The other day I saw Gravity, starring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney. I was very nervous at the beginning, because the 3D animation was so realistic-- I thought I would be pushed beyond my virtual reality threshold-- and that is VERY low. But after a few minutes I knew I would be OK. 90 minutes later I was exhausted, emotionally and spiritually. I will not get in to plot details or spoiler alerts here. I'm not even going to review the movie, although I thought it was very good. I want to think about one particular moment in the film, which I thought really revealed what the movie's main theme was. To set it up, after a very challenging space walk, Sandra Bullock's character is out of oxygen. She just barely gets into the space station airlock and releases the air inside. She spends a few moment weightlessly floating in a circle, breathing in and out. The she holds this pose:
Now compare that image to this one:
The space station is a womb for her. It's the place where she reclaims life.
There's a big message there for Christians, and I thought of it while I saw Sandra Bullock hold the pose. Jesus was visited at night by one of the religious authorities, Nicodemus, who was curious. He and the others had heard of what Jesus was doing and teaching, and he proactively sought Jesus out to learn more. Jesus did not see this encounter as an opportunity for debate, but as another way to extend his reach. Jesus' mission was to save as many folk as possible. So he says to Nicodemus, "Unless someone is born anew, it's not possible to see God's kingdom" (John 3:3). Nicodemus misunderstands: "It's impossible to enter the mother's womb for a second time and be born, isn't it?" (John 3:4). No, says Jesus. But he doesn't give up: "...everyone who believes in [God's Son] will have eternal life" (John 3:15).
So faith in Jesus is the womb that leads to renewed life. Just as the space station is the womb that leads to new life for Sandra Bullock's character in the movie.
What are the signs that we are slipping into critical stages spiritually? I can think of several:
1. Lack of intimacy in our relationships. How would you describe your relationships with your significant other, children, close friends? Are they healthy or non-existent?
2. Burnout in ministry. Are you so busy that you are not fulfilled in your service to others? I see lots of Facebook posts from clergy friends about "successful" days. What the heck does that mean, anyway? How do you determine success in ministry?
3. Absence of joy. The Christian life ought to be a wellspring of new life within us. But when we are overloaded with outside concerns our spiritual life is usually the first to suffer.
There are tons more, and I am fairly sure I have exhibited just about all of them over 20+ years of ministry. The good news is that the airlock is within reach, and there are no objects raining down upon us, making the stretch nearly impossible. And the really good news is that getting into the airlock, where safety is real and restoration is possible, is not dependent on our own strength anyway. Christ is there, awaiting our return, pulling us back into relationship-- just as gravity holds us down and prevents us from flying away.
So may you find nurture and renewal in the loving arms of Christ. May you re-enter that womb and receive the life sustaining energy-- and breath-- you need to live as a faithful disciple.
Take deep breaths. And linger in that moment as long as necessary.