Encanto – Being Enough

This week we are going to step back from Isabela and spend time with the eldest Madrigal sister, Luisa. Luisa’s gift is strength. I wish I could have been in the room when the idea of a donkey valet service was floated and accepted. Yes, Luisa is super strong and one of her many, many duties is to “park” everyone’s donkey as they come to Antonio’s gift celebration.

Luisa is everywhere. She seems to have an uncanny ability to be available to respond to any need or request. Need a piano? Luisa can bring it over. Need your donkey parked? Luisa can get it. Got a bunch of rocks to move, furniture to haul, a house to relocate? Luisa, Luisa, Luisa. She does everything with a smile and doesn’t seem to complain.

Thinking back to Isabela, the mask she wore was one of aloof perfection. Luisa’s is different. She is, to quote Minnie Mouse, a “happy helper.” No frowns, groans, or hesitation. She is ready and able in the here and now.

Again, this facade only goes skin deep. Mirabel goes to Luisa to ask her about the miracle, her gift and their Uncle Bruno. During the course of the conversation and Luisa’s song, we learn a lot about her. The opening lines get me every time:

I’m pretty sure I’m worthless if I can’t be of service

Luisa, Surface Pressure, Encanto

Punch in the gut, isn’t it? Outside looking in, we can easily call out this kind of negative self-talk. Of course Luisa isn’t worthless if she takes a break or chooses to sit down and read a book for an afternoon. But the expectations placed upon her both by others and herself preclude any moment of rest or relaxation.

I don’t know who else needs to hear this today, but it’s something I need most days. I am not able to meet everyone’s needs, and I am not supposed to. I am not superwoman, supermom, super clean, super anything. I am me and me only spreads so far. Should I give freely of my self, act with generosity and kindness, try to offer a smile while doing hard work? A resounding Yes! Do I need to shoulder all of the burdens of others, complete every single task on my list before taking time to eat lunch, and make myself so available I neglect my own basic needs? A resounding No!

You don’t really notice just how much Luisa is taken advantage of until her song. It’s kind of trippy (donkeys make a prominent appearance) but effective. Another line gets me later in the song:

Give it to your sister and never wonder if the same pressure would have pulled you under.

Luisa, Surface Pressure, Encanto

How often do we ask others to do something for us, not because we genuinely need help but because we just don’t want to do it ourselves. Another gut punch, right? Luisa is being asked to handle burdens that were not meant for her to bear. She is then taking on even more, convincing herself that this is her place. She is to be “of service” for anyone who needs her. She doesn’t get a will of her own, she doesn’t have choices. She is able and willing. Period.

I’m not saying that we are doing this to anyone in our lives and I hope no one resonated so strongly with Luisa that you see it happening to you. Clearly this is an extreme, fictional example. But if you do recognize characteristics of Luisa in your relationships, think about that. Seek outside advice or professional help if you aren’t sure how to find a proper balance between expected service and help that is freely given.

It’s not all work and sadness for Luisa. Just like Isabela, Luisa experiences a transformation. First, she feels her power drained and this is what prompts her line about worthlessness. She can’t imagine what it would be to be weak. What other gifts does she have besides her strength? She’s never had to contemplate this before. At the end of the movie, Luisa sings “I may not be as strong but I’m getting wiser.” Just before that moment, she, Isabela and Mirabel all raised a slab of stone together, something Luisa would have done on her own at the start. She is growing in wisdom, relying on others’ strength as well as her own.

When we step back and aren’t a “do it all” person, we provide space for others to share their gifts and share the load of the work. No one is meant to do everything themselves. We see this so clearly in Jesus’ ministry. Did Jesus need apostles? No. Was it good and right for Him to teach them, and then share the ministry of preaching with them? Absolutely. He did so much as to send them out on their own, spreading His words and mission. He continues to empower the Church today.

We believe that God has given each of us many gifts, each meant to help us in our unique mission in life. But the gifts given do not outweigh our personhood. We are a unique individual, made in the image and likeness of God. This is at the core of each person and the reason every person is deserving of respect and dignity. We can help hone, cultivate and celebrate the gifts of others. We must cherish the unrepeatable person bearing them no matter who they are.

Encanto – Beauty

Got a little mixed up with my timing folks, it’s been a week! Here’s what ought to have posted Sunday. More Encanto, on time, this coming Sunday. Thanks for your grace and patience.

Last week, I almost got ahead of myself and into today’s topic, Beauty. What is beauty? Is it based in the opinion of others or ourselves? We are sticking with Isabela again as we contemplate these questions.

As mentioned, Isabela appears to hold the gold standard on beauty in the Encanto-verse. She has lovely looks, perfect clothes, a sparkling smile, and what’s more, her gift seems to have something to do with beauty. Isabela can make flowers shower from nothing, beautifying the town with the mere thought of a rose. I’ll admit, the first time I watched Encanto I wondered about the superfluous gift Isabela had. What’s the point of being able to toss flowers around except to spread pollen dust and dried petals?

I had to dig deeper, which we will get to. But first, let’s look at Isabela’s relationship with her gift. At the start, Isabela only made what others had told her was perfect, just like her. Her understanding of beauty was limited by the perceptions of others. It’s only after her moment of self knowledge that she begins to be creative with her gift. She experiments with color, plant variety and size. We can tell she is embracing this new and broadened understanding of her powers in her clothing at the of the movie. Instead of returning to her old lavender dress, she has a darker indigo one with a few of the colorful paint splotches still on it. She also has incorporated some of the color into her hair.

To the audience, Isabela was beautiful before her transformation. She is beautiful after. So, what’s up with this whole Beauty thing. If we look into Isabela’s head, I think we would find she finds herself much more beautiful at the end of the movie. This is because it is beauty she has chosen, not beauty that has been composed for her.

Bishop Barron, who I talk about fairly frequently, loves to bring up the importance of Beauty, capital “B.” Beauty is one of the three transcendentals, the other two being Goodness and Truth. In a society that continues to be highly polarized, beginning conversations about religion, or frankly, many topics, with what is ultimately Good or True can be non-starters. We are divided on what is Good for all people, what is True for all people. What is Good to me might not be from where you sit. Same with Truth. It’s a sorry state of affairs, but being sorry doesn’t mean we give up hope. There’s one transcendental left. Beauty. (If you want to read more, here’s the first part of a multi-article conversation about Beauty)

Beauty has many shapes and sizes. It could be something as grand as the Sistine Chapel or something as simple as the first tulips bursting forth to claim spring’s arrival. It is something that draws you in, the causes you to pause and say, “Wow.” It could be a hard thing, like watching an older couple struggle up the street but still holding hands. It could be a challenging thing, like a poem that calls out social injustice or stigma. It could be simple, complicated, made by a master or a child. Beauty surrounds is, just like Isabela’s flowers surrounded her and her town.

Here is the difference between Isabela’s initial beauty and what is becomes. At first, her beauty was skin deep. We see that in how she treats Mirabel and how she values her own happiness. Her beauty didn’t lead anyone anywhere. But at the end, she is discovering that authentic Beauty causes someone to pause, to ponder and perhaps even to change. Her expression of true Beauty at the end of her song forced Abuela to stop. While Abuela’s first reaction was anger, she quickly comes to realize that each member of her family is Good, just as they are. Again, movie magic quickly, Abuela then recognizes that each person is a gift unto themselves. The gift bestowed by the miracle can never and should never outshine the person.

What is Beautiful around you today? What is making you pause and say, “Wow, that’s amazing!” As Christians, we believe that God can be found within each of those beautiful things, moments or ideas. How is He speaking to you through them? What Goodness is He drawing you toward? What Truth could you learn?

Encanto – Perfectionism

Broadly speaking, perfectionism is a theme Disney has recently called upon in its movies. I’m thinking here about Moana, (“I wish I could be the perfect daughter.”) and Elsa from Frozen (her need for perfect control over her powers). We find it again in Encanto.

Right from the start, Mirabel identifies her older sister, Isabela, as “the perfect, golden child.” On the surface, Isabela’s power seems pretty frivolous. She can make flowers appear at will. That’s it. Just showers of flowers wherever and whenever. Through Mirabel’s eyes, Isabela is also gorgeous, graceful, praised and adored by all, and in a word, perfect.

We all know no one is perfect, not even Disney characters. Today, let’s think about why perfectionism, especially when it’s imposed or expected of us from the outside, is harmful. Also, how can unrealistic expectations harm both individuals and relationships.

Quick synopsis. Isabela is planning to become engaged to the local poetry writing hunk, Mariano. I should amend that statement: Abuela is planning to have Isabela engaged to Mariano. We find out in Isabela’s feature song scene, “What Else Can I Do?” that she was only going to marry Mariano because it was what the family wanted, not what she wanted. In her anger and frustration at Mirabel who has drawn this revelation out of her, she creates something new and completely out of her ordinary – a asymmetrical spiked cactus.

Mirabel and Isabela are envious of what the other has. Mirabel wants to be loved and accepted the way she perceives Isabela is. Isabela wishes for nothing more than to be able to be who she truly is without the pressure to be perfect all the time which is how she views Mirabel. The two sisters clash often in the first half of the movie because they haven’t taken the time to understand one another. The “perfect” Isabela cannot tolerate Mirabel’s haphazard and carefree attitude because it isn’t something she’s ever experienced.

In her song, Isabela reflects that she shows the world a perfect facade of herself, but “so much hides behind my smile.” While perfection might seem beautiful on the outside, it sure is up tight on the inside trying to hold everything in place. It is interesting to think back a few scenes in the movie to the song about Bruno. In the song, “We Don’t Talk About Bruno,” Isabela reveals that Bruno foresaw that she would have the life of her dreams. This has lead her to believe that the current life she has must be the life of her dreams, even if she is actually unhappy. What a distorted understanding of how life ought to be lived!

How many of us fall into this trap? Think about someone you know or know of who leads a “perfect life.” From the outward appearances, perhaps they do have it all together. But do they really, under the surface, have all their ducks in a row? We all know the answer is no, no one is perfect. Yet still we hold people up as somehow better or closer to perfection. When they fail to live up to the unrealistic expectations, their fall is usually more of a crash than a slip or slide.

Perfectionism is a dangerous thing. Perfectionism can hold us back from trying something new because we fear failing or being perceived as less than. Perfectionism forces us to be “on” all the time, constantly vigilant for any small slip that would show something not quite right. Perfectionism sets relationships up for unrealistic expectations that can never be met.

In the end, perfectionism leads to a lot of boredom. Think about Isabela’s flowers. She can make miles and miles of perfectly structured roses but is unable to use her power to express her true emotions. The same flowers over and over again because it’s what is expected, it’s what is perfect. Isabela and the audience learn that beauty doesn’t need to be perfect, it needs to be authentic.

Jesus, thankfully, didn’t pick disciples who were perfect. Far from it. Whole homilies have been dedicated to the antics of St. Peter. Thomas demanded a sign from someone who had come back from the dead. They were consistently confused, unaware, off fishing or asleep. The disciples were decidedly not model students (or even fishermen!). This doesn’t mean they weren’t well chosen. Jesus selected these men not because they were perfect but because their hearts were ready to receive what He offered. Filled with the Holy Spirit, they were exactly the right men who would carry out the Good News to all people.

Jesus didn’t wait for the disciples to be ready to follow Him. Do you think they ever would have been ready? Jesus is calling you just as He called them. He isn’t asking you to be perfect, or even a certain distances along the path toward it. He is asking you to follow Him. The rest, holy perfection included, will come with time as He gifts it to you.