Wednesday, June 16, 2010

O Brother

Have you seen the movie, O Brother Where Art Thou?
The film begins with the escape of three friends, Everett, Pete, and Delmar from a chain gang in rural, depression era Mississippi. Still in leg irons, they set out to retrieve the $1.2 million in treasure that Everett stole from an armored car and buried before his incarceration, and they've got to find it fast. In four days, the whole valley will be flooded to create Arkabutla Lake, and all hopes for riches will be lost.

It's a modern retelling of Homer's Odyssey, and it's hilarious and scary and has an amazing soundtrack that burrows under your skin like ringworm.
A gorgeous, soulful ringworm, but still.

We watched it again at the beach last week, and ever since we got back home, I've been singing Man of Constant Sorrow and When I Went Down to the River to Pray. I'm crazy about both of those songs, but my family is beginning to wish they could figure out how to change my channel.

Then yesterday, as I fiddled with this blog, adding photos of our French life to the French Living page, I came across this picture.

Yes, that man in the black coat is actually me. (I know it's not fashionable, but I'm a Carolina girl who gets cold in the snow, so sorry.)
It was taken during the first year of our French life, during our first visit to Notre Dame d'Orcival, a 13th century Romanesque basilica in the tiny village of Orcival, about forty minutes from where we used to live.

Here's a better photo of the church.

Photo by Francis Debaisieux
The basilica is indeed a world treasure, but the thing that struck me most about it is what hangs on an outer wall. See it in the inset there?

Here, let me blow it up for you.

Photo by Francis Debaisieux
Those are leg irons.
Leg irons, just like the ones binding Everett and Pete and Delmar.
I saw the photo of us standing in the snow beneath the leg irons and remembered that cold day as my brain started singing
I am a man of constant sorrow I've seen trouble all my day. I bid farewell to old Kentucky The place where I was born and raised.

Our Michelin Green Guide said that the chains had been hung "in thanksgiving for released prisoners." Ben wanted to know just who was released and if it was really safe to set prisoners free, and Sarah said that maybe they weren't supposed to be in jail anyway, especially if they were the kind of prisoners who care about thanking God.

But the chains got all of us thinking and talking about what it means for God to set us free.
And yesterday, as I looked at that picture and sung along with Everett, I remembered this verse:
7 He upholds the cause of the oppressed
and gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets prisoners free,

8 the LORD gives sight to the blind,
the LORD lifts up those who are bowed down,
the LORD loves the righteous.

9 The LORD watches over the alien
and sustains the fatherless and the widow,
but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

Psalm 146:7-9, New International Version

It's a lovely scripture, but at first thought, I wasn't sure that it had anything to do with me.
I'm not really oppressed (except by my laundry pile, ha ha.) I'm not hungry or in prison, blind or made to bow down. I'm not an alien anymore, nor am I fatherless or a widow.

But maybe it speaks to me too.
I might not be guilty of doing things that land me in prison, but I know I'm imprisoned in other ways.
Even though I try not to, I do things and think things that keep me from living the whole, healthy life God wants for me.

I envy other people. What they own that I don't. Their talents. What looks like the ease of their lives. I worry too much, and sometimes I let fear keep me from doing things that would please God. Fear of what other people might think. Fear of failing.

I could go on, but you get the point.
I'm just thankful that even though God knows all about my sorry failings, He refuses to shut the door on me. God lets me in anyway, unbinding me daily from the chains that hold me back, letting me try to do better, again and again.

I can see why Ben was worried. Is it really smart of God to operate this way? To set the prisoners free, with just their word and a piddly human effort to do better?
But that's how God operates.
That's how grace operates.
No wonder they call it amazing!

I'd love to hear your thoughts. Have you seen the movie?
What imprisons you?

Have a great Wednesday, y'all!
Love, Becky


Natalie said...

I love the movie... it has more substance than people give it credit for.
And I love your reflections... you are speaking to my heart, from my heart. I just so completely feel connected to your words.
In this life of mine, in my own Odyssey, I fear, envy, worry, and imprison myself, and sorrow too much.
Oh, you have put me in deep thoughts. Let's meet for tea or coffee, we'll linger and talk... and I am sure we can be a comfort to one another.

Paula Clare said...

Hi Becky,
THANKS ALOT! Now I have those two songs stuck in my head (it could be worse I realize) It's one of my favorite movies...I think George Clooney makes a good cynical lawyer...and Delmar and Pete just totally CRACK ME UP..."" GREAT line!

I love your spirituality and the reflections you draw from everyday you're working on a book of devotionals, right?

Laura said...

I'ts been ages...I want to watch it again.

Great pictures and wonderful thoughts. Another lesson that struck me that it He sometimes uses me to help lift up those fallen and widowed and fatherless. I forget to look for those opportunities.

Yes, grace! I'm re-reading What's So Amazing About Grace by Yancey, and drinking it in.

Rebecca Ramsey said...

Natalie, let's do. I'm so thankful for conversation I share with my blogging friends like you. It really is a comfort!

Hey Paula, so many great lines. Around here we use "We're in a tight spot" all the time! No, not really a book of devotionals, though I want to do that too. But I am concentrating on the spiritual stuff. It's what I enjoy most and feels the best to me.

Hi Laura, that book is on my list. It's good to hear that you're enjoying it. And yes, I need to remind myself to look for opportunities for God to use me in those ways. Good thinking.

Sandy Mastroni said...

Hi .... wonderful thoughts on God's love toward us
I recently read " Hind's Feet on High Places '
The main character's name is "Much-Afraid"
and I am afraid that is me .... ha ha
so I have to remember scriptures when I get afraid
and I have to read the book Laura mentioned now !

Locusts and Wild Honey said...

I love that movie and its power to transcend all the lines that seem to divide us.

I definitely imprison me. Mostly I think it's work that I struggle with. I'm from a long line of workaholics and I've got to watch myself and remember I was meant to have life and have it more abundantly.

Kelly H-Y said...

Great movie ... it's been a while since I saw it, but I remember that I enjoyed it and loved the music! Fabulous post!

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

I like how you describe the soundtrack for this movie--it's exactly what I've thought, just not so eloquently.
I wonder what used shackles I'd hang up in gratitude...wonderful meditation today!

Bonnie Gray said...

What beautiful writing, Becky!

I've never seen the movie. But, I enjoyed your reflection of it.

The oppression I pray to have lifted is seeing more with my eyes than with my heart. Whenever it's lifted, I can find joy in the most everyday places.

Thanks for joining me on my journey.

Anonymous said...

I love that movie.

Your post also made me think of a song whose lyrics say something about people often living their lives in chains, without ever recognizing they already hold the key. (Obviously talking about the ways we limit ourselves, not the kind of very real oppression some people exert on others.)