Encanto – Acceptance

If you’ve seen Encanto, then I’m sorry to do this to you, but “We don’t talk about Bruno no, no, no. We don’t talk about Brunnno!” If you haven’t seen the movie, then you aren’t currently participating in the sing a-long that just started with one of the movie’s more popular songs (here’s a link to the clip if you’re interested in joining us.)

Bruno, Mirabel’s mysterious uncle, was given the gift of foresight. He can go into a trance-like state and could see the future. Based on the aforementioned song, it seems like people treated Bruno as a local fortune teller. The villagers complain that Bruno told them their fish would die, they would grow a gut someday or lose their hair. These things do, in fact, come to pass. We’ve already discussed how Bruno informed Isabela she would have “the life of her dreams,” and how it sounded great but in reality was detrimental to her overall well-being. Bruno was truthful with all of his predictions. Unfortunately, sometimes people mistook normal speech for predictions. We hear about this during the song about Bruno.

Tia Pepa (the aunt who can control the weather), was getting married. She was, understandably, nervous and anxious on the big day. Bruno tried to joke with her that it looked like rain. Pepa took that to be some kind of prediction and loses her cool, bringing on a hurricane of rain and wind. We find out at the end of the movie that Bruno wasn’t making a prediction or telling the future, he was simply trying to help his sister express her emotions instead of bottling them all up inside. With this in mind, it could very well be that the things the villagers took for predictions were also simply observations that Bruno awkwardly made.

After Mirabel did not receive a traditional gift, Abuela asked Bruno to look into Mirabel’s future. He did and discovered a confusing scene. On the vision tablet, Mirabel was standing in front of the Casita, the family’s house. It was a little like those cards where if you tip it to the right, you see one picture. To the left, the light changes, revealing a different picture. In one view, the Casita is cracking and crumbling. But in the other, it’s whole. Bruno knows that Abuela will focus on the negative possibility due to her preoccupation with maintaining a facade of perfection and order about the family. Rather than risking Mirabel becoming an outsider as he feels he is becoming, Bruno destroys the vision tablet and leaves the Encanto.

Or does he? Bruno only wants to love and help his family. He finds himself unable to leave, and the Casita makes it easy for him to stay by providing an in-between the walls space for him to live. Once Bruno “leaves,” his name becomes taboo. Abuela will not allow it spoken and, as the song explains, “We don’t talk about Bruno.” Except then everyone goes on an sings an entire song about him! Clearly, there are unresolved issues about Bruno.

I’m sure it’s pretty obvious, but not talking about someone or something is usually not a healthy response to a situation. No family, no individual is perfect. We don’t always fit perfectly together but we would be incomplete if someone suddenly vanished. Families who have lost loved ones know what this feels like. New patterns of togetherness are slowly and often painfully formed. In the case of the Madrigal family, these new patterns of togetherness were not really created because they couldn’t talk about their feelings openly with one another. Luisa tells Mirabel that she overheard the adults whispering about Bruno. Camillo, Mirabel’s cousin, has a very skewed view of who his uncle was, claiming he was 7 feet tall when he’s actually the shortest of the triplets.

As we draw closer to the Feast of the Ascension, we find the Church preparing for a separation. After Jesus’ resurrection, he remained on the earth for 40 more days. He then ascended up to heaven to sit at the Father’s right hand. Jesus is leaving, but He’s not actually going. If you stretch the analogy and squint a little, Bruno does a similar thing. Jesus, in His infinite love for humanity, sends His Spirit to remain with us as well as provides us with a way to intimately experience His presence in the Eucharist. Bruno remains in the Casita, patching the cracks as best he is able and offering what help he can from between the walls.

The difference between those left behind is in the conversations they had. The Madrigal family talks about Bruno in whispers, side glances and assumptions. The disciples tell everyone they can who Jesus is and why He changed their lives. I know these two situations are not at all comparable, but the fruits are worth looking at. By suppressing conversations about Bruno, the family reaped negativity, fractured relationships and inaccurate assumptions about one another. The disciples, on the other hand, grew in their love for one another, for Jesus, and for those who came to encounter their message.

When we are having a problem with someone, it’s always better to talk about it. When we aren’t sure what happened in a situation, it’s always better to seek out those there and discover the truth of the matter. Our gift of language and communication is one of the most important tools we have to build our communities, large and small. Language only works if we use it well. Are there relationships in your life that could use some greater openness? Are you trying to discover new ways forward after a loss? Talk to those around you. Talk about what makes you happy, what makes you sad, how you like to communicate. Listen to the other person share about themselves. Don’t let issues important to you both go unspoken or unresolved. It may not happen overnight, in fact it probably won’t. Relationships take time and work. But both the Madrigal family and the disciples know that the community you nurture will be worth it.

Daily Graces. kktaliaferro.wordpress.com

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?