La La Land
Just as I was boarding my flight at Newark, heading for Hong Kong, my phone got one last message: La La Land had won the best picture Oscar at the Academy Awards show. Nice, I thought. It was my favorite movie, and they had my vote. I turned off my phone, and began the first part of my Southeast Asia journey, settling into my economy seat for the 16 hour flight to Hong Kong.
In some ways, I thought, this trip has a La La Land quality to it. In the movie, both characters are setting out on a risky journey to seek the answer to important questions in their lives:
Who am I, really?
To whom or to what do I belong?
What should I be doing with my life to realize the potential I have been given?
These questions were the same ones I posed to my students during my years of teaching filmmaking and directing a residential program on campus. I urged them to risk exploring the bigger questions with courage: to seek the truth about themselves, and the Truth embedded in the world in which we are all privileged to live.
I’ve been on that journey since I was in college. I’ve been plagued/cursed--or gifted--with a desire to understand what this life is all about, the meaning of the incredible universe in which we find ourselves, and yes, the purpose of my humble existence. It was the reason I turned away from the study of law and entered the Society of Jesus—the Jesuits. It was the reason why I chose to become a priest. It was the reason why I chose to study, teach, and make film. To pursue the Truth through the lens and story of my ancestors, and the mind-bending tale of a simple man from Nazareth.
The longer I have been a Jesuit, priest, teacher and filmmaker, the more I have realized how little I really know about anything. I got to this lovely spot in Singapore by riding a chair 3 miles above the earth at 600 miles an hour for 16 hours, and I don’t have a clue about how that miracle occurred. I am typing these thoughts on a machine that is a complete mystery to me, and I will push a button and it will somehow be delivered to your phone or your desktop or your iPad in an instant. What?
But the thing that I am probably most ignorant about of all is the extraordinary enigma of the human heart. My own, and those of my brothers and sisters. And it is understanding that truth that I have been on journey to discover for all the past years of my mature life.
My brother Jesuits first ventured to this part of the world in 1552. St Francis Xavier wanted to share the truth of Jesus with the human family at the very end of the known earth. Three decades later, in 1582, the Jesuit Matteo Ricci arrived to share the truth of Western science, mathematics, astronomy, and visual arts to the Chinese imperial court. But what really inspired me was how he and another Jesuit, Michele Ruggieri, learned the truth of those brothers and sisters, embracing and learning from their Buddhism, Taoism and Confusianism.
I am in Southeast Asia to do the same. I know that I only have a part of the Truth, and I believe that as a human being I am challenged to spend my life in an attempt to embrace all of it. I know that it is impossible to know the ‘mind of God’, but I do believe that God continuously whispers to us, calls to us, and sometimes even shouts to us to venture more deeply into the wondrous mystery.
On this Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in 2017, I find myself ready to walk into the desert and listen to the Voice that speaks to me everywhere.
It’s my own La La Land journey, and like those characters and actors, I don’t need an Oscar visa to enter into the experience!