Shattering Shelter and Simplicity

You don’t need to have seen the movie Ida to be moved by its timeless and provocative questions. Trudging through the English captions of this Polish production only engages the viewer more deeply with the protagonist’s quest. Filming in black and white brilliantly sharpens the movie’s impact.

The story is that of a young Polish novice about to profess vows in the convent where she has been raised since being orphaned as an infant. She is encouraged by a wise and solicitous mother superior to discover her true identity and desires before moving forward with her profession.

Fledgling curiosity — like any who would engage the universal struggle for authenticity — shatters the ordered, sheltered and simple universe of Ida’s youth. She discovers her heritage as Jewish, the daughter of parents whose home was confiscated and who perished in the Holocaust. A hardened, forceful, agnostic maternal aunt serves as midwife for Ida’s birth into maturity.

A neighbor and I discovered a mutual love for Ida.  This has lead to snippets of conversation and email banter over the past few days.  Sarah and I are intrigued by lingering images, unanswered questions and left to wonder…

How is religion a “container” of sorts? In childhood this allows for a feeling of safety and security. Maturation, should we choose to grow-up, will burst these old wine-skins. Sometimes this even requires us to ask whether that original container was all that  safe or secure.

In any case, the rough and tumble of youth will force us to outgrow it. We may fiercely resist. It may be a relentless struggle. But one way or another a wise mother superior or a wizened maiden aunt is likely to introduce us to a more complex and authentic God outside of convent walls.

Does our religion — any ordered, regular spiritual practice as “convent life” implies — bring one to awakening? Or, does it close us off to the rough and tumble of life meant to move us to maturity? Does our “god”, our church, our spiritual practice keep us safe and small or does it make us magnificent and magnanimous?

The movie leaves us hanging… we do not know where Ida is headed! Had she seen enough of the world? Might she be going off in a totally new direction?  Will she reclaim the home and heritage of her parents? Returning to the convent is now a more mature option — but somehow feels like it might just be too safe of an option. But who knows?

Is this newly empowered and freshly inspired woman even ready to comprehend the complexities of life and the huge loss she has just uncovered? Any who have dealt with some hard things in our lives will, even if begrudgingly and through monumental effort, come to embrace these complexities and losses.  But this is a process into which we are mentored over a lifetime.

Wisdom comes much later… is still coming… never stops coming.


See Ida if you can still find it in a theater near you. If you cannot, or if you want a perceptive synopsis before you go, Commonweal magazine provides a great [review].

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