Netflix instant play handed me the most beautiful gem of a movie this past weekend. Twist of Faith, it’s called. I don’t want to be a spoiler here, so I won’t lay out the plot for you in its entirety, but I will tell you this:
Orthodox Jewish cantor and father, Jacob, living in Brooklyn with his wife and three children, experiences the most awful and unspeakable life-changing, gut-wrenching and heart-wrecking thing. This is in the movie’s first five minutes, and I almost turned it off at minute 4:30.
Jacob is devout. Faithful. Committed.
Meanwhile, down south in small town Alabama, African-American single mom Nina, star soloist of her church gospel choir and local public school teacher is living her life with her son Asher as her sole focus.
Nina is also devout (with perhaps an undercurrent of serious questions for God). She is also so, so controlled. She worries incessantly about her son’s safety (in her fierce desire to protect Asher from all things real and imagined, I saw myself and my efforts to keep all that rages harmful from my own only child). She has no time for nonsense of any kind, including dating, and she carries around in her guarded heart far too much for any one person to manage alone.
I almost turned off the movie a second time when a well-meaning and compassionate rabbi says to Jacob that “nothing arbitrary” happens in God’s world, implying that this life we live is some sort of celestial chess game, and we’re supposed to trust that in the absolute thick of horror it’s all “happening for a reason.”
I don’t buy that.
Neither did Jacob–and so a journey begins, one that winds together all that is ancient and true about life and faith and what it means to have both, telling a beautiful story of how our own tragedies can sometimes be, if not redeemed, at least lived through, in the shelter of life together.
The movie reminded me of some important things. First, that control is such an illusion. And our best efforts at it often fail miserably. Anne Lamott writes that sometimes she needs to be reminded to take her sticky fingers off the controls and trust that God is at work. This is entirely different than God-plays-chess, and it takes real trust that something bigger–something good–is at work in the world, no matter the evil around us that often seems to be winning.
Second, it reminded me that hope is real and that second chances do come. And maybe there’s really not much more to say about that…just…hope.
Third, it reminded me of what I hold most dear when I proclaim to be a person of faith: that faith is a mystery–of things unseen and not completely understood and often just desperately hoped for. It is trust that we are not alone, and assurance that this particular thing (whatever it is) is not the last thing.
“In this very moment,” sings Nina along the journey, “there is a blessing.”
That I can buy.
Because there’s a whole lot in this world I’d handle differently than whoever/whatever is currently handling it. And there are multiple people and situations in my life that I am convinced (please hear my own self-deprecation here) I know the correct path and plan forward for (if I could only get systems, bosses, congregations, families and weather to cooperate!).
But my sticky fingers are not in charge (for which we can all give resounding thanks and praise!). And the most I can do is pay attention to goodness, actively search for the blessing, and, as I do so, foster it in my own ways of being.
Letting go requires forgiveness. Trust. Vulnerability. These three things are not my strong suit–are they anyone’s?–but they are possible. And in the possibility itself is where, I think, maybe the greatest grace is to be found.
P.S. Toni Braxton plays Nina, y’all. There’s no remix of “Unbreak My Heart,” but there’s some hella good gospel music.