Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Media Watch: Stories in ‘God Underneath’ will linger with the reader
by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register
(From the Oct. 4, 2001 edition of the Inland Register)
After the events of Sept. 11, it is hard to focus on the more ordinary events of our lives. We have seen so many people go through so much tragedy and suffering.
Recently I finished a new memoir by a Passionist priest, Edward L. Beck. God Underneath — Spiritual Memoirs of a Catholic Priest is published in hardcover by Doubleday at $21.95.
I thoroughly enjoyed Father Beck’s stories of incidents in his life, from childhood through his 40th birthday. He writes with an honesty that allows his own warts to show through.
He is a wonderful storyteller. His stories of different aspects of his life linger with you.
I was particularly touched by Chapter Three, titled “A Hebrew Revelation.”
Edward’s dad was a detective for the New York Fire Department. During his growing-up years Edward found it difficult to talk with his taciturn father.
One time at a family gathering Edward’s Aunt Mae told him that his Dad’s mother was Jewish. His Dad did not welcome his son learning that fact. Later, at a card party of his Mom’s, Edward tells one of the Jewish participants, Mrs. Goldstein, that he had a grandmother who was Jewish. Mrs. Goldstein then tells Edward that his Dad is Jewish. Edward responds by saying that his father is a Catholic.
Mrs. Goldstein says, “Doesn’t matter. He can practice whatever religion he wants. Once a Jew, always a Jew.”
Later, coming home from school, Edward finds his Dad in a restaurant talking with a man who had a beard and long curls that extended down his face in front of his ears. The man leaves sadly as Edward comes in and sits with his Dad.
Edward keeps pestering his Dad to find out information about the man. Finally his Dad says, “That’s someone I have to arrest later.”
Edward says, “Why didn’t you arrest him right now?”
His Dad, annoyed with his son’s persistence, finally says, “Edward, what did you want me to do? Arrest the guy in front of his wife and kids who were outside in the car?”
It was on that day that his father passed on his compassionate faith to his son.
In other chapters, there is the story of a young priest who steps in between Edward and a sexual predator. There is a great chapter where a fellow seminarian at Chicago Theological Union brings Edward into the whole world of activism for social justice. At his first Mass after ordination Edward forgets to tell his pastor that he asked a woman Religious to read the Gospel. She is nudged out on her way to the pulpit. But in the end she gives a homiletic reflection that affects Edward all of his life as a priest.
There is fascinating chapter where Edward tells of his friendship with the singer Carly Simon. It just sort of developed when on a whim Edward stopped at a Barnes and Noble store when Simon was autographing her latest CD.
The last chapter of the book tells of Edward’s first grade teacher, Sister Mary Alicene, whom he meets at parish retreat he is giving in Cambridge, Mass. After 34 years he is able to ask his favorite Religious what she meant years ago when she said to her class, “Figure out what you want to do, and then do the opposite.” Her response is tremendous.
Edward Beck writes with the gift of a true storyteller. His homiletic reflections at the end of each chapter are not as well done as the stories themselves. God Underneath is the reflective account of a man who happens to be a priest. He speaks fervently of what it means to be a human being. In the process he tells us what it means to be a Catholic.
By now many a movie-goer has bemoaned the summer season of movies. There certainly was great creativity in Shrek. And for those of us who enjoy thrillers, The Score, with its three great actors in Marlon Brando, Robert DeNiro and Edward Norton, was a very fine movie.
Finally, early in September an independent film, made for a minuscule $3 million, arrived at the AMC. That film is Fox Searchlight’s The Deep End. Of all the films I’ve seen this summer I would rate The Deep End the most thoughtful and exciting one out there.
The Deep End is a combination “film noir” and love story, lovingly filmed at Lake Tahoe by Giles Nuttgens.
Margaret Hall (Tilda Swinton) is a very busy stay-at-home mother of three children. Her husband is distant on a Navy ship in the North Atlantic. She has tried to keep her high school age son, Beau, (Jonathan Tucker) from seeing a 30-year-old man named Darby (Josh Lucas) who hangs out at a Reno night spot.
At the beginning of the film we see Margaret confront and warn Darby at the club named The Deep End. But later that night Darby comes to the Halls’ home on the lake, where he awakens Beau. The two young men meet down by the boat landing and a fight ensues.
Beau returns to his room. In the morning Margaret goes out for a walk and as she saunters on her property she finds a very dead Darby with eyes wide open. He evidently had fallen on a sharp anchor and died. Margaret is not sure what has happened but believes that her son Beau must have killed Darby. She shortly makes the decision to put the body into a boat. She then takes it to another cove in the lake near lots of large rocks. The tension builds as we watch a mother fight to protect her son. She even goes back a second time to where she has hidden the body to get the keys to Darby’s Corvette so she can move it into the town of Tahoe.
The story becomes more complicated as Alek (Goran Visnjic) appears at the Halls’ home with an explicit video of Darby and Beau. He uses the video to threaten Margaret. He demands $50,000 within the next 24 hours. The rest of the movie is a story of Margaret attempting to keep up the appearances of daily life as she seeks all ways possible to find the money to protect her family.
Scott McGehee and David Siegel have written, produced and directed a visually stunning movie. Note the different ways that water is used visually throughout the film. The heart-beating suspense of the story is magnified by normal sounds — the traffic on a freeway, the sound of a teapot. The use of overwrought music is avoided.
Scottish-born Tilda Swinton gives a performance that is as good as it gets. She is superb as mother faced with incredible moral choices. Goran Visnjic, who escaped from the Balkans during the Bosnian war, is well known as one of the young doctors on television’s ER. He gives a delicately balanced job of acting as the thug carrying out his vicious blackmail, who is stung by a conscience that won’t stop. Young Jonathan Tucker is excellent as the talented high school student finding himself in a world he above all does not want his Dad to find out about.
The ending of the film, with Margaret holding on to her son, reminds one of a modern version of Michelangelo’s Pieta. The Deep End is a film that goes to the depth of how far the love of mother will go toward her children.
The Deep End is rated R — Under 17 requires an accompanying parent or adult guardian. There is a strong sex scene with some violence and coarse language. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office for Film rates The Deep End A-3 — for adults.
On Tuesday morning, Sept. 11, 2001, I was out in front of my home talking with neighbors about their dog, who was at a bird-hunting training school in Four Lakes. I came into my home and turned on the television at roughly 7 a.m. our time. I noticed that there was a skyscraper that looked like the World Trade Center engulfed in flames. At first I thought I had made a mistake and this was some Godzilla movie on an old movie channel.
Then the phone rang and my sister Patty was calling from Minnesota asking if I had turned the TV on. At that moment I finally realized that horrendous acts had been perpetrated against New York City.
From that moment on, through Saturday morning, Sept. 15 as I write, television has informed, strengthened the bonds that unite, and caused many of us to tear-up several times. Television has enabled prayer and candlelight services to spring up and get the word out to many of time and place. Television has inspired many to make contributions to groups helping those devastated by recent events. Television has been the neighborhood bakery or drug store where we connect. These days of sadness have been days when television has been a healing balm.
Yes, I watched too much television the first days of our national tragedy. I am well aware of the difficulty parents have in preventing children, especially small ones, from seeing constant replays of the World Trade towers crashing to the ground.
For accidental reasons I chose the national coverage of ABC for most viewings. Peter Jennings has a calming voice. On the fateful Tuesday Jennings was on from 7 a.m. our time until at least 11 p.m. With no commercials he seemed to never be away from his anchor booth. Somewhere along the line he got ink from his ballpoint pen on his right hand and it stayed there very visible for hours. On one day, when at the memorial service from Canada the band played the “Star Spangled Banner” his voice seem to crackle with emotion. Jennings came to the United States years ago from Canada.
ABC relied heavily on John Miller for investigative reports on Osama bin Laden. Several years ago Miller had traveled to Afghanistan and interviewed bin Laden. On Thursday night ABC, almost alone as far as I could see, reported extensively through Miller, on two groups being taken off New York planes that may have been trying to use planes again for mass destruction. By Friday morning we learned that this report did not pan out. Those watching ABC may have been unnecessarily frightened.
The human stories of those who are missing and presumed dead have been heartrending. The CEO who was late for work at Cantor-Fitzgerald Bond Market told of 700 of his employees being trapped on the top 5 floors of one of the towers. And yet 300 employees who survived in other locations wanted to start to work again to get the company up and running so it could take care of the families of those who had perished.
On ABC Lisa Stark gave excellent reports from Seattle on the aviation industry and the attempts to get it back up and running.
The stories from New York on all those seeking to find the living and the dead were extraordinary. We saw ordinary people doing extraordinary deeds.
In the end, television made a great difference. It brought us together as a people. This is one time the television networks and local stations deserve a big pat on the back.
(Father Caswell is pastor of St. Rose of Lima Parish, Cheney, and ecumenical relations officer for the Diocese of Spokane.)
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