Last Friday evening I had the opportunity to sit in a packed theater and watch the film Avatar for the first time. I was blown away by the amazing effects and swept into the story line by the many cultural connections with our world today. Like so many other films have done in past, Avatar grappled in its undertones with real issues such as environmental concerns, native relations, and military movements with stunning pictures of wildlife and language uses such as words like “Shock and Awe” and subtitles for native speech.
I must admit though that this is not what toke my heart away during the course of the film. What really got to me was the central storyline with the character of Jake and his questions behind identity as a paralyzed marine. Sitting in my own wheelchair I began struggling with the same uncertainties he was facing in the light of a new world.
Who is my Avatar? What would it be like to have a new body? Or as Col. Miles Quaritch said to Jake; to have my real legs back? Who is the real me?
Being a gen X’er, the word avatar always seemed to me to be an image you put on your facebook page or blog address to which people identify you as. It surprised me to realize after looking it up in a dictionary that the word avatar actually means “the embodiment of something: somebody who embodies, personifies, or is the manifestation of an idea or concept.”
In that sense really think about it for a moment and ask yourself; Am I the same person at work that I am at home? Are you the same person on Sunday at church? How about when you are standing with the other parents outside the school while waiting to pick up your kids? How many Avatars do you have? Which one is the real one?
There is this moment in the film when Jake and his new found friend Neytiri are arguing over the fact that she does not see him as being authentic. In a sense she is saying, “I do not know who or what you are!” It is during this moment that the spirits of Ey’wa, the Na’vi’s understanding of God, descend around Jake and it becomes a sign to Neytiri that even if she cannot see the real Jake, Ey’wa could see him.
It is easy for me to conceal who I truly am in character as a husband, son, pastor, or follower of Jesus behind shadows of personal conception and agenda. In some sense it seems as though I can get lost in these avatars myself and forget who the real me is. No matter how hard I try though it doesn’t seem to change the fact that God still seems to know me as he whispers the words of Jeremiah 1:5; “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” It is a mystery I still wonder about today.
Jesus himself became an avatar in the sense that he was God incarnate. I guess you could say he was the real avatar. One day he went fishing with a group of fishermen. He spent the entire day with them while learning who they were, speaking their language, and seeing who they truly are. It was then that he turned to them and said, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt. 4:19) Jesus in becoming one of them saw right through them to their hearts; he saw their real avatars!
Throughout Jake’s journey he was offered healing but it came in two forms. On the one hand Col. Miles Quaritch offered him purpose in being used as a marine and in doing so he would be “given his legs back”. On the other hand Jake could choose to submit his entire being to the wonder and care of Ey’wa in the awakening of a body given through love and the mystery of recreation.
Without giving anything away I admit to struggling with this in the personal sense. It might be easy to expect God to heal me as a paralyzed man on my terms with my own expectations of time, appearance, and significance. But is healing meant to be easy and solely about me or is it really about the relationship which I have with my creator?
It seemed a question to which I might wrestle with for many years to come until I heard a comment William Young, author of ‘The Shack’, stated in an interview the other day. He said, “I do not believe God heals people so that he can use them. I believe God heals people because he loves them; and then he invites them to play.” It was in this moment that the questions seemed to disappear and the visionary wonder of healing and recreation coalesced with the trust that God would find the balance (1 Corinthians 15:35-49).
Is the movie Avatar a Christian film? I do not think James Cameron intended it to be so when he first developed it but; like most created things, if we are willing to extend a listening ear we just my catch the faded whispers of truth from a loving creator who is saying, “I see you.”