Life: The Color of Gray

Night Sun is a film adaptation set in 18th century Spain and liberally based on Leo Tolstoy’s short story Father Sergius in which young prideful nobleman Baron Sergio Giuramondo decides to become a monk after learning his fiancé is the former mistress to the king. His pridefulness at the monastery forces him further into exile, into the mountains, where he becomes a hermit. Over the years, he becomes well-known for performing miracles and is intruded upon by various characters looking either to corrupt him or seek his favor.

Father Sergio spends years distancing himself from his fellow man, avoiding temptation while attempting to become closer to God. But his efforts are for not, as he is human, weak, and unable to bridge the chasm between himself and God. Why? Because it can’t be done. At least not from a desolate mountain hideaway. If anything, a persistent attempt to link with the Almighty can only bring dissolution and doubt. Like all things, even God needs to be taken in moderation.

This movie was released in August 1990, the same month I was wandering Norway. That was a time when I felt lost and without direction. My Christian faith was going through a transformation, due mostly to the wrestling of thoughts and ideas between the works of novelist Leo Tolstoy and philosopher Friedrich Neitszche, both of whom possess points of view you might be hard pressed to find more diverse between any two other individuals. Even though they both found fault with organized religion, they differed greatly on what is the true path that man should follow.

On the one hand, and in a very Christ-like edict, Tolstoy felt the truth was found in man’s love for his fellow man, but without the sacraments and rituals common in orthodoxy. Neitszche, on the other hand, believed it is man’s will to power that should drive his existence. A “will to war”, he observed while watching troops marching off to war, which exemplified man’s inner need to become more tomorrow than he is today, at any cost.

I’ve learned over the years just how gray life can be. And I don’t mean sad and gloomy. But rather how unsettled notions of right and wrong, good and bad, yes and no, can all be. We have all heard preaching of love thy neighbor at a volume equal to the voice proclaiming freedom to prosper. The grayness occurs somewhere in the middle, where injustice is deliberately hidden. After all, don’t you think the Sultan of Brunei knows exactly what’s occurring in Ethiopia?

At the end of the film, Father Sergius is seduced by a woman. And for all his efforts, he’s no closer to that which he had been seeking. He travels back to his homeland, in search of an elderly couple who had sought him out many years ago, asking him to bless them with simultaneous deaths, when the time comes. He learns that they did, in fact, die within a minute of each other. Knowing this, he walks off toward the horizon. How could his thoughts not have been about what might have been, no matter how black and white, had he married the king’s mistress all those years ago?

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