Alfonso Cuarón’s Gravity
(Ex.17:8-13; 2Tim.3:14-4:2; Lk.18:1-8)
Being cast adrift can be a scary experience.
That’s what we see in Alfonso Cuarón’s movie Gravity. It won seven Oscars in 2014. [i]
Sandra Bullock stars as a young astronaut, Dr Ryan Stone, on her first space mission. George Clooney is her commander, a veteran astronaut on his last space expedition.
Disaster strikes while they’re investigating the Hubble Space Telescope. Their space shuttle is destroyed, they lose contact with the world and they start floating hopelessly into space. It’s a frightening thought.
The film is set in outer space, but the real story is about the inner life of this young woman. Her drifting through space serves as a metaphor for human life, for so many people today do seem to be drifting aimlessly through life.
Dr Stone discovers to her horror that science cannot answer the most basic questions about life, and this movie asks the question: when science and technology fail, what’s left to sustain us?
At one point, she thinks she’s going to die. She cannot contact mission control, but keeps talking into her microphone anyway, asking, ‘Who’ll pray for my soul? Will you say a prayer for me? I’d say one myself, but I’ve never been taught how to’.
She discovers that we all need a faith and hope that’s grounded in solid truth, a truth that exists beyond us. And she learns that prayer is our only real lifeline to that truth and hope. (This point explains the film’s tagline: Don’t Let Go.)
There’s a similar message for us in today’s reading from Exodus. The Israelites are under attack, and as they try to defend themselves, Moses is praying on a hilltop. His hands are held high and he’s looking up towards heaven (for that’s how the ancients prayed).
As long as Moses keeps his arms up in constant prayer, the Israelites are safe; but when he lowers them, the enemy gains ground.
The message is simple: Keep praying! Don’t let go!
Like Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity, there are times when we all feel we’ve been cast adrift. We feel lost, fearful and uncertain of where we’re going. That’s why Jesus in today’s Gospel reminds us of the source of our hope. Pray constantly, he says. Never lose heart.
Don’t let go!
But what is prayer? Basically, it’s communicating with God, and there are many ways to do this: in words, in song and even in silence. We can also pray by reading Scripture and by participating in the liturgy, most especially the Holy Eucharist.
Some of us have yet to find God, so prayer is also our search for him. We can look for God in our hearts and minds or listen for his quiet voice. We can seek him in art, music and literature, or sense him in the people, events and world around us. All these are forms of prayer.
But once we’ve found God, prayer is then reaching out to him, inviting him into our lives, allowing him to change us from within.
After that, prayer is staying connected with God, sharing in his divine nature and living as he wants us to.
St John Vianney described prayer as union with God. Prayer, he said, is like two candles – one for God and one for the soul – that have slowly melted into each other and become inseparable.
Ultimately, however, prayer is love. It’s our heartfelt search for the source of all life and love. And when we find God, when we absorb all he has to offer, then we become a source of new life and love for others. God then works through us, offering others a new beginning.
But this is only possible if we accept that there’s more to life than what we see.
Like Dr Stone in Gravity, we must learn that there truly is a deeper, spiritual world beyond the limits of space and time, for God is the source of all truth and meaning; the home of all love. And that’s where we belong.
There’s a moment in Gravity where Dr Stone starts to understand. She’s floating in space in a foetal position, and then emerges with new life. This image is reinforced in the final scene where she emerges from the sea to begin afresh, in the same way that we rise to new life from the waters of baptism.
Our challenge then, is to maintain our link to the source of all life.
October is the month of the Holy Rosary, which reminds us of the ancient prayer that focuses so beautifully on the life of Jesus Christ.
St Therese of Lisieux saw the Rosary as a long chain linking heaven and earth, with one end in our hands, and the other in the hands of Jesus and Mary.
Like all prayer, the Rosary is an important lifeline to the truth of our existence.
Whatever you do, don’t let go!
[i] Alfonso Cuaron, Gravity, Warner Bros. Entertainment, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ou_04SOqmdU