Thought for the Day - Rt Rev Graham James

Good morning. The Artist has been this year’s most surprising film. Who would have predicted a largely silent film would win a Golden Globe for best picture, let alone lead the number of entries for the BAFTAs.

What adds to its appeal is that The Artist is itself set in the years of transition from silent movies to the talkies. It charts the decline of a silent megastar alongside the rise of the girl he discovers who is quick to adapt to the new medium. Shot in black and white and with scarcely any dialogue, it may seem like an exercise in nostalgia. But there’s more to it than a trip down memory lane.

The Artist is a vivid reminder that words are not our only form of communication. Without dialogue to process the filmgoer needs to observe a bit more attentively to pick up the visual story. The facial expressions of the characters help the plot to unfold. We do read faces.

Not so long ago President Sarkozy and Chancellor Merkel exchanged glances before the cameras when asked a question about Silvio Berlusconi. They gave away more than their words would have done. Our faces can’t help telling the truth. When we half recognise someone at a distance, it’s often the way they smile or some other facial mannerism which gives their identity away. A couple in love will often be content simply to look at each other. I remember a widow a couple of years into her bereavement once saying to me rather sadly about her late husband “I can’t picture his face anymore”. It added to her grief.

St Paul famously wrote that he saw through a glass darkly but one day would see God face to face. Elsewhere he speaks of the knowledge of the glory of God being revealed in the face of Jesus Christ. Even someone as devoted as Paul to words and arguments knew words were not enough. Christians faith is based on the Word becoming flesh.

While I’m grateful for emails and texting, nothing replaces face to face contact. It’s intriguing that one of the most successful social media sites should be called Facebook.

There’s a story about the Curé d’Ars, now the patron saint of parish priests, becoming curious about a poor man who came to his church every day. This man simply sat in a side chapel for a while, gazing at the crucifix and tabernacle and then going away. The Curé d’Ars asked him what he was doing. “I look at him, and he looks at me” he replied. Explanation enough. That poor man would have known how to get a lot out of The Artist.

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