December 14, 2016

Ways of Sincerity, More Than One


Author and theologian Thomas Merton wrote about a facet of human nature which he calls fears of the truth. And there are several. In particular, he addresses the meaning of sincerity in every day life.
While much in our lives is motivated by our fears, Merton notes that "sincerity is a simplicity of spirit which is preserved by the will to be true. It implies an obligation to manifest the truth and to defend it... Sincerity in the fullest sense is a divine gift."
He notes that it takes more "courage than we imagine to be perfectly simple with other men... False sincerity has much to say because it is afraid. Yet true candor cannot be silent. It does not need to face an impending attack. Anything... may be defended with perfect simplicity."

In the end, by Merton's reckoning, sincerity is really an issue of love. The sincere one is one who seeks the truth and embodies it. Truth then is not just an abstraction. It is real, living flesh, like yours and mine.
Many in today's world fear that they are not really lovable, not lovable to the extent they think they deserve. And others fear that a lack of real, meaningful love in our lives indicates that "since we are not lovable as we are, we must be lovable under false pretenses, making ourself appear to be different that we are."

In the conclusion to his essay, No Man Is An Island, Merton writes that so few believe in God because they do not believe that even a god can love them. The man who will admit that what he sees may be wrong with him, and recognizes that he may be, still, the object of God's love precisely because of his shortcomings can make a start to become sincere. His love is based then upon confidence rather than the falseness of illusion.

The film Upstream Color examines the lives of two deeply imperfect, and in some ways, flawed individuals. While much is remarked upon the film's abstraction, the central characters meet, develop and share an intense love for one another that becomes based in sincerity.
She suffers from a serious mental illness and he, from a professional shortcoming that results in the loss of the licensing required to carry out his profession. Initially she offers up certain details of her illness, while he initially withholds facts about his own situation.

The resulting social stigma he bears from past indiscretions and the stigma of her illness, combine to create a powerful portrait of two people picking their way through the world, salvaging and in a measure, redeeming themselves, and each other through sincere love.
The simplicity of the film is provided by the many scenes of nature and the interactions with that nature. The film maker leaves us with a certain ambiguity in those scenes, to believe or not. The effect is both spiritually powerful and insightful.

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