Fellow Passengers: This week’s Prophetic Passage* (Habakkuk 3:8-19) transports me to Sydney, Australia, circa 1977, where a white lawyer is defending a group of black tribal Aborigines in a murder trial. It is one of Peter Weir’s earlier movies, The Last Wave, and in my estimation one of his best. The murder and trial soon become tangential to the movie’s theme, which involves a clash of cultures between the rational western world and the shamanistic dream world of the Aborigines. Lawyer David Burton, played by Richard Chamberlain, encounters the mythical world of the tribes people, including an apocalyptic vision of a great tsunami, a last wave, that will come and wipe out their world. Like any great myth, it plays out on many levels, with an interior storm quaking the spirit of the lawyer and flooding him with troubling dreams, a literal flood that is bringing disaster to the big city, and the larger story of the calamitous waves of modernity that had crashed into Australia and were in the process of wiping out the traditional culture.
Peter Weir said in interviews after the movie that part of his inspiration for the story came from reading the Old Testament, with its many references to destructive waters and the clash of cultures. Today’s passage gives us one of those images. Here, the prophet Habakkuk recalls a dream-like scene when God stirred up the rivers, quaked the earth, and as the mountains writhed in pain they caused torrents of waters to sweep by, causing the deep to roar and lift its waves on high. God is then pictured galloping across the sea on horseback, churning the great waters. All this is a reference to the great clash of cultures that took place between the enslaved Hebrew people and imperial Egypt. It’s a reverse dream of the Aboriginal myth in Peter Weir’s movie. There, it was the imperial world that came crashing into the Outback like a huge tidal wave, wiping out the traditional culture. Here, in the prophet’s dream world, God brings the tsunami down on the empire, destroying its pride and power, liberating the traditional people to live on. The covenant community of love and grace is the one riding the crest of this wave, galloping across the sea, as the angry waters drown the imperial powers that be and all the concentrated wealth they had accumulated.
I used to play a scene from The Last Wave to college students, before I finally gave in to the reality that 70s movies are far too slow to keep the attention of those who’ve grown up on the fast-paced, choppy, attention-deficit-oriented cinematic style. I still love the scene, though. Lawyer David Burton is in a meeting with Charlie, a tribal elder, and at one point in their conversation, the holy man starts chanting a question, Who are you? over and over again. It’s a central question to the movie. Who is this western, modern man who is plagued with troubling dreams and is drawn to the subterranean world of aboriginal myth? It leads me to believe that the prophets, like Habakkuk, are asking us that question as they draw us into their dream world of grace, a grace that destroys one world while liberating us to another. The answer to the shaman’s question will reveal whether the dream of God galloping across those torrents is good news or bad. If our core identity and our core values are shaped by the empire we live in, if we are captive to the lifestyle this empire affords, then the image of destruction is bad news, indeed. But if we are willing to travel to the subterranean levels beneath this empire, to discover who we really are as children of God, and if we embrace those counter-cultural and counter-imperial values of grace and peace and generosity and welcome, then the churning waters of destruction are good news, indeed. The other question the movie leads me to ask is this: Do we really have the faith to believe that a new tidal wave of grace and love could in fact destroy the imperial systems of prejudice and greed we see in our world today? Do we really believe that a new world is possible? It seems to me that the prophets speak their dreams for the express purpose of helping foster such a belief.
How about you? Where does this Prophetic Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment, and share with friends on Google+, FB, Twitter, etc.