Friday, August 18, 2006


I watched a movie version of Dumas' "The Count of Monte Cristo" last night. The last version I remember starred Richard Chamberlain, who was so very perfect transformed into a count. This movie starred Jim Caviezel, the actor who portrayed Jesus in The Passion of the Christ. I love the story and I felt the need for something to speak to my soul about the unfairness of life and how we meet it. Of course it is the ultimate prison movie-a young man in the prime of his life with everything to look forward to buried in an island gulag due to the jealousy of a "friend" and to protect the reputation of the man who sent him there in a post-Napoleanic France. In order to pull off the tension in the story, the most important element in my mind is how well Edmond's utter and total despair and complete hopelessness is portrayed while he is in prison. Any movie scenes I view of a prison scenario these days simply nauseate me. But unless those feelings are so compelling the viewer sinks into oblivion with the prisoner, the rest of the story will be banal and unmoving.

For this character it is a crisis of faith. He goes into prison believing God is everywhere and comes out bent on revenge. Yet the means of his freedom and the fuel for his plotting is an old soldier and priest whose character is so free of any malice he still is grateful to God and is able to live some sort of life with dignity in the prison. He thanks his jailers for the evening slop every day. The man's no fool, though-he's digging a tunnel to get out, and digs in the wrong direction, thereby finding Dantes. The priest helps him to find a new life, teaching him to read and write, giving him hope as they work together to escape. The one line that put so much into perspective for me was when Edmond calculates the rate of their digging and the result will be years to the outside wall and he all but wants to quit, the priest asks him, "You have something better to do?" The other great line was when Edmond tells the priest he's counted the stones in his cell hundreds of times, the man replies, "Ah, but have you named them yet?" And this all against the backdrop of scenes where Edmond sees a bird flutter between the window bars of his cell, and the longing in his face tells his story. The first thing the priest wants when he enters his friend's cell is to be lifted up to the window to see the sky.

I find myself these days with much time to think. I'm all about the to-do list and crossing things off one by one with glee, as though the lines somehow makes my existence purposeful. There is nothing wrong with a list, but as I ponder the movie and wonder, what if I had absolutely nothing to do but be alone with myself and my thoughts, and for me that would be hell on earth...what would I do? I thought about this yesterday and wondered if anyone ever finds it useful to think solely on God for an extended period of time? Is that a good use of time? I know the questions sound ridiculous, but doesn't it often come down to, "You have something better to do?" I am learning to see solitary moments as precious treasure rather than immediately grabbing the want ads or thinking what great volunteer efforts I could become involved with if I have extended extra time. I also thought, and the thoughts are becoming more and more compelling, that prayer is the only means to draw closer to the Lord and help the people I love. "Doing" becomes instant gratification if things are done only to relieve a sense of discomfort inside. I love to give gifts, to give money, to plan things...I love all of that, but in the story, obviously, Edmond's wealth did nothing to help his heart. There are so many needs out there that aren't going to end in a day, and perhaps the reason I find myself "in solitary" is to name those stones one by one every day. The story ends with Edmond being redeemed as the Count, but I pray I can emulate the priest who died in prison with no freedom, and all freedom.


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