The Portrait of Jennie

The Portrait of Jennie is a black and white movie made in 1948 that I saw recently. It is about an artist finding his inspiration for his work through an imaginary love in his life. The voice-over goes “the winter of the artist is not the cold in the wind but the cold in the indifference of the people towards the beauty around them”. Then there is a tag-line by an art dealer “… an artist must find something he really cares about…”. The movie is about the soul of an artist and the struggles he has to go through to create the divine spark in him.

The movie has some interesting characters Mrs. Spinney an old lady who trades with portraits and sees in Eben her onetime beau, the painter Eben Adams who struggles to find his spark, follow his soul and make a living at the same time, the mechanic Guz who admires Eben and tries to give some pragmatic help. And of course there is Jennie herself played by the great Jennifer Jones who is an actress I like the most. She is awesome when she plays the role of a poignant naive girl who has in her demeanor something deeply mysterious about her. She plays a very similar role in the movie the Song of Bernadette.

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In this movie she appears as the ghost of a dead girl whom Eben Adams falls in love with, completely enamored in her naivety and the timeless mystery that shrouds her. The first time he meets her she is a little girl out alone in the dark and she sings in the most captivating poignant voice “Where I come from nobody knows and where I am going everything goes… The wind blows, the sea flows nobody knows… and where I am going nobody knows” no matter how many times I see this, I feel like I am seeing it for the first time. It is just so full of simplicity, sadness and mystery.

The little girl asks him if he would wait for her to grow up so that she can marry him and then she runs off leaving him wondering how funny the little girl was. He goes home and draws her portrait as a little girl. He captures the melancholy and mystery about the little girl. Mrs. Spinney is impressed.

Now, Eben meets the girl again suddenly she had grown too quickly. They talk and then she goes off only to come back a few days later much grown, grown enough to be married. He draws a portrait of hers and falls in love with her. She goes off again, now he decides to track her and realizes that she had been dead for many years. He goes searching for the place that she got drowned to seek and find himself there as he was lost without her, his inspiration was gone.

The portrait that he does of her is the “Portrait of Jennie”. Mr. Mathews an art dealer comments that it was a stroke of a genius where the essence of a woman had been captured. The essence of a woman says Mr. Mathews is her mystery and timelessness. When Eben and Jennie part for the last time, Jennie tells Eben that his portrait of hers should hang in a Museum which many other girls would come to see her and so it was

In the beginning of the movie, when a disgruntled Ebens tries to sell his passionless paintings to Mrs. Spinney, she tells him “… Andrea Del Sarto drew a perfect hand and Rafael drew a formless claw, Andrea Del Sarto had everything and nothing but Rafael loved his work… poor Andrea Del Sarto (didn’t) …” then she continues “there isn’t a drop of love in any of these (paintings of yours)… an artist must have something he ‘deeply’ cares about” and then buys from him a painting worth less than $2 for $13. When Mr. Mathews questions her as to why she did it, she says that it was not because of what the picture was worth but because of what Eben Adams was worth. In spite of his loveless creation she was able to see something in him that could be unlocked by love and so it was. She tires her best to help him.

Eben has another helper, a mechanic friend Guz who is a kind of a pragmatic philosopher, though that is more of an oxymoron, who empathizes with Eben saying things like, “if there is star-dust in your head, there is a jumble in your soul” and in a way understands and respects the kind of agony Ebens undergoes. Guz gets him a contract to paint and make money, Ebens completes it and gets more fame, a heavier pocket and an empty soul. Guz realizes that he cannot help Ebens much.

There is only one person who can uncork Ebens and that is Jennie or rather the timeless love of Jennie. The movie is a depiction of timeless love in which the pair defy time and space. Unsure of what is to happen of their love, Ebens says ‘the greatest distance I fear now is the distance between today and tomorrow’. It is this ageless romance that kindles in him the flame which would capture that mystery and timelessness of the ‘Portrait of Jennie’.

I LOST and realized it takes courage and confidence to loose

In the debate competition in our company, my team reached semi-finals but couldn’t reach the finals. We lost today. I seldom loose debates, debates are my life-line. I felt the judges were not really fair. I almost laughed aloud when one of the judges said that I was speaking too emotionally and that that was a negative for debates. I couldn’t understand how he thought that I was an emotional speaker, I did not cry neither did I make an attempt to narrate something so poignant so as to make anyone’s eyes wet. I was not emotional, but I was passionate, the judge unfortunately couldn’t differentiate between someone making an emotional speech and someone making a passionate speech. A few folks came and told me that the judgement ought to have been in our favour.

Nevertheless, my team lost. I lost. It was a shock to me, because I never thought I would loose this debate. There haven’t been many things in my life where I really wanted to win but lost. In this debate competition I really wanted to win the finals. I was too passionate about it. I believed I could do that. And the loss in semi-finals, after what I thought was one of the best debates, having to defend the British idea of Monarchy, came in as a rude shock to me.

I was there thinking…

It was then I realized that it takes a lot more courage and confidence to loose in something that one yearnestly wants to win. The courage and confidence to accept oneself even after having failed. The courage and confidence to look at peole and say ‘Yes I lost, but still I am looking you in the eye. Yes, I took a punch, but still I stand ready for the next.’

Just as I was thinking about this a note sent by our HR person in charge of sending out reports about debates made a special mention of our team with the note “Every loss makes the bone as flint, the gristle into muscle and man invincible” made me glader.

In spite of the fact that I am sad that I lost what I passionately wanted to win, I am somehow glad that I ‘experienced’ defeat. Somehow through this loss I as a person am more invincible than I was before in that I can loose something I most yearnestly want to win and still smile 🙂 I thank God for this experience.

Man ‘blinks’ at his Happiness

At a time when all stocks are falling in the US because of the recession induced by the sub-prime fiasco that is getting the US economy by the balls there is one stock that has risen 40% year on year . That is the stock of Netflix, the postal movie rental service.

As people keep loosing jobs, seeing their retirement saving erode, experiencing foreclosure of their homes and their net-worth going down, they still want to keep doing more of one thing which is watching more movies. This again proves the cliché that Hollywood is recession proof.

Here is depicted a need for man to escape reality into a world of fantasy. Why does man want to make this irrational jump? After all he will only live in the real world, he knows fantasy is vanity. After a two hour fantasy ride, he has to come back to the real world and face it brutality.

Of course, generally speaking, movies have the artistic and the entertainment appeal to many folks depending on their (finer) tastes. But the reason for people wanting to escape into fantasy at such times as this belies something more fundamental about human nature and that is man’s yearning for freedom to be happy.

As man finds himself more and more constrained and determined by the happenings around him, he seeks a world, fantasy as it may be which will cater to his sense of freedom to be happy – freedom from having to think and deal with the depressing reality around him, the freedom to plug into the fantasy world and feel as happy as one needs to feel.

There is nothing wrong in employing the creative abilities of human kind to pep up ones spirit. But when this becomes an obsession and an escape route from reality, it would result in a kind of imbalance which would have disastrous effects on human kind’s ability to live a real life. The distinction between the real and the unreal blurs. Even as we analyze our lives there is an eerie feeling that life is getting less and less real.

When Nietzsche said ‘modern man would invent happiness… and then he blinks’, in a sense he foresaw this state of man in which man invents happiness in his fantasy world and then he looses grip with his real life and then once life is does away with all that signifies the real, he ‘blinks’ not knowing what he has to do with happiness anymore now that he isn’t sure what is real and what is unreal.

Words Are Deeds

‘Words are deeds’ said G. K. Chesterton the Prince of Paradox. Some critic may forgive him for his expedient dogmatism for elsewhere as he says ‘word are my trade’.

But the word ‘words’ has taken to have great primacy as the charges have been framed against the now non-existent Bear and Stearns, formerly the fifth largest brokerage firm in the wall street, hedge fund managers Ralph Cioffi and Matthew Tannin.

The case primarily rests on two words they used in the investors conference call where they said that they were ‘cautiously optimistic’ about future prospects of the funds when in fact there was very little optimistic about the performance of the funds. The only apparent pre-‘caution’ Cioffi appears to have taken was to move $2 million of his own money from the fund a month prior to the conference call.

When we live in the pervasive environments of election fever and watch politicians twist and truncate meaning of words to suit their agendas such cases as these where words become all important snap us back to the reality of words in live.

The reality where words will invariably have to be translated to deeds and it is there that they transform from being hot air into being something more tangible. Here the words will have to pass the ‘Test of Truth’. An idea that the politicians, media and general public tend to blithely disregard in the frenzy of being excited about the happenings around the self-important politicians.

‘Words are deeds’, anyone who fails to understand this insight of Chesterton will eventually find the sceptre of Truth haunting him.

When The Magician Begins To Believe His Magic

Neville Isdell, who was a retired veteran of Coke was brought back from retirement to be the CEO to bring about a turnaround in Coke, when was asked the reason why Coke began to loose strength during the late 90s by the Economic Times when he was in India recently, said, ‘…When the magician starts to believe the magic, it’s a problem…’

When the executive begins to believe in his power and authority rather than his ability to be agile and innovative, it is a problem. When too much believe is placed in the magic of the brand rather than believing in ones ability to create and foster the brand itself, it is a problem.

I see a parallel between this and the contemporary Christian worship. In contemporary Christian worship the biggest problem is that the, worship leader has begun to believe in the methodology of worship rather than in man’s ‘innate’ ability to wonder at his Maker irrespective of the methodology of worship.

He believes in music to create the spirit of worship and begins to believe in this magic rather than his ‘innate’ ability to worship the Maker with all Truth and Spirit.

Recently, I happened to attend a worship session by a celebrity worship leader. He said, “Don’t worry about the words that you do not know, just catch the spirit of the song. That is enough”. At first sight this seems an innocuous statement and quite pragmatic, one might add, why bother with OHPs and LCDs.

But as on pauses to think over what is being trusted here, one realizes that is all about ‘catching the spirit’. I wonder what spirit is easy enough to ‘catch’. He did not care that his singing was ‘contentless’.

Here the ‘magician beings to believe his magic’ and that is trouble. Big time trouble.

Much of contemporary Christian worship believes in the act of worship rather than the Worshiped. They dont care that their singing is ‘contenless’ as long as the audience is pepped up to a contented frenzy.

Unless we learn to go back and learn from the age old Saint of how they worshiped in Truth by Gregorian chants and Byzantine art, we shall end up missing the important element of Truthful worship – the centrality of God’s greatness which invokes the innate need in man to worship is Maker.

My Meditations on Valentine’s Day ;)

As I was writing my journal today early morning about 2:30 am, I realized that it was already Valentine’s day and it got me a wee bit too romantic in my journal. Nevertheless, being a proud single guy I just wanted to share with all a few sober thoughts.

With the media creating some much hype sensualizing Valentine’s day and the society getting increasingly prejudiced by the media, to the post modern ‘progressive’ man to be single on Valentine’s day has become an abomination. To him/her being still single is to be outside the ‘Survival of the Fittest’ and destined to for extinction in a ‘progressive’ world.

In the animal kingdom to be unpaired is to be undesirable or unworthy of genetic propagation, the kind that is inferior that he/she is unworthy of life itself. And man living in the post modern world with a ‘progressive’ naturalistic worldview has no reason why this truth of the animal kingdom should not be applied to human race as well, after all man is a social animal say the science text books.

It’s a pity that the ‘progressive’ man is actually progressing (as per his worldview it is not regressing but still progressing) back to ape-hood, with regard to the quintessential essence of his innate ‘nature’.

To such an apeman, there is no pride in ‘character’ there is no pride in singleness. To be proud about character or singleness as against following the throng and always be in a relationship, is relegated as archaic morality which is soon to be extinct.

So in the young man’s or woman’s life to pair up is a face saving act, whether it is with the right person or not is immaterial. The only concern is about whether or not they are in a relationship. And to be unpaired on the Valentine’s day is consequently an abomination.

If Christ were to come into this setup, I think He would have said…

‘Blessed are those who are single,
For they shall find true love’

Love unlike instinct is not driven by feelings but by a commitment. Commitment comes with patience and prudence in dealing with relationship. Unless there is respect for singleness, there would never be enough maturity for commitment. By jumping headlong into relationships one takes the route to never ever finding true love in life.

It’s better to be single than to be with the wrong person. To be single may not be heaven, but to be with the wrong person is most certainly hell. Its better to be and embodiment of strength in singleness than to spinelessly enter into a wrong relationship just for the sake of being in a relationship and thereby be accepted by the ‘progressive’ throng.

So the Valentine ’s Day, I would like to encourage all Christian singles to cherish their strength of character in singleness and build on it without feeling inferior or inadequate. They should rather be proud about flaunting their strength in singleness and the opportunity that singleness gives to mature and eventually find the one true love for which they are being fashioned. I would also urge them to prayerfully submit themselves and their yet-to-be-known future spouses to God.

All young Christians who are already paired-up need to re-evaluate their love for God. Before they go to beaches or restaurants or movies with each other to enjoy Valentine’s Day, they should first go to a nearby Church as a symbolic act, submit to God inviting him to be the love of their lives and the unseen host through all of their Valentine’s Day celebrations and their ensuing committed life together.

To all the paired-up ones… ‘Enjoy the Valentine’s Day with your mate submitting to the One True Valentine’

To all the singles… ‘Enjoy the Independence day as your freedom may soon be consumed in love’ 🙂

May His Blessings Abound,
Emmu.

The Mystic Beauty of Traditional Worship

As we live in a world where increasing number of people, especially the younger ones, think that the traditional way of worshiping the Lord with hymns, pipe organs, mandolins and harps is inferior to the lively free form of contemporary worship that the more contemporary songs with keyboards, bass guitars and electronic drum pads bring, we need to take a second look at traditions and ascertain if we are missing an important facet of worship by relegating the timeless traditional form of worship as too archaic for the post modern man.

This Christmas, I attended St. John’s Divine Church a Houston instead of Lakewood because as much as I like Lakewood form of contemporary worship, I was getting starved of the mystic awe in the traditional form of worship.

Unifying the spirits
The service started with a concert and choir came in a procession with the incense being spewed out in front filling the Church with the kind of misty aura symbolic of the presence of God that filled the Church of Solomon in the form of a cloud. This unified the spirits of the congregation into humility and a reverent awe of God, simply said it was a symbolic act that set the mood right for a heavenly worship that was to follow.

A celebration of traditions as a mystic act of worship
When the singing started, the presence of God could be felt. I think the reason was the people who were singing in the Choir and the congregation had just one motive in their minds which was to glorify God with the best of their abilities using the ancient traditions in which is imbibed the glory of the mystical worship of God because those great arts were created for the sole purpose of using the grandiose creative geniuses of human kind to glorify God and place such creations of beauty at the feet of God as a mystic act of worship. Without God there is no beauty, without beauty there is no God. The experience overwhelmed the senses with the beauty of God’s creation glorifying Him in a mystic celebration of ancient arts.

I did notice a few people raise their hands in worship. And I wondered why people assume that raising hands in an act of worship is forbidden in traditional worship services.

God the only Celebrity
All worship God as one whole mass of individuals, there was no worship leader there was no lead singer there is no lead guitarist, there is no beautiful face to look up on the giant screens there is no Celebrity singer dressed in the costliest of dresses that captures too much attention, it is just a big choir raising up their voices in unison to glorify God, the only Celebrity in the whole enterprise.

Depth of Truth in Worship
The words of the ancient Hymns have a depth of meaning because they were wrought in the throes of the pain and the struggles that the great Saints of the great old ages endured. Unlike most contemporary song-writers, their song writing was not an art or a skill or something that gave them fortune and fame, but their songs were an expression the anguish of heart. The anguish they felt when they went through pain whether it be of suffering, love or pleasure, for the highest form of pleasure where beauty and love is the essence evokes a sense of pain in the mortal human heart.

Such eternal timeless truths exemplified through their writing reigns supreme in a traditional worship because of the harmony and resolution of music mystically resonates with the depth of Truth expressed. A person’s heart and mind are tuned to revel in the beauty of such Truths and the music serves only to incline ones heart and mind to assimilate the Truth.

The Right Chord
Such traditions have struck the right chord between worship in Spirit and Truth. God says that we ought to worship Him in spirit and Truth. In such ancient traditions we experience the mystic beauty of God’s Spirit and as we also revel in the great Truths which cause our throats to croak and sigh under the enormity of the weight of what is being sung.

As we were singing

‘What Child is this…

…Why lies He in such mean estate,
Where ox and ass are feeding?
Good Christians, fear, for sinners here
The silent Word is pleading.’

There wasn’t a tongue in the whole Church that did not sing in trepidation and awe the grandiose Truth so beautifully broughtout through the best of man’s creative genius, put at the feet of the King for His glory alone.