Thursday, January 20, 2011

Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

I recently read True Grit, the novel by Charles Portis and went to see the new film adaptation. I remembered not loving the John Wayne version and I'm smitten with the new one. I'm already scheming for a way to see it in again in the theater.

The soundtrack to the movie is spare and slightly haunting. Throughout the movie, the background music is variations on the the old hymn, "Leaning on the Everlasting Arms". If you know this song at all, the chorus "Leaning (on Jesus), leaning (on Jesus), safe and secure from all alarms" is probably the most familiar part.

In the book, Mattie Ross is a staunch Presbyterian. You don't get that so much in the movie, though she does say that the only that's free in this life is God's grace. Yet the song plays throughout the movie with seemingly no connection to Jesus.

Thus I've been trying to ponder what the "everlasting arms" in the movie are. The positions of the Federal Marshall and Texas Ranger? The bond of people who've made a contract? The good against the bad (though that's not the clearest line)? Is it a reference to God that I'm missing? (Perhaps the Coen Brothers are intimating that while we may well take matters of earthly justice into our own hands, we are still leaning on Jesus.)

The question of whether or not "everlasting arms" could be the marshall or the ranger is an interesting one for me. I was thinking recently of what to say to my child about what to do if he gets lost (when he can talk). Who do I tell him to go to? Though most, nearly all, police, teachers, pastors/clergy and strangers are trustworthy, I have personal experiences that make me queasy about each of those as a category. I know many fine individuals in each of those groups, though. Thus, I'm hesitant to assume that a Federal marshall or a Texas Ranger are worthy on the authority of their badges.

And maybe that's something along the lines of what Mattie learns as well. She's a cynical and skeptical young woman, but in order to avenge the death of her father, she has to rely on men she hires on faith- the faith that they will do what they promise, fulfillment through character, not just job description.

In the end, what one person does reflects on a whole profession. And each of us is more than our title. We go forward and forward and forward, knowing that nothing is free except the real presence and the felt absence of the grace of God. True grit, indeed.

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