If you’ve seen Hemingway and Gellhorn, HBO’s most recent throw-as-much-money-as-you-can-at-it-and-see-what-happens attempt at a small screen blockbuster, I have no doubt you feel strongly about the movie. Unfortunately for HBO, the majority feel strongly that the movie stinks.
I’m a lifelong and devoted Hemingway fan. I’ve always been fascinated with (read “envied”) his larger than life persona…not the drinking and womanizing, per se, but the fishing and hunting and living life to the fullest–and then being able to write about these manly pursuits like a man would want to be able to write about them…well, that’s Hemingway.
What struck me from the film isn’t the brilliance of Hemingway’s persona (which was, in my honest opinion, poorly caricatured in much of the film), but the brilliant disaster that was probably his one chance at love and happiness, his marriage to Martha Gellhorn.
Gellhorn was clearly something that Hemingway didn’t know how to handle. She was his equal in stature and raw writing talent, and the movie portrays her as one who at times was Hemingway’s better, with Gellhorn often in the driver’s seat of the relationship, clearly not a comfortable (or customary) spot for Hemingway to find himself…especially when it comes to another writer. And it clearly affected him, as this was his least productive period–though the one novel he produced during his marriage to Gellhorn is, in my opinion, his absolute level best (For Whom the Bell Tolls…which is dedicated to her).
So what happens in this marriage of equals? The relationship dies. Hemingway sabotages the marriage until it dies a fiery death. And the movie portrays this as the beginning of the end for Hemingway (though it will be another 17 or so years until his suicide). Hemingway leaves Gellhorn for a woman with a weak, subservient, perhaps even motherly personality, thinking that this is what will make him happy. It apparently never does. From that point forward, Papa lives most of his life looking in the rearview mirror. Read A Moveable Feast (published posthumously, it’s what he was working on at the time of his suicide) and you’ll see what I mean.
You’re probably wondering at this point if I have a theological point to make. Well, here goes: The writer of the book of Proverbs makes a profound little statement in the form of instruction. He says, “rejoice in the wife of your youth.” Please don’t get hung up on the gender specificity or tune me out if you’re not with the same person you were with in your youth. Gellhorn was Hemingway’s third wife, so I’m not in any way making a statement about divorce (or marriage, for that matter).
The point the writer of Proverbs makes is something that’s good advice for all of us to hear: rejoice in the person you enjoy spending your life with, whoever it may be. Don’t just merely tolerate the other person. Don’t just put up with him or her. Rejoice in them. Feel joy in them. Feel great delight in them. Actively love them.
Understand, though, that there’s some work that has to occur to make this rejoicing possible. You have to make room for the other person to be in your life, and in order to do so a part of you has to step aside. And this isn’t something that gets done once and then set aside, either. It is a continual and constant undertaking.
Hemingway apparently never did this for any of his four wives, which is probably a large part of the reason he went through so many. He was never willing to give up any part of himself to make room for the other person, and that’s an awful way to live, an even worse way to love.
Because if you’ve been married any length of time, you know that the person with whom you now share your bed is not the same person to whom you said those vows all of those years ago. And you’re not the same person either. Rejoicing in the other person takes a lifetime of constant pruning and careful tending to come about, from both individuals. Otherwise love dies like a rose left on the vine to wither and rot.
And this rejoicing in your love is good advice, but again, where’s the theology, the study of God in that? I’m getting there. Think about the most common usage of “rejoice” in the Bible, which is of course, Rejoice in the Lord, which is the same thing I just discussed. If we are to rejoice in the Lord, i.e, take great delight in Him, feel joy in Him, actively love Him, then that means we have to do this same work of making room for God in our lives. And, again, it’s not something we do once and it’s complete. It takes a lifetime of maintenance.
This is why Jesus refers to his Father as the vine dresser, why Jesus tells us to abide in him that he may abide in us. It’s not enough to say “I believe”, and go your way (Whoah! did he just say that on the Mockingbird Blog???). Yes, believing is all that is necessary to salvation, period. But believing is not rejoicing. Believing is the precursor to rejoicing. It is the beginning of the love, which leads us to rejoicing, and which requires the same effort necessary to rejoice in that other person. A part of us has to step aside. We make room for the Lord in our lives in much the same way we make room for any other loved one.
Wow, that sounds like work…isn’t that the Law? No. We aren’t rejoicing in the Lord because we think it will curry favor with Him. We aren’t rejoicing out of some expectation that we will receive something in return. We’re rejoicing because of the love that God has already shown us, “love to the loveless, love that they might lovely be,” as the hymnist writes. And isn’t that a great motivator? God so loved us that he gave his son to die for us. You can’t help but rejoice in (delight in, take joy in, actively love and make room in your life for) the God that would do such a thing.
Or get in touch.