Human history can be viewed as a slowly dawning awareness that we are members of a larger group. Initially our loyalties were to ourselves and our immediate family, next, to bands of wandering hunter-gatherers, then to tribes, small settlements, city-states, nations. We have broadened the circle of those we love. We have now organized what are modestly described as super-powers, which include groups of people from divergent ethnic and cultural backgrounds working in some sense together — surely a humanizing and character building experience. If we are to survive, our loyalties must be broadened further, to include the whole human community, the entire planet Earth. Many of those who run the nations will find this idea unpleasant. They will fear the loss of power. We will hear much about treason and disloyalty. Rich nation-states will have to share their wealth with poor ones. But the choice, as H. G. Wells once said in a different context, is clearly the universe or nothing.
Where are our heroes? Where are our role models? Why are we leaving youth behind and laughing at the ones who are still there? Why not help each other out instead? With a little grace, with a little compassion. Love for all and everyone around because we’re all stumbling or succeeding back and forth, every day, and I want more community. I want helpers and guidance. Am I helping someone? I don’t know, but since the tender age of eighteen I have written down my stories and experiences of love and loss and youth, just so these stories can exist in the world. For someone out there to find and read and feel a voice in my words saying, “I’ve been there, I’ve done this, you can too: come, follow me.”
― Charlotte Eriksson, Everything Changed When I Forgave Myself: growing up is a wonderful thing to do
Imagine the feeling of relief that would flood our whole being if we knew that when we were in the grip of sorrow or illness, our village would respond to our need. This would not be out of pity, but out of a realization that every one of us will take our turn at being ill, and we will need one another. The indigenous thought is when one of us is ill, all of us are ill. Taking this thought a little further, we see that healing is a matter, in great part, of having our connections to the community and the cosmos restored.
― Francis Weller, The Wild Edge of Sorrow: Rituals of Renewal and the Sacred Work of Grief
Solitude is good for a time, but not for all time. Don’t forget to come back and embrace a community. Build one, if you must. Don’t neglect the sharing of yourself. Even those parts that are not so clean have value. In fact, the best lessons you have to offer in life come from your struggles in the darkness and grit of life.
Paths are the habits of a landscape. They are acts of consensual making. It’s hard to create a footpath on your own…Paths connect. This is their first duty and their chief reason for being. They relate places in a literal sense, and by extension they relate people.
Paths are consensual, too, because without common care and common practice they disappear: overgrown by vegetation, ploughed up or built over (though they may persist in the memorious substance of land law). Like sea channels that require regular dredging to stay open, paths NEED walking.
We classify ourselves into groups which give meaning and order to our experiences. What happens when those groups inhibit growth?
Ronit is the daughter of an orthodox Jewish rabbi, living a secular life as a successful photographer. Disowned by her family and cut off from her roots because of a teenage romance with a young woman, her life is thrown out of balance when she receives a call that her father has died. Returning to her community in order to attend the events surrounding his funeral, she finds a mixture of forgiveness, suspicion, judgement and sympathy. Esti, the girl that Ronit had loved, has grown into a strong but tightly wound woman, married to Dovid, their best friend growing up, a man who trained with Ronit’s father to become a rabbi. Indeed, he has been selected to succeed the celebrated Rav Krushka. Dovid and Esti are poised to take on the most important position in the community. But something is not, and has never been quite right under their roof. Now that Ronit has returned, the fragile life they have built together is rocked to its core.
In making Disobedience, it would have been easy to pit people of faith fully against homosexuals and require us to choose one side or the other. That is not what Sebastián Lelio has done in this adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s novel. Jewish tradition is honored, the beauty, depth and expressive power of its theology and, especially, of its liturgical music is depicted. Neither does the film shy away from the shortfalls of the faith’s adherents, nor the uncontrollable desire that binds Esti and Ronit. Clearly their romance has troubled the waters in this small Jewish community. There is not much sympathy and no support for homosexuality here. Most of the reactions to the unsanctioned romance are lacking in compassion. All are at least somewhat ignorant. And yet, there are enough ambiguities in the faith, in the sacred writings themselves, to create space for new interpretation that may lead somewhere in future generations. The place where we see this revolution of faith is not within the community itself, but within Dovid. I don’t want to spoil the film. The first time I watched it I had no idea how Dovid would reconcile the interior crisis of faith caused by the realization that his relationship with his wife is based on the premise that he, through his caring nature, would be able to convert her to heterosexuality. He has not, and their relationship has caused psychological damage to Esti by making her feel obligated to have sex which she does not desire. His community has required him to violate her personhood and now implies that he, as Rav Kuperman, should require her to completely give up her feelings for good. But is this what God requires?
One of my favorite scenes is of Dovid teaching from the Songs of Solomon. He postulates that surely there is something higher in the love between man and woman than physical sexuality, while the young men in his class agree that the text, bold in its passion, says otherwise. The trouble is understated, as is almost everything in the film, but you get the sense that Dovid is aware that his passionless marriage, as respectful as it is, is not what it should be.
This is a quiet, intimate movie. There isn’t screaming and railing. Rachel Weisz, Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola, who is nearly unrecognizable behind a full beard, all give sensitive portrayals of complex individuals that never behave in cliché fashion. Ronit, Esti and Dovid are controlled people, quietly torturing themselves in their own private solitudes. They are living their experience moment to moment, not knowing where they are going. The cinematography enhances this, as does the musical score, which often goes dead silent. There are many closeups of inscrutable faces and the camera constantly catches small awkward gestures and movements. This renders the erupting passion between Esti and Ronit incredibly powerful in its decisive boldness. The only scenes which are not understated are the physical encounters between the women, culminating in an intense extended love scene. By contrast, the scenes between Dovid and Esti, while containing more nudity, are clinical and cold. The camera reinforces the emotional and spiritual climate that Esti must navigate.
Disobedience gives me hope that there can be space for dialogue within the most conservative faiths. It is in our best interests to expand our definition of ourselves and how we relate to others rather than allowing our institutions to do it for us. No group is a monolith: be it race based, gender based or faith based. It is often said that we join groups or causes to be a part of something bigger than ourselves, but it is also true that how we live our lives enriches and imparts meaning to the causes and groups we embrace. Speaking of our inward beings and granting each other freedom are the very first steps in allowing ourselves and our beliefs to grow. We may not understand each other, but we have to start the conversation somewhere. The healing and wholeness of our communities depend upon it.
I felt part of a group for the first time in my life. Not a family, just a group of people who liked being together, who sat as we did, leaning towards each other, leaving just the right amount of space in between, whose thoughts and words flowed easily and naturally, whose voices and accents were so different from each other and yet mingled in harmony as though in a song.
―Indu Muralidharan, The Reengineers
Take a look at the plants. They come together and thrive peacefully in the garden or park. They lean on each other without trying to outdo one another. They serve as a sign that we can see beyond our differences and embrace each other in love while allowing our uniqueness to add color to our world. If plants can live in harmony and show their beauty to the world, we as humans can do much more.
What if a man could write everything that came into his mind. You could find there gems of wisdom, depth of utter despair, heights of the most cherished hopes, killing fields where we slaughter our enemies, moments of faith and moments of doubts, dark chambers where we commit infidelity against our partners, counting the goods we have stolen, hell nightmares, heaven blessedness, cursing of our enemies and blessing of our friends, and many other things. If one could write his mind, it would be a mirror to other minds where they could find themselves and not feel as the only wretched souls in existence. Go on then, write your mind in a book and publish it.
―Bangambiki Habyarimana, Pearls Of Eternity
The alternative to the free market consumer culture is a set of covenants that supports neighborly disciplines, rather than market disciplines, as a producer of culture. These non-market disciplines have to do with the common good and abundance as opposed to self-interest and scarcity. This neighborly culture is held together by its depth of relatedness, its capacity to hold mystery, its willingness to stretch time and endure silence.
―Walter Brueggemann, An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture