Mankind can be insanely cruel. From political leaders who murder entire races to parents who abuse then abandon their children, it seems there is no limit to the atrocities inflicted upon man by man. And yet, humans can also be incredibly empathetic, looking deep into the wounded heart of another, a heart that touches their own and moves them toward active compassion.
As I read today’s post by Eleanor Gustafson, author of Dynamo and The Stones, I thought back to the movie she referenced. I only saw portions of the Elephant Man, but even short blips were enough to break my heart as I imagined what it must have felt like to be that man. Alone. Isolated by the repulsion of others. Nothing stings quite like rejection. To be accepted, warts, deformities, and all. More than that; to be loved. Isn’t that what we all want?
Today, Eleanor discusses a scene from this poignant, though-provoking movie, bringing it home on a deeper level. As you read her post, pause to honestly, prayerfully evaluate your human condition, scabs and all. Then, consider God’s grace. I believe God’s mercy will appear all the more beautiful.
Note: Eleanor is giving away a copy of her latest release, Dynamo. Winner will be selected randomly from the comments left on this post or at Living by Grace on Facebook.
Elephant Man and Communion by Eleanor Gustafson
Some time ago, I happened on a TV rerun of The Elephant Man. Just the thing to set a person up for Communion the following Sunday.
In the Apostles’ Creed, which our church recites on Communion Sundays, is a phrase, “I believe in . . . the communion of saints.” As the Communion elements drifted among the pews, I mentally looked around the congregation (head bowed, eyes closed, of course). Saints? Mostly sinners here, the whole lot of us, from the pulpit on down. Yes, of course I know the phrase doesn’t intend what I’m making it out to mean. I know it refers to the fellowship of believers made righteous by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. But at that introspective moment it seemed that “communion of sinners” might be more appropriate.
My thoughts eased onto “The Elephant Man”. The film is based on the account of a real person who lived in England around the turn of the 20th century. His physical deformity led to years of exploitation as a miserable, autistic, sideshow freak. A doctor, initially motivated by scientific curiosity, befriended him, moving him to a hospital and caring for him physically. In the process of trying to help him, the doctor encouraged the man to talk and discovered an amazing intellectual capacity.
The doctor began introducing his patient to friends, showing off this great scientific find. He dressed him as a gentleman, took him to his home and to other social gatherings, with gratifying response from this cultured audience. (Never mind that his protégé had become a freak of a different order.)
The drama turns on a scene in which the Elephant Man, in the privacy of his room, begins to indulge in posturing pretension, rehearsing erudite phrases and poses. At last, he feels, his innate gifts, so long-buried, have gained him social acceptance.
In this moment of pride, a disgruntled “sideshow” huckster, hungry for the fast buck, breaks into the room with his clientele of bar patrons and whores. Their “fun” lies in observing the shock effect of this monstrosity on women. In an ultimate act of cruelty, the entrepreneur holds a mirror for the Elephant Man to see his face for the first time. This act totally destroys him, and shortly after, he lies down to die.
Communion is a mirror. It reminds us from whence we have come, of our wretched state under that robe of righteousness. No room for posturing here; we are brought face to face with the enormity of sin.
“Communion of sinners” does seem more appropriate here than “communion of saints.” We must not forget this dimension of our human condition. But it’s not the entire picture. There’s more to the creed than that one phrase. The whole thing is set to rights at the end with the breathtaking declaration that “God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth” grants us “. . . the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”
Here indeed is grace and hope for all us elephant people.
Jeth Cavanaugh is searching for a new life along one of Pennsylvania’s mountain ridges when he stumbles upon a stable of show jumpers owned by Rob and Katie Chilton. Throw in a volatile gaited stallion named Dynamo, and Jeth will do anything to work there. Jeth earns his living by training and showing Rob’s jumpers, but Dynamo is his primary passion.
Everything changes when God enters his life—in the unconventional form of a hard slap by an old girlfriend—and ignites a new, greater passion within Jeth. But along with fervor comes fear at the undeniable evidence of God’s hand on his life. Inexplicable events, both good and bad, make him moan plaintively, “Why does God do this to me? I get the feeling I’m being set up for something.”
He is, indeed. Jeth’s life is anything but predictable, much like the God he serves. The real Dynamo and his ultimate trainer emerge out of an excruciating mix of disaster and brokenness, which are never beyond the reach of redemption.
This story is God in your face: Who is He really? What does He ask of us?
Eleanor K. Gustafson began thinking up stories when she was five or six. When she started to read, God drew her to Himself with, yes, a story. Her fascination with story continued, but after reading early written attempts, friends and even her mother told her straight-out to stick to music as a career. She pushed manfully along, however, and began publishing both fiction and nonfiction in 1978. Dynamo is her fifth novel and builds off her lifelong love of horses. Her previous title with Whitaker House is The Stones: A Novel of the Life of King David.
A graduate of Wheaton College in Illinois, Eleanor has been actively involved in church life as a minister’s wife, teacher, musician, writer, and encourager. Additional experiences include gardening, house construction, tree farming, and parenting—all of which have helped bring color and humor to her fiction. One of her major writing goals has been to make scriptural principles understandable and relevant for today’s readers through the undeniable power of story.
Readers can find out more about Eleanor on her Web site, www.eleanorgustafson.com.
Let’s talk about this! Grace is amazing, and it’s important we live in grace, forgetting what is past and moving toward that which lies ahead. And yet, I also think it’s important that we remember where we came from–who we were when Christ grabbed hold of us and where we’d be without His grace. This is humility–recognizing our utter need for God. This, my friends, is what brings us to and keeps us on our knees.
With my book, Beyond I Do’s release approaching, I’ve been preparing for interviews and such, and in so doing, I’ve been contemplating my past–where I was and all God’s done. It can be painful to remember the pit I’d gotten myself into, and yet, it’s also immensely beautiful because it reminds me afresh of God’s radical love, power, and grace. (You can read more about my grace-saturated journey here.)
What about you? Pause to reflect your sin in light of God’s grace. What kind of responses does it evoke? Have you had an “elephant man in the mirror” experience? If so, tell us about it. Not just that moment of self-revelation, but whatever grace God showed you after. Do you believe your experience of that grace was deepened by the revelation of your depravity? How so?
Join the conversation here, in the comments below or on Facebook at Living by Grace.