December 21, 2007

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

The timeless Nativity story: a biblical wonder

Shirley Vogler MeisterLast year, my writer-friend Mary Rubeck Benson invited me to see The Nativity Story at a theater not far from my home.

She came from the east side of Indianapolis, where she and her husband are members of St. Lawrence Parish.

On that cold, windy, rainy evening, both of us wondered, “Why are we doing this tonight?”

Later, we understood.

The Nativity Story was billed as “the journey of a lifetime, a story for all time … powerful, timeless and visually magnificent.” We found all of this true.

The film portrayed what we are now celebrating: the Christmas story. However, it creatively fills in the gaps in the biblical passages, stressing the realistic human qualities, challenges, emotions and environment that Mary and Joseph endured. These are not the stereotypical scenes we have known through the years.

As my friend and I left the theater to face the cruel weather, our hearts were warmed by the story we thought we knew well. The film, however, brought new depths of understanding.

My friend especially noted the “friendships that were lost and the prejudices Mary and Joseph endured because she was pregnant and unmarried.”

She also better appreciated the couple’s severe hardships during their Bethlehem journey.

My friend, by the way, is the author of Follow the Warrior’s Path, Life of Ohiyesa, Better Known as Dr. Charles Eastman. More about this book, which depicts the hardships of the Dakota Sioux Indians, can be found online at ­

Keisha Castle-Hughes, who played in two other films I admire—The Whale Rider and House of Sand and Fog—beautifully portrayed the Virgin Mary and Oscar Isaac wonderfully portrayed Joseph’s quandary and challenges.

The biblical story was filmed in Matera, Italy, as well as in Morocco, and it became the first movie ever to stage its world premiere in Vatican City.

While watching this film, many of my previous views of the Christmas story changed to the real emotions brought about by the Angel Gabriel’s pronouncements; Joseph’s dream; Mary’s visit with pregnant Elizabeth, who was John the Baptist’s mother; the Bethlehem journey; the Magi; the rage of Herod and so much more.

Strangely, the day after seeing the film, I noticed a Chicago review in an Indianapolis newspaper criticizing parts of the film as being silly. How very wrong that was! In fact, an organization called “Christian Today Movies” rated the movie last year as the “No. 1 Most Redeeming [film].”

Even now, readers can “redeem” themselves if they are still looking for a

last-minute gift. The DVD is available through book and video stores. Some readers might even choose to use the Internet to buy copies as additional gifts or stocking stuffers for next year.

Meanwhile, may the Holy Family bless our holidays.

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.) †

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