal moment in the concert, he recited the refrain to "Anthem," that verse that rings with truth and illuminates with hope the darkness and brokenness of our existence: "Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in."

Hans Rollmann is a professor of Religious Studies at MUN and a Cohen fan, who can be reached by email: hrollman@mun.ca.

Organizations: MUN

Geographic location: Narnia, Oxford, Peru

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