A baptism at Pentecost August 1998
The film Babe is supposed to be about a pig. A pig who was saved by chance from the slaughter house, ended up on a farm, and became a sheep dog- or pig. He was so good, he won the sheep dog trials with a perfect score.
Underneath the cute story are some deep currents of our age. Babe is about a man and his pig, not just the pig. The man is Farmer Hogget. He is a deep thinking, very quiet, and rather lonely man. A figure at whom to poke a little fun. He wins Babe as a piglet at the local agricultural show- the two men on the 'Guess The Weight Of The Piglet' stall consider him a bit of a joke. His son who lives in the city worries that the farm is making no money. His wife regards him with that mixture of pity, worry, and benevolent scorn only a wife can find for her husband.
Yet he is inventive- what an amazing front gate! He has compassion for the animals on his farm. He has great insight, he sees the gift Babe has for herding sheep. He has courage, he runs the gauntlet of a huge amount of scorn, and the anger of the traditionalists, when he brings 'Pig,' the sheepdog who was actually a pig, to the sheep dog trials.
He is a type of many men today: A strong, silent provider. A deeply contemplative, sensitive individual- not that most of us notice that. Hard working, but the butt of his kid's jokes as they grow older and think they have become wiser than he, cruelly ignorant of his high ideals and the struggles he has overcome. And often a great disappointment to his wife- inarticulate in the face of her emotions and needs. Silent before her pain. Completely out of his depth with her feelings and fears. Filled with pain at not being able to be what she seems to want and need. Sometimes she rages at his dogged, silent presence- so inadequate, so frustrating she cannot believe he is so stupid- yet it does no good.
It's not surprising really. Feeling was beaten out of him at school. Woe betide a sensitive little boy- he is the instant target for everyone's rages and insecurities. But of course, it may already have been beaten out of him before he gets to school- by his own crippled father. What school doesn't shrivel in him, the workplace and the football field will raze from his soul. And his wife, trained to feel, and relate, and listen from her first day out of the womb, will suffer. She first admired his silent strength and commitment, but now will despair of, even despise, his apparent inability to feel, let alone listen and care. His stolid commitment to go on providing will be no compensation for her loneliness and disappointment.
Of course, she might be one of the lucky wives! Too many more will find that their man has been too scarred by his beginnings. For the feelings are never really beaten out of the child. They are simply pushed down. Some men train pigs. But others respond to the world through their wife, with rage and beatings, or acid emotional erosion of her soul. The feelings, seemingly blunted with alcohol, and the shallow camaraderie of mates, and the pub, come home prised up from the deep. And the beatings of life are translated onto her, or the kids.
Zachary will face this. Already we treat him differently from the little girl babies. At school they will seek to toughen him up, despite what Lynley and Corey seek to instill in him. He will suffer great pain. Because of Lynley, and especially because of Corey, he will probably be one of the sensitive men. One who eschews the violence of maleness which this culture will seek to press into him. But will there be a painful melancholy lingering inside him? A deep inarticulate sorrow? A pain and sad resentment at the scorn of the women around him who come so naturally to the feelings with which he struggles so much? A sorrow and guilt at failing his wife in her need? A resentment that often his feelings will be defined for him, rough shod, and not quite accurately? If so, his sensitivity, and guilt from failure, will deny him rage. So... an emotional cripple they will call him. Or, inarticulate- a nicer word. Unfeeling.
And yet, like Farmer Hogget there will be a great love and compassion inside him- compassion that would even bother with a wet, pining piglet. A deep sacred joy. As the little piglet pined away, Hogget began to serenade it, sitting on the lounge room sofa, singing it back to life. And then he danced. A great, energy-filled, spirit-filled dance of love and joy. God given, bursting, flowing, flooding deep from the well of God inside him. Giving the lie to all those who would say he had no real feelings. Overwhelming the school yard bullies who would beat him into silence. Defying all the conventions. And he danced, and he danced.
For Zachary, and all us men, Baptism and Pentecost are a promise and a fulfilment. Baptism is the promise that the Faith we follow- the Jesus we base our lives upon- will set us free. It is the path to dancing. It is the path to tapping the 'deep unending wells of joy and worth.' It is the path to the love which can
'unbar the strongrooms of the mind and scour the tombs and warrens underground for toys and treasures lost, or never found, for all [we] cannot name, yet ache to find.'
Brian Wren I have no bucket and the well is deep...
It is the promise that Zachary can be a free man, not a jammed down, gummed up, emotional cripple- not the painfully weak, often agonisingly lonely, 'strong silent type.'
Pentecost is the gift of the Spirit. The giving of tongues. Pentecost shows that the promise of Baptism can be! At the end of the film it is said that the 'man who spoke less words than any other man, knew exactly what to say.' Pentecost says it will be so for Zachary. His tongue will be set loose to speak and sing, and his feet to dance, and his soul to know joy. Not by his love for a little white pig, but by the love of (from and for) the white bird- symbol of God, the joy giving Spirit.
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