Growing up in the Greek Orthodox Church, I learned to confess my sins by kneeling directly in front of the priest. I had no reason to believe that other churches handled this sacrament differently. When I first saw Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, I was mesmerized by the scenes of Death and the Knight talking to each other, in part because they were sitting in some sort of booth with a small door between them. What a great cinematic concept, I thought. When I later visited a Catholic church for the first time and saw the rows of confessionals, my response was, “They stole the idea from Bergman!”
It takes 10 or 15 minutes to catch up to the shorthand narrative style of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, the fifth film based on the J. K. Rowling novels (released at about the same time as the seventh and final book in the series).
Somewhere in the sacred opera, in a sea of men, the little voice, fearless in the face of the foreign marketplace of sound booming in the maw of the basilica, came forth, the little voice, like the water bird above the river.
The lost child’s chant, meant to take away a mother’s grief, came at us from behind.
His form, white, diaphanous, backlit, wafted from the narthex down the nave, one flaming wing trembling, his treble sure, sure, soaring, pinning my lapsed heart to some small certainty:
All shall be well. The ears of the deaf shall be open, as well as the gates to the house of doubt.
(translated from the Macedonian by Nola Garrett and Natasha Garrett)
I lift this skull that just hours ago the tempest dug out. How raw is his innocent death, exposed after centuries here in this hill where now I lay him down into a fresh grave, dewy among wild thyme buzzing with bees. This hill now seems greater with a new human stance. I have added to it my heart’s force and love, so I can comprehend where this resurrected one will go and what he might tell me, thought he covers himself with this umbrella, because it is darker out here than the light he blazes underground.
So Jesus’ wealthy friends did prove useful in the end. All four narratives seem to agree on this. Joseph, after all—the one from Arimathea, not his Dad— Joseph pulled strings with Pilate. Did he have to call in a few favors earned in questionable ways so he could claim possession of the corpse? Old Nicodemus too, Jesus’ night-shift friend from the Sanhedrin, Nicodemus makes his own fleeting reprise, carting along a ton—almost—of fragrant spices, nard and myrrh (again!), for preservation purposes. Although where he got such pricey stuff, late on a holiday Friday afternoon, is never quite explained. And that convenient, fresh-hewn, garden tomb; even back in the day, sepulchres such as those did not come ten-a-penny! Add in all the hired help they must have needed to get stuff from here to there and, of course, to roll and seal that massive rock . . . Whole thing makes you wonder—doesn’t it?— wonder if that narrow needle’s eye got prized wide open— camel-size, at least—to accommodate these late allies.
When Toni Morrison taught creative writing at Princeton University, all her students had been told in previous classes to write about what they knew. She said to forget that advice because first, they didn’t know anything yet, and two, she didn’t want to read about their experiences. She told them to imagine people outside their own experience, such as a Mexican waitress in Rio Grande who could barely speak English. It was amazing what these students came up with, Morrison said, when they were given license to imagine something outside their realm of experience (American Theatre, March 10).