As we journey in these last days to Christmas, I have to stop and wonder, which nativity scene am I participating in? Am I standing at a distance? Am I getting in as close as possible?
Let’s kick this series off with one of the biggest questions from the film, Encanto: “Do you have to earn gifts that are freely given?” Remember, this post will have spoilers.
The movie begins with a song all about the various gifts the family members have received since the Miracle that created their Encanto. I recapped them last week if you need a refresher. Mirabel identifies her Abuela as the one who “runs the show.” Abuela sets the tone for the whole family and who everyone looks to for guidance. During the song, Abuela adds in these lyrics:
We swear to always
Help those around us
And earn the miracle
That somehow found us
The town keeps growing
The world keeps turning
But work and dedication will keep the miracle burning
And each new generation must keep the miracle burningEncanto, “The Family Madrigal Lyrics
In the movie, we come to realize the sacrifice that Mirabel’s Abuelo made to save his family. At the cost of his life, Abuelo Pedro slowed down the invaders so that Abuela, their three babies, and the villagers could escape. Out of the river he stood in, a glowing candle appeared at Abuela’s feet. She accepts the candle and the Encanto begins to grow, along with the magical house the family will live in.
So let’s be clear. It was from an act of sacrifice this miracle appeared. It was earned, perhaps one could use the language “bought,” with the cost of Abuelo’s life. Does this sound familiar to our Easter ears? The new life Abuela received came at a price, just as the new life we receive from Christ came at a price.
Here’s where things get messy, and why we have a movie to begin with. Abuela doesn’t go down the path of Scripture, which reinforces our understanding that our redemption, our miracle, isn’t something we can earn. It was and continues to be freely given (see Romans 11:6 and Ephesians 2:8-9)
Abuela, in her efforts to honor Abuelo, insists that the miracle must continue to be earned. The family must keep proving themselves worthy of the miracle. This means no mistakes are permitted, there isn’t room for complaining or differing opinions. She has painted a facade of perfection and expects everyone to stay within the lines of their gifts and roles.
We can point to a number of places where the pressure of perfection is beginning to make the characters crack. While we will talk more specifically about the effects of perfection in a later post, this is a good place to begin looking at the theme.
- Tia Pepa’s high anxiety levels and inability to control her gift for any length of time.
- Luisa’s apparent weakness as illustrated by donkeys feeling heavy
- Isabela’s willingness to marry someone for the sake of the family
- Camilo erratically shape shifts
- Bruno’s disappearance yet Dolores still can hear him
Mirabel sees the cracks physically appear in the Casita, the family’s home. As the viewer, it becomes quickly apparent that the cracks in the Casita are representative of the cracks between the characters and with their relationships. It becomes Mirabel’s mission to expose those cracks so that healing can happen. Unfortunately, it takes the whole house coming down before Abuela is able to see that she was the cause of the damaged relationships.
The sacrifice of Abuelo is huge. Abuela carries the weight of his loss the heaviest and it is from a place of love that she acts. However, her obsession with keeping the miracle alive caused her to prioritize the gift over the people. At the end of the movie, listen to how her view has been changed:
And I’m sorry I held on too tight
Just so afraid I’d lose you too
The miracle is not some magic that you’ve got
The miracle is you, not some gift, just you
The miracle is you
All of you, all of youEncanto “All of You” lyrics
Ok, life application. Hopefully it’s been made clear that when someone freely gives you something, you shouldn’t need to retroactively earn it. This is most especially true in our faith, where Jesus’ gift of Himself isn’t something we could ever earn. It also has implications on our every day gift-giving experiences. When we choose to give, it should be without strings attached or expectations of reciprocity. And when we receive, we should be humbly thankful instead of keeping score.
Next week, more talk about perfectionism, why we push it on ourselves and others, and why it’s not great for relationships.
I hope you all enjoyed having regular posts throughout Lent. I enjoyed writing within a larger theme for a series of posts, rather than a more popcorn-style posting method. I think I’m going to roll with it for a little while and see how it continues to work with the Holy Spirit’s inspirations. So, for the Easter Season, I give you – Encanto!
For those without children or grandchildren under age 12, Encanto is one of Disney’s newest films. Set in rural Columbia, Encanto follows the story of the Madrigal family, specifically the character Mirabel. I’d like to say up front that this series of posts WILL include spoilers for the film. I’ll try to avoid them for this post, so you’ll have at least one week to watch the film if that interests you before we crack more deeply into the story.
The story begins by introducing the audience to the family Madrigal. The family was fleeing from what appears to be Spanish conquistadors. At the last moment, when hope seemed lost, Abuelo Pedro (Grandfather Pedro), while standing in a river, turns and sacrifices himself in an attempt to slow down the horses to allow his wife, three infants, and the rest of their village, escape to safety. From his sacrifice, a magical candle appears and creates an enclosed valley, an Encanto, that protects the villagers from harm. It also creates an anthropomorphic house and bestows gifts on the family members. A quick run down of the characters and their gifts:
- Abuela Alma (Grandmother Alma) – The miracle of the Encanto and the safety of her family
- Tia Pepa (Aunt Pepa) – Mood controls/affects the weather – one of Abuela’s children
- Julieta – Can heal you with food, especially arepas – Mirabel’s mother and one of Abuela’s children
- Tio Bruno (Uncle Bruno) – Can tell the future – one of Abuela’s children
- Camillo – Can shapeshift into other people – son of Pepa
- Dolores – Can hear the smallest sounds from a distance – daughter of Pepa
- Antonio – Receives his gift at the start of the movie – son of Pepa
- Luisa – Super strength – daughter of Julieta
- Isabela – Can make flowers out of nothing – daughter of Julieta
- Mirabel – Does not appear to have a gift. During the ceremony when she was supposed to receive it, nothing seemed to be bestowed. She has not displayed any particular gift aside from being able to communicate extremely well with the house.
There are some major themes to be discussed from this movie. Ben and I keep circling back to it, partly because we cannot escape the soundtrack which plays at least twice a day in our home presently. But also because there are some rather convicting messages to spend time with. Here’s a preview of what’s to come in this series. I plan to tackle one theme each week:
When a gift is freely given, does it need to be earned after the fact? Or, to put it another way, do you need to prove yourself worthy after receiving a blessing?
What are the dangers of perfectionism, especially when it is imposed from others? How can unrealistic expectations harm both individuals and relationships?
To quote a line from Luisa’s main song, “I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service.” How many of us resonate with this feeling? What sort of pressure do we put on ourselves that is unrealistic or unhealthy?
What is beauty? Is it based in the opinion of others or ourselves? How can being told your life is perfect affect your understanding of happiness?
The elephant in the room that everyone is talking about but no one has authentic conversations about.
What is Mirabel’s gift? What can we learn from it?
I hope you are excited about the series. I promise that for those of you unfamiliar with the story, I’ll try to make things as clear as possible so that you can also glean some wisdom and insights from this film. For this week, if you really want to dig into this series with me, think about the questions above. Even without previously seeing the movie, they ought to have sparked some kind of response or emotion from you. I’m looking forward to sharing the movie’s perspective, my own, and hopefully hearing yours.
Jesus is Risen! Alleluia!
For Lent this year I tried to spend time every day reading through the Gospels with my Word on Fire Bible. This Bible is gorgeous and full of so much goodness. I really appreciate how Bishop Barron and his team incorporated reflections, explanations, word study, art, even poetry, to accompany the Gospel text. I enjoyed slowing down and taking my time to read everything on each page.
While the takeaways were many and I hope to write about more of them, for this Easter Day one thing in particular stayed with me. Early in Matthew’s Gospel he describes his calling to follow Jesus. Matthew was sitting at his collections table, most likely surrounded by others. Jesus singles Matthew out of the crowd and simply says, “Follow me.”
Matthew says he, “rose up and followed him.” End scene. There isn’t much in these few words. However, there is so much when you know ancient languages! I do not so I, like so many of us, rely on others to illuminate what is hidden in our English translation. When Matthew says he “rose up” or in some translations, “got up,” the specific verb he uses is anastas. Not so coincidentally, when we fast forward to Jesus’ Resurrection, the same root word (this time anastasis) is used by Gospel writers to describe the phenomenon.
Jesus, as we know, rose up transformed. His disciples did not always immediately recognize Him. He could walk through walls and locked doors. He was Jesus, yet He was fundamentally changed, something new that had never before been in the world. Looking back over his life, Matthew recognized that his own call by the Lord marked something significant. He had been changed to the core in that moment, a complete transformation from one man to a new man. A resurrection with a little “r” that points toward Jesus’ redemptive Resurrection which transformed the world.
How much of the Bible do we miss in these little word nuances? I am so thankful for the Bible editors and translators who take the time to shed light on the text for those of us unable to access the original languages.
As you celebrate Easter today and throughout the next week, perhaps take some time to look back on your own life. Have you had a moment where you “rose up” to follow Jesus? How has your life changed because He has called you? And make no mistake, He has, He is, and He will always be calling you to further transformational relationship with Him.