The Life of Pi and Christmas

Posted: December 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

For those of you who have read the book or seen the movie The Life of Pi you know that Pi is the nickname of the main character, a man from India who weaves a fantastic story of survival following the sinking of the cargo ship that was transporting him and his family to a new life.

Without spoiling the film for those who have yet to see it, the fantastic adventure is positioned at the blurry intersection of fantasy and reality, and in fact questions which is which. By the end of the narrative we are confronted with a decision about which of two stories is the real one. Or more carefully put, which we choose to be the real one.

That is a post-modern question, one that challenges the notion of absolute objectivity. All of life is interpreted through a subjective lens. We assign or attribute meaning to events. And that is often done by symbolizing them, mythologizing them.

Listen to the stories people weave to explain what has happened to them, what they have experienced. What we often hear is a combination of what we might call facts – events or occurrences that have multiple attestations, that several people might describe in the same way – and also an interpretation of what those facts mean. Sometimes the interpretation of the facts bears little resemblance to the original matter at hand. And some people are more imaginative and grandiose than others!

In addition, our memories are not absolute, tape recorders, a YouTube in the brain’s memory bank. We take the raw material and craft it into narratives that fit with our notion of the way life is, what we think we are. That is what is shared, often in an altered form, re-presenting reality.

For those who care about such things, the preaching of the New Testament is that way. There is what happened and then a proclamation of the meaning of what happened. It is theology more than history. Fact and interpretation are woven together in a patchwork often difficult to separate out, if you want to do that at all. And that’s how to understand, interpret the Christmas story as presented in the Gospels, the incredible birth narratives we sing and read and dramatize this time in the church year. They are presentations of the meaning of a God who infuses the world with a holy presence.

In the end, you may ask yourself which story is the real one. Is it the description of bare bones data, of this thing that really happened here in this way? Or is it the poetic rendering of truth, a narrative that catches the beauty, shares the wonder, and helps us transcend the ordinary to embrace the extraordinary? As with The Life of Pi you will have to choose. We know what the reductionistic mindset will do. But what about you?

  1. Audie says:

    The “Life of Pi” was awesome with lots of food for thought. The comparison to the birth narrative is especially interesting and merges well with my view of the Holy Birth. Thanks for this inciteful post.

  2. Indeed, the shortcomings of a naive realism were all too apparent in the events of the last century. And I think something you mentioned a while back, that the “partial is sufficient”, aptly summarizes the reality of things. Undoubtedly, the difference between the personal philosophies of any two people stems from how much each believes this partial has been revealed. However, praise God that the Truth of Love has been revealed to us all.

  3. What a wonderful post! I especially liked this line, “Fact and interpretation are woven together in a patchwork often difficult to separate out, if you want to do that at all,” with the key part being, “if you want to do that at all.” Our desire dictates our approach. We want to see the Beloved or not.

    I read this book when it came out and was so looking forward to the movie. I felt thankful the movie reflected the book’s light touch!

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