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Cinema paradiso

by davesandel on January 21st, 2021

Thursday, January 21, 2021               (today’s lectionary)

Memorial of Saint Agnes, Virgin and Martyr

Cinema paradiso

During her childhood in Ohio, my friend Mary spent many weekend days and evenings at the theater. At the turn of the century her grandfather owned and operated a carnival picture booth, a “peep show.” The calliope played, celluloid rolled and the movies fascinated the folks and developed into a career for Mary’s father. He turned his dad’s carnival booth into the local movie theater. For Mary and her siblings, their personal reserved loge seats in the balcony provided them many afternoons of excitement and delight.

Her family’s home life was turbulent. Mom and Dad often didn’t get along. When they could, the kids got away, sometimes to the theater, sometimes to the church. Mary nearly became a nun. She dedicated her life to God. Over decades she has served quietly, using her gifts of creative writing, editing, praying, and especially of the gift of welcoming to enrich parish life in Urbana.

I have not restrained my lips. Here I am, Lord, come to do your will.

I think of young Salvatore in his Sicilian village during World War II, adopted by the projectionist at Cinema Paradiso and every day discovering both challenge and escape in the movies. There are many days I crave a corner seat, a back row seat deep in the balcony where I can curl up forever, watching film after film, losing myself in them, crying with joy at redemption in the end, angry at the careless violence of thoughtless men or women, ready to run with joy around the field of mountain flowers with Maria, my mind held hostage by the deductions of Sherlock Holmes, and on and on and on.

Like mine, I imagine Mary’s mind circles back to memories of sanctuary, to her personal, reserved seat in the throne room of God, masquerading momentarily as a theater, or a church, or a bedroom corner kept for prayer. God might be just barely visible through the cloud of unknowing, but we glimpse enough to know that we are loved.

Year follows year of quiet service by men and women like Mary Lou or my friend Charlene, like so many many many men and women, unremarked upon by anyone other than their friends. Still, their friends speak volumes. Their gift to us comes through their prayers. They guide us through the cloud by their often silent example. They welcome us to sanctuary and open every door. They grab our hands and guide us forward. “Come and meet Jesus!” they call out to us.

Jesus had cured many and as a result, those with diseases pressed upon him to touch him. And whenever unclean spirits saw him they would fall down before him and shout, “You are the Son of God!”

The projectionist sets up the next reel of our movie as this one comes to an end. The picture flickers in the darkness, and in that moment between reels we hear the tick-tick-tick of the machine before the music kicks up again. I sit with my friend Mary, who has welcomed me to her family’s loge, and together we watch – fascinated, curious, hopeful, sometimes frightened, always reverent. Outside the hot midwestern afternoon sun bakes the street, but inside we rest, surrounded by the ice-cold comfort of air conditioning. We don’t need to leave, not yet, not for awhile. The movie isn’t over yet. Some say it’s just beginning.

Jesus is always able to save those who approach God through him, since he lives forever to make intercession for them. Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death and brought life to light.

(Hebrews 7, Psalm 40, 2 Timothy 1, Mark 3)

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