Friday, 28 September 2012
The Overwhleming Quality of Grace
On Wednesday, which is our free day at the seminary, I went to see Anna Karenina with a fellow seminarian. I'm ashamed to say I've never read the book, so I can't say how faithful an interpretation the new film is. While I was disappointed that there were a few unnecessary scenes, by no means fleeting (cue to close eyes!), I liked the way the public and social life of the characters was played out on a stage, but in such a way that it merged with reality. Cleverly done, and quite wonderful I thought. The selfishness of Anna, the title character, and her lover Alexei was fairly depressing. In their infantile infatuation with one another, all sense of commitment was thrown to the winds, even to the point that Anna spurned the near-heroic forgiveness and patience of her husband. They sought merely to indulge their own passions, and as a consequence, Anna began to doubt the authenticity of Alexei's love, while Alexei grew bored of Anna's emotional stranglehold on him. This doubt, resentment and disillusionment is the inevitable result of sin, even if sin presents itself to us in an attractive guise at first. God warns Adam and Eve that the illicit fruit leads to death, and this death is not just physical but spiritual. Sin makes us bored and boring.
Therefore I was moved by the contrasting story of Kitty and Levin. Kitty originally spurns Levin's suit to her in favour of the dashing Alexei, but when Alexei in turn spurns her for Anna, Kitty becomes sick and depressed. Later on in the film, Levin meets Kitty again, when she has learned of her mistake but has no hope that Levin will propose again after the initial slight. Levin is unchanged, however, and when Kitty discovers this from him she becomes tearfully overwhelmed by her happiness and gratitude for his faithful love. Call me a softy, but this was my favourite scene of the film. In contrast to the cynical, possessive love of Anna, who feels she deserves it, Kitty is the one who gratefully receives a love she knows she has not earned. The Cure of Ars said that if the priest knew what he truly was, he would die of love. I think that's the case for grace as well. If we truly realised how unmerited the grace of God is, for us human beings who have countless times spurned it, then we would be helpless with wonder and love in the face of such faithful gratuity. It would overwhelm us.