A Gathering Voices post by Beth Pyles
Some months ago, as a fan of Grey’s Anatomy, I actually spent about half of a day trying without success to communicate a programming idea to the producers.
The idea? Simply to include a hospital chaplain as a recurring character.
Most, if not all, hospitals of comparable size in the United States, actually have paid chaplains. The absence of such a character is jarring, particularly as the drama often engages matters of a spiritual nature.
Not even having dialogue that references the chaplain who just left is to literally erase such a figure and such a dimension from the real-time plane of existence for the characters.
It is an absence not unique to Grey’s Anatomy.
In a tale of the upheaval of an entire society wrenched by violence and war, religion is notable for its absence. Things spiritual simply aren’t there. Rituals are the ceremonies of the soldier. Gatherings are the collective of oppression. Self-interest is the fleeting cement in human relationships.
I struggle to name what so troubles me. After all, Susan Collins, the author of The Hunger Games, the writers and producers of Grey’s Anatomy, as well as the myriad of writers of fiction for stage, screen and the printed page, are free to write whatever narrative strikes their fancy. And I am free to view or read or not, as I choose.
But the vacuum, the dearth, of things spiritual in our most popular fiction suggests a problem that is soul-shaking in its implications: it isn’t that such things aren’t true or valuable; rather, the absence seems to suggest that in our common sphere of imagination, such things are simply that – absent, not there.
That does more than make me sad; it makes me frightened – not wrath of God frightened – more that-which-has-no-name frightened – the fear that we are losing something so dear without even knowing it – the ability to imagine that even in the midst of our immediate concerns, something larger than ourselves looms ever present, calling out for our attention, calling out for us to be more than we are, better than we are.
It is the feeling that we who have so much more are settling for so much less.
No doubt, a better theologian than I is already hard at work on the next Gospel According To . . . tome, celebrating the deep spiritual meanings to be found in The Hunger Games trilogy (were I to write it, my own working title would be According to The Hunger Games, There Is No Gospel). I did not overlook the benedictory language about odds, but allow me to call to mind Mark Twain’s much more eloquent and True (the capital ‘T’ is intentional) The War Prayer for finding spiritual challenge to the collective wisdom of the day when it comes to war and violence and the ‘odds’ of winning and losing in any form of war – what, after all, has always been a fixed game.