Monday, March 17, 2008

Coming Into the Light: The Raising of Lazarus and Dr. Owen Harper

Recently our gospel reading dealt with the raising of Lazarus. My pastor pointed out in his homily that Lazarus wasn’t resurrected, he was resuscitated… He will die again, but for the moment he rejoins the living. Eventually he will have to die again. Only at Lazarus’ resurrection will he live eternally.

I was thinking about that homily as I ironed my shirts this weekend. And I kept looking at the 7-inch scar running down my lower left arm where my vein was taken out to use in the triple bypass operation that saved my life back in 2005. And I pondered those existential questions that face us all—Why am I here? Where am I going? What is my purpose?

My favorite television series—the one I stay home for this year—is BBC’s “Torchwood.” As a fan of the early “X-Files,” before they loaded the series down with the alien conspiracy story-line, I loved the interplay and semi-romantic banter between Scully and Mulder. In “Torchwood,” we have a main character—growing out of the series “Dr. Who”—named Captain Jack Harkness. Jack is witty and charming. He has a past which is mysterious and only occasionally explained. We know that he was born in a previous time period and has survived death. He cannot die. He is also unashamedly gay. His “shagging” buddy is Ianto Jones, whose job on the Torchwood team is that of a general support character. Ianto idolizes (and sleeps with) Jack. [When Ianto believes that Jack has been killed, the writer quotes “Brokeback Mountain,” by having Ianto standing holding Jack’s coat.]

Straight members of the team include Gwen Cooper, a former policewoman, who Jack recruits in the first episode. Dr. Toshiko Sato, a Japanese-American computer specialist, searches for love while being totally devoted to the team. Dr. Owen Harper, the cynical medical doctor of the team, offers us the cynical Scully view of the world. He is also highly sexual. In one funny moment of last year's finale, upon learning that the death of the world was imminent, he asks the team if they want to shag.

Two episodes ago viewers—if they were like me—were shocked when Owen was shot and killed. The team is such a great unit together, it was hard to believe the writers would kill him off. Since that episode, Owen has been brought back—resuscitated—but he and we are unclear whether he will die immediately or 30 years down the road.
Death has been a common theme dealt with in several episodes. Most commonly the writers’ viewpoint is that death is nothingness—the great black beyond, devoid of hope or comfort. When you are dead, you’re dead. But Captain Jack’s existence questions that very statement. And Owen’s return offers the writers’ another chance to deal with the existential questions of life and death.

In last week’s episode, Owen talked about having a “bad week.” He died, he lost his love of food, his love of sex, and his love of life. He is separated from the team—since they are living—and his sense of existential angst drives him to the despair of wanting to just have it done and kill himself again. But when he tries to drown himself, he stays underwater, still living. In the episode, he comes across what the team believes is a bomb filled with energy. Instead he discovers it is similar to our Pioneer 11 attempt to send our life prints to other galaxies. The machine draws energy and shows us in a darkened world that there is light—wonderous, magical, healing, comforting light—light which allows Owen to find meaning here and go on.

Do we all become Lazarus, locking ourselves in our living tombs, waiting for someone or something to call us forth and help us find meaning in the darkness? I think so. In fact, I think I have the scar to prove it.
[The picture is a modified version of Caravaggio's Raising of Lazarus.]

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