While on a plane heading to Rome, I took advantage of our in-flight movie options and watched Life of Pi. This is an incredible story of a young man lost at sea who keeps his will to survive because of his animal friends. Tracing the life of an East Indian man, Piscine (Pi) from childhood to grown maturity, we see in this 2 hour length feature many of the same questions all of us who are Christian face from time to time.
As a young boy, Pi is very sensitive to all living creatures believing them to have souls. He also readily embraces a variety of faiths claiming at first to be a Muslim-Hindu-Catholic and later to be Hindu, Catholic, and even Jewish. One of the best Christian scenes in this movie is when Pi goes into a local church and meets a priest who tells him of Christ’s love for him in dying for his sins. At first Pi has difficulty accepting this, but later it becomes a great comfort to him. As Pi is telling his story to his reporter-friend, he mentions that he came to believe in God because of Hinduism, but it was through Christianity that he learned full self-sacrifice.
Even though I personally respect Pi’s deep values for inter-faith understanding, his father does raise an important point even in his skepticism. Pi’s Dad tells his son that he cannot be all three religions at once – he must choose. His father would rather his son believe something he disagrees with than nothing at all. Pi’s Dad then goes on to say that discerning spiritual truths requires deep critical thinking. As a liberal Christian, this is something that I have been working through in my own life. I do believe that we have to “stand for something or we’ll fall for anything”, yet at the same time, it is truly hard to find that balance. One thing Pi is clear about, though, is that regardless of our thoughts, we still need to respect other’s belief systems. In an analogous way, Pi likens it to living on his boat with a tiger, using the phrase, “I realized that if we were going to live together, we needed to learn how to communicate.” Truer words have seldom been spoken. Considering all of the violence and schisms caused by religion, hatred, and racism, it is important for us to truly learn to listen and care for each other.
Another prominent theme in the Life of Pi is that of providence. On the boat, Pi does yell at God, but he keeps believing in Him regardless. He talks about how God led him to an island and had he not gone there he would have died, yet, God also brought him out of the island by showing him that if he would have stayed there he would have died. Once again this resonated with me because it shows that sometimes God may lead us in a certain direction for a time, but not forever. Lately, God’s been teaching me not to close any doors, but also not to force doors open that need to be shut. In a way, it also reminds me of Job’s words, “He gave and He took away – blessed be the Name of the Lord.” (Job 1:21) Pi even told his friend that when God seemed to have abandoned him he realized that God’s hand was still with him.
Despite this being a Hollywood/Pop-Culture film, it did have quite a bit of theologizing in it. I don’t remember all of Pi’s quotes, but I do know he said many things that resonated with my Christian walk at this moment. Pi even left us with one final challenge – whether or not we are Christians, we have the chance to write the ending to all of our stories (even the ones with the most pain and loss). If we want, the ending can be a happy one – full of promise. I leave you now with that same challenge – what is the story that needs an ending in your life and how are you going to end it?