Excerpted from a book by Don H. Staheli
The Well Timed Embrace
There is nothing like going to the movies. Each new film is an opportunity alive with exciting possibilities for action, adventure, romance, suspense and drama. When the lights go down the rest of the audience seems to disappear. We each feel like a lone witness to the unfolding of every cinematic scene. The light from the big screen and the rich sound from the theater speakers fill our senses and carry us away to wherever the story is bound. Time and distance pose no obstacle. Reality can be easily warped to fit the imagination. In the movies, what cannot be often is and what must be is frequently avoided. Careful choosing of the film to be watched offers assurance that the experience can be as uplifting and informative as it is diversionary. And a little buttered popcorn couldn’t hurt!
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There are several films that to me have been worth seeing over and over. I love to sweat and fight with Shane, to sing to Maria with Tony in West Side Story, to overcome and see the light with Judah Ben Hur, and to band the men together with Richard V. It gives great pleasure to share for a few hours in the imaginary lives of such compelling characters. These and other special films have a way of reaching us and touching the deep and tender aspects of our emotions, sending us to places about which we can hardly speak, but which somehow find easy articulation in well-acted portrayals.
One of the methods used by movie storytellers to tap into the vein of emotional response is the timely embrace. Many of the most evocative moments in film include a comrade cradling his expiring partner, a struggling couple finally finding love in each other’s arms, a child being gathered up in the loving hug of a parent, or the long-lost wanderer returning to the welcoming clasp of his affectionate kin. The tighter the squeeze and the longer the embrace, the more poignant the scene, as the messages of healing and acceptance are given.
What is there about a hug, about being held close to the bosom of one whose affection we crave, that means so much to us? Why is it that to be enfolded in the arms of a concerned other proffers so much comfort and sustaining warmth? Perhaps if we examine a few of the potentially tear-jerking moments in movie-making we can understand why they have the impact they do and why they not only sell tickets to the show house, but cause us to long for such an embrace in our own lives. In addition, it is important to know that the warm and tender squeeze is not just the stuff of fiction.
We will also explore some memorable and instructive examples of powerful embracing as they are described in the scriptures. Here, especially, we can come to know that the loving arms of the Savior are open wide to receive us. When no one else seems to be around, when others do not appear to understand or even pay attention to our need for a hug, He is there. Should all the world abandon us, “if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after [us] (D&C 122:7),” we can still be “clasped in the arms of Jesus (Mormon 5:11).”
One of the great western dramas is a wonderful film entitled Shane, starring Alan Ladd as a handsome, charming gunfighter who drifts into town with hopes of finding a life without violence. This was not an easy task in the celluloid version of the Wild West. Gunfights seem to track down the aging quick-draw despite his avoidance. The result of Shane’s attempt at passivity is quite predictable, but it still makes for a good movie.
Running almost unnoticed in the story is an interesting and very subtle sub-plot regarding Shane and the wife of the homesteader for whom he is working. Shane seems to be a source of some fascination for the woman who has very little excitement in her life of toil and hardship. Her down-to-earth and faithful character is somewhat compromised for a time as she allows her feelings to wander and seems to develop a little crush on the alluring stranger.
In one scene she and Shane are alone in the main room of the cabin. Her husband and son have gone off to prepare for bed. She stands close to Shane who is seated at the table while she tends to his latest wounds. Just then the boy calls and she leaves the room with the expectation of a quick return. By the time she comes back Shane, sensing her feelings, has left and the distracted farmer’s wife stands gazing dreamily out the doorway after this intriguing man. The door of their bedroom opens and the homesteader sees his wife peering at their retreating guest. Somewhat naively, the farmer says to his wife. “What’s the matter, honey?” The good woman turns and almost runs back to reality and the solid safety to be found in the arms of her noble husband. “Hold me,” she implores. “Don’t say anything, just hold me – tight.”
Just hold me and remind me of what I have, was her unspoken request. No time to articulate. Such feelings can hardly be put into words anyway. Just take me into your powerful arms and bring home my heart.
In much the same manner, when the world calls to us, if we drift a bit toward the siren song or even fall headlong into the grasp of evil hands, we can be jerked to our senses and run to the arms of the Savior. He will speak without naivet when he inquires, “What’s the matter, dear daughter (or son)?” And speak He will, as He said, “whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same (D&C 1:38).”
Our loving Lord knows perfectly well what it is to suffer unyielding temptation. He felt the very eyes of Satan focused upon Him, as the evil one was bent on His demise. He knows what it’s like to be mired in the sinkhole of self-hate, to be weighed down with the heavy burden of sin. In Gethsemane He went to all these places and infinitely more, to unimaginable realms of fear and guilt and despair, and then He returned as clean as when He went in, fully prepared to redeem us from anyplace we might stray.
His arms are open and He will respond with warmth and love. He won’t say a word to condemn us – we have plenty of those for ourselves. He will only offer His embrace.
The classic movie West Side Story is a tragic screenplay of helplessness and hopelessness and death. As the plot reaches its climax, handsome Bernardo is dead. Tony has killed him in a gang fight gone wrong. The other gang members are hiding and plotting revenge or protection of their concrete turf. But Tony is overwhelmed with remorse and guilt. He has slain the brother of his new love, Maria. How can he make things right? In agony, Tony comes to Maria to express his sorrow and his plan to go to the police. Beside herself with grief, confused at her love for an enemy of her people and fearful of the consequences of involving the law, Marie cries, “No!” Tony begs her in desperation, “Whatever you want, I’ll do!” “Hold me,” pleads Maria, as she collapses into his arms. “Tighter.”
All she could think to ask was that he hold her. Tighter and maybe I can keep you with me. Tighter and your embrace will shut out the harshness of the world. Tighter and all the ugliness and hatred may disappear. Hold me and love will rule our universe.
In this demanding and fearful world we are besieged with images of war, disaster and personal calamity. We see the sword and feel the terror as Moses predicted, and witness, as he said, the destruction of “both the young man and the virgin, the suckling [also] with the man of gray hairs (Deuteronomy 32:2).” No one is immune from the pressures and risks of latter-day life.
Again, the Redeemer stands ready to rescue His children. He will do for us what He promised to Martha. “I know,” He said to his dear friend, “that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give [it] thee (John 11:22).”
Our very real Savior offers Himself to us in the same manner as the fictional Tony did to his storybook love. “Whatever you want, I’ll do!” He anxiously awaits your response. Plead with Him to hold you, to embrace you in His love and bring to you relief from the terror and escape from the pain. “Now the God of hope [will] fill you with all joy and peace … (Romans 15:13).”
And They Wept
In the most critical moments of life we seek the warm embrace of someone who loves us. This is not something dreamed up by the studios or simply a contemporary device for coping. It’s an age old longing to which even the most cynical or calloused of us can easily relate. That is why the screenwriters use it to help us connect with their main characters. But not all the important hugs are in the movies nor do they all belong to modern times. Scriptural history records many moments of helping and healing embrace. Holy writ speaks of tender encounters – and they are not now-a-day filmmaker fantasy, but real life and evidence of long ago yearnings.
One such moving moment in scripture is the reunion of Jacob and his estranged twin brother Esau, the older by minutes. You recall that Jacob had somewhat deceptively received the birthright blessing of his father Isaac, to which Esau was technically entitled by virtue of their birth order. Filled with anger and plotting revenge, Esau planned to kill Jacob.
“And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob.
“And these words of Esau, her elder son, were told to Rebekah (Genesis 27:41-42).”
Rebekah, mother of the boys, warned Jacob, who then left to go live with his Uncle Laban until Esau could cool off. More than fourteen years later, Jacob determined to return home with his now large family. This means meeting Esau again, which is still a frightening prospect for Jacob, who was unaware of his twin bother’s current state of mind regarding the birthright blessing affair. As he got close to home, Jacob’s fears were not lessened. He saw Esau coming with 400 men!
“And he passed over before them, and bowed himself to the ground seven times, until he came near to his brother.
“And Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept (Genesis 33:3-4).”
Esau’s reception of his brother was one of kindness, forgiveness and certainly great relief for Jacob. As they held one another, they wept for joy, for affection and for the sense of family unity once again established. One embrace and fear was gone, past anger was overcome, and love prevailed.
Many of us fear approaching the Savior and seeking His embrace. We dwell on our failures and feel that we must have offended Him to the degree that He would likely not be interested in us, might even reject us outright. Having felt such rejection from ourselves and others, we can’t bear the thought of His spurning our approach, be it ever so humble and contrite, so we stay away. Isolated in our anguish, and yearning for the tender acceptance of our beloved Master.
His entreaties, however, belie such a notion of divine rejection. “Come unto me,” He said to “all … that labour and are heavy laden” (Matthew 11:28). “Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you; seek me diligently and ye shall find me; ask, and ye shall receive; knock, and it shall be opened unto you” (D&C 88:63). How many times and how many ways does He have to offer His embrace before we trust in His sincerity? “O ye people …how oft have I gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and have nourished you. (You have felt His warm and sheltering embrace. It may have been long ago, but you have felt it!) And again, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings (He still wants to do it!) … yea, how oft would I have gathered you as a hen gathereth her chickens, and ye would not” (3 Nephi 10:4,5). He would, but we wouldn’t.
We can change that. We can now yield to His offer and allow ourselves to be brought in under His wing of love and protection. It is His prayer that we will. It is our prayers that will bring us there.
Just Hold Me Part 2 will appear in Meridian tomorrow.