In the midst of a wonderful day yesterday, I learned two things that are, I think, not unrelated. The day started in the mountains with a hike I’ve looked forward to for a long time, and ended also sort of in the mountains with something I rarely make time for. I want to talk about the sort-of mountain ending first, then I’ll get to the morning’s mountain fun.
The day ended with an almost three-hour movie – a big ask, even for movie buffs. But, as a project for our church, Laree and I watched A Hidden Life. Set in the mountains of central Austria, it is the story of Franz Jaegerstaetter, a farmer who refused to sign an oath of loyalty to Hitler in World War II. At least the setting – the mountains of central Austria – was beautiful. Here’s what a reviewer had to say:
Terrence Malick’s “A Hidden Life,” the true story of a World War II conscientious objector, is one of his finest films, and one of his most demanding. It clocks in at nearly three hours, moves in a measured way (you could call the pacing “a stroll”), and requires a level of concentration and openness to philosophical conundrums and random moments that most modern films don’t even bother asking for.
The review goes on to say, “There’s an unexpectedly elating quality to the red-faced impotence of Nazis screaming at Franz while he’s bound up at gunpoint, cursing him and insisting that his protests mean nothing. If they mean nothing, why are these men screaming?”
Beyond elation, the movie made me think of joy. I suppose this is an unusual claim for an epic tragedy, yet there was a sort of joy in both Franz and his wife Fani as they followed the path God called them to. I say joy because God’s call seemed crystal clear, even as it invited them to make many agonizingly hard choices. This clarity enabled Franz, while a prisoner, to say to his lawyer, “But I am free.” And in her final visit, Fani was able to say to her husband, “I am with you, whatever you do.” A clear sense of following God’s call is bound up in a deep joy that exists even in the midst of (underneath?) great suffering. Sometimes joy includes elation, and sometimes it does not. But it remains joy nonetheless.
This joy is a cousin to what I experienced earlier in the day, when I went for a hike in the mountains with my friend Sue. No, the hike didn’t involve life-threatening consequences, and the most challenging decision of the trip was deciding whether to order Coke Zero instead of Diet Coke at lunch. Still, the sense of God’s presence, and the joy that springs from it was hard to miss. Suffering was absent (it was sunny, not too warm, and blessedly bug free), making the joy that always lies underneath easy to find, and the troubles that surround it easy to set aside.
And finally, a footnote. One important thing I learned while hiking was the benefits of trekking poles. I’ve never walked with them before, and Sue was kind enough to give me her extra pair. My goodness – I had NO IDEA how helpful these little collapsible sticks are – they saved me (more than once) from tripping, falling, or tipping over. So, not only did I have the joy of hiking on a beautiful day in a beautiful place, I also received and learned to use a critical bit of hiking gear. Thanks, Sue!