About a decade ago, I don’t know if you remember a movie that came out, called Avatar. Till very recently, it remained the highest grossing film at over $2 Billion, and won nine academy awards. At the heart of it was another world, Pandora, a world untouched by man and his violence. Here, people lived in complete peace and harmony – with themselves, with each other, with all their world, the animals and with their God-like being.
I found the movie riveting; but the phenomenon that followed after it ended was even more interesting. There were reports of people coming out and starting to feel depressed, as they found themselves back in the ‘real world’ without any of the blue people around. But far from a passing feeling, this persisted to the point where it got its own name – “Pandora depression”. A year after the movie I was shocked to find that this was still going on – with a minority, certainly, but still – a forum on the net I came across had over 100 pages of people talking about ‘Pandora Depression’.
And far from dismissing it as just some weak-minded people without a life, I think the movie’s effect on people pointed to something very real. I believe, the movie, unwittingly, captured a desire we all share because it has been planted in the depths of our hearts by God himself. The desire for heaven and the new Creation. This desire is for communion: for perfect communion all around, for deliverance from the violence we are capable of, of what we do to each other and the world around us. In fact, this is what the Jews meant by shalom, peace; it was a fullness of life, of wholeness in relationships. This kind of peace eludes us, because it has to appear from within; it cannot be enforced from the outside. This requires a transformation we are incapable of bringing about ourselves. And whenever man, fallen as he is, tries to enforce it, he can only resort to even more violence. Think of some of the golden eras of ‘peace’, such as the Pax Romana: the ‘Peace’ provided by Augustus’ Roman Empire. Rome was an empire founded and maintained through layers of systematic violence and oppression. And this peace was an absence of war. Our own times, such as the last century, of course, have plenty to illustrate this.
And within this miserable situation, there appears the glorious vision of Isaiah we just read. A man emerges, who will be called Prince of Peace, because the Spirit of God in his fullness rests on him. He is truly man not in spite of being God, but because he is God. Sin has no power over him. Sin destroys our humanity, which is why while we long for peace, we have none. John the Baptist remarks on this when he says ‘I baptise you with water, but there is one coming who will baptise with the Spirit and fire’. All our efforts can only touch the surface, like water, it cannot yet, reach within. The great Mystics have used this same verse to talk about our need for a second baptism, a second conversion if you may. This is a deepening of our baptism, releasing the Holy Spirit to have charge of our lives. It is only with the coming of the Spirit that true transformation of our humanity can begin. And if we encounter this man on whom the Spirit rests – Jesus, in his humanity – the process of healing can begin because he bestows on us his Spirit. Then, the vision of Isaiah can begin to unfold which speaks of communion with all creation.
The lion will eat straw like an ox. Some theologians start asking, how can the lion eat straw? Will it not change its physiology, will it even be a lion anymore? That’s missing the point. The lion is a symbol of strength and power. Lions are fearless, they will attack you head on; but violence is ingrained into its being. And in the new creation, Isaiah promises that while things retains their essence, even a creature so closely associated with violence, will be transformed without losing itself. How, we do not know. But it will come about by God’s Spirit.
The cow and bear make friends. Cows and bears, if you know, are intelligent animals. And they are both quite passive in their own ways. Cows, are mostly content with themselves. They’ll keep lying down chewing their cud, and they can’t be moved easily. In India, sometimes you will find them having wandered onto the road and all the traffic will have to go around them; there’s no moving them. But they can also get suddenly frightened and will go into a panic. You come across some people who are very content with themselves, but lost in their own world, no awareness of their surroundings. Their way of dealing with fear is to retreat into their own world. Bears on the other hand are very aware of their surrounding. They generally won’t trouble you, but you enter their territory accidentally, they become unpredictable. You never know what you’ve done to upset some people.
And vipers – they camouflage themselves very well. A friend whose lived in several countries told me once about a European city where she had lived in. She never got to meet her neighbours for days, till she dropped the recycling in the wrong bin on the street; and immediately they came out to tell her off. You never know some people till you’ve been bitten by them. We ourselves can run away like a cow in front of some and react like a bear or a viper to others. But Isaiah promises that all these creatures will lose their violence; all these different ways we deal with our fears will be healed.And these diverse factions within us are brought together by a little child. Children don’t have much fear. They are innocent, curious and open to the world. They are happy in their vulnerability. They implicitly trust their parents and are completely dependent on them. This is the trust that God calls us to have in his Fatherhood. Through the action of the Spirit, we can become like children, dependent on God as our Father. The Spirit will heal our distorted humanity. We can lose our violence and these contradictory factions within us, and the things we find difficult with each other can start becoming reconciled: the cow and bear become friends. And then, there will be true peace.
This Spirit we can receive as we encounter Christ in the Eucharist. It will be far more glorious than what Avatar captured.