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Thought-Provoking Fiction

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If you haven't yet seen the movie, Philomena, starring Judi Dench and Steve Coogan, you might not want to read this blog, but if you have, and you found your heart strings tugged by the young mother's pain in having her toddler ripped away from her and adopted out against her will, then you might find this blog useful.


I went to see the movie a few days ago with my mother, and we were both deeply moved by it. As films go, it's well constructed, brilliantly acted, and beautiful to watch. As a true story, it's all the more poignant. A teenage girl who becomes pregnant out of wedlock in the 50s is shunned by her family and sent to an abbey to give birth, after which her child is raised by the nuns – the young mothers are only given one hour a day with their children – and soon adopted out. Philomena loves her child fiercely but has no say in any of this because she has 'sinned'. Near the end of the movie she – spoiler alert! – expresses her forgiveness to the 'evil nun' who orchestrated the arrangement.

As we drove home from the cinema, my mother and I discussed the movie and how we felt about it. I explained that the concept of forgiveness that inspires me is not so much the 'superior' position where we forgive someone who has wronged us, but the appreciative position where we can genuinely say, 'thank you for giving me this experience' – because we recognise the divine order at work. 

That's my philosophy but I felt a bit wobbly declaring that because my own heart strings/attachment to my children etc. had been pretty vigorously affected. As I reflected on the film in the hours afterward, my emotions settled down and I saw the core principle at work.

Firstly we have to remember that 'divine order' isn't equal to 'human order'; it's not about 'happiness' or human concepts of fairness, it's about evolution.

The principle at work in Philomena is that dictators arise where people are disempowered. We can say that this isn't nice but the point is for the people to empower themselves and subsequently unseat the dictator.

In this case the dictators were the nuns and society's narrow-minded thinking, and young Philomena played her part – she gave her power away to her parents, society's voices, and the nuns. Granted, this was because she was ignorant – she literally didn't know better, but this is the whole point of evolution: we begin with a certain set of limitations and we grow beyond them.

The order is here: Philomena's pain, which she felt every day for over 50 years, slowly erodes her blind faith in the church and society's rules, empowering her to make her own decisions. We see this crack in her belief system when she reveals her conundrum – she believes she has been rightfully punished for her carnal sin in having pre-marital sex, but gradually she realises she is also sinning by lying about what happened. This internal conflict comes to a head when she walks out of a confessional without speaking and doesn't make the sign of the cross as she leaves the church. She is taking her power back from the church but it has taken her 50 years to grow into being able to do so. 

This growth is the divine order at work because her soul needed to grow in this way more than it needed to keep the baby… who had a much richer life with the adoptive parents – i.e. more opportunity – than with a stigmatised, single mother in the 40s who had no means of supporting them. There's no guarantee he would have been happier with his biological mother even though, watching the movie, we might all nostalgically think so because she clearly loves him so much. My own mother has rejected one of her daughters in adulthood – there's no telling what might have occurred in Philomena's relationship with her son as their lives together unfolded.

Another form of growth for Philomena in this story was her character growth. She didn't indulge in bitterness or revenge, and she developed quite an extraordinary degree of poise and self-control. I recently watched a TED talk featuring a lesbian woman who daily receives a flood of hate mail. Her poise and centeredness and self-acceptance in the face of all this hatred is incredibly inspiring, and herein lies the divine order: our challenging experiences offer us profound opportunities to grow.

NB. It's worth recognising, however, that while the son avoids being brought up by a stigmatised mother, he then recreates this dynamic in his own life because – spoiler alert! – he becomes a homosexual who eventually dies young of AIDS.

Also emerging out of this prejudiced 50s scenario was social welfare and more enlightened attitudes. Where people are disempowered dictators arise to frustrate the people into reclaiming their power:

"In any area of your life that you don't empower, you will attract people who will overpower you. You are not a victim of their over-empowerment. You are just attracting over-empowerment by your very nature, to get you to raise the value of that area and empower it. The so-called victimisation is actually giving you the opportunity to realise where you are not empowered, to frustrate you enough to get you empowered." - Dr John Demartini, The Values Factor pp 383-4. [My bold.]

I arrived at this realisation spontaneously some ten years ago when I realised that my partner's depression and lack of involvement in our family were valuable agents provoking me into valuing myself more and taking action on what was important to me.

Another example is that we perceive slavery to be cruel and horrible but slaves have inevitably devalued themselves and given their power away, so they are co-creators of their situation; as they reclaimed their power in the USA, they have risen to the point where their (previously) prejudiced country elected a black president.

Healing is never complete until cause and effect are united; until we see our role in creating the problem and respond responsibly. 

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