In keeping with the Town of Orange Harry Potter Theme for this week, we will be Reflecting on the Harry Potter books. There are BIG SPOILERS in this Reflection, so if you have not read the books and intend to do so, you may choose to hold off on reading this week’s reflection. If you are not worried about spoilers, you will still enjoy what this Reflection has to offer.
Sometimes people are uncomfortable when we bring modern novels and stories into the church. But all stories are important. The way we reflect on stories is important. Stories help us to grow and become better versions of ourselves. Stories can help us to better understand the story of Jesus and what is expected of us and how can we be present in this world as a force for Goodness and Love.
There are so many parallels one can draw from literature to the scriptures. Scripture and novels help us to unwind the complexities of human nature and the complexity of life and death, good and bad, love and hate. Scripture and novels don’t discount one another; they complement and support one another.
There are many parallels we can draw between Harry Potter and the Bible. Harry Potter has some uncomfortable themes, even more so as the books have changed to be adapted to screen and stage and beyond and as they have evolved as we evolve and change. The world is different now than when the first book appeared on the bookstore shelves. But we don’t throw away the book and what it has to offer because it’s uncomfortable at times. Honestly, we’d have no literature left if we had to agree with everything within the covers and the views and lives of the authors.
The Bible also has contradictory and uncomfortable passages. But we don’t throw it out because it makes us question and think. That’s the point of the Bible and the point of literature. To make us question and think, so that we can, not judge, but grow.
The central theme of the Harry Potter books is Love. That sounds like a familiar theme: love thy neighbor, love thy self, love thy God, love thy enemies. Love. It’s love from the very beginning to the very end. The power of love through adversity, judgment, prejudices, hate, and evil…
The very foundation of the story is the power of Harry Potter’s mother’s love for him. Literally, her love is the thing that saves him and protects him from the very beginning and through the whole entire series. (OF NOTE: here we begin the spoilers and there will be critical spoilers, so here’s hoping you’ve read the series or are happy to read the ending first). We could probably make parallels to Jesus’s mother’s love for him, but we’re not.
Harry Potter explores what can happen to people when they are deprived of love. Without love, who falls into despair and who rises up and perseveres. Love, or lack of it, or sometimes the choice not to accept love, as the basis of evil. Love as the opposing force of evil, or the root of Goodness.
In Harry Potter, we also explore forgiveness (also a form of love) and the redemptive power of love…who has fallen and who is redeemed by love.
Which brings me to one of the most interesting characters in the books. Severus Snape. I imagine, that you’re not very impressed with Snape judging from those wonderful readings the kids have shared with us this morning. We really don’t like Snape. We could agree with Harry that he is his worst enemy (excepting He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, of course). We could agree that Snape is just plain evil. We could agree that Snape is a hopeless case. We could, and have, given up on Snape.
We read the books and watched the movies and hated Snape along with Harry.
Ahh, the power of stories. They bring out our innate ability to empathize and understand. How often, in stories, do we find ourselves cheering on the main character for…killing the bad guy. But he (or she) deserved it for what they did. We’re drawn into a story of believing there was no other way. That it was right to kill another human being.
That’s the really hard part about practicing the Path of Jesus. It’s not our job to punish and judge. It’s our job to love and forgive. It’s a practice that goes against everything we’re taught in many of the things we choose to read and watch (including the news).
Coming back to Harry Potter. There is one moment in the books when everything changes. Everything we thought we knew gets turned upside down. What’s really interesting to contemplate is that it is an impossibility outside the magical Harry Potter world….or perhaps not possible in the way it happens in the books, but possible in other ways.
There’s a beloved quote: Be Kind, you never know what someone else is going through. And we never know if we don’t take the time to listen, to push aside our prejudges and assumptions to get to know: our friends, co-workers, acquaintances, our neighbors, the bad guy. Those people we don’t really like for whatever reason. Those people and stories we don’t really want to listen to and know.
There is a secret to the whole series. We find it out in the last chapters of the last book.
What’s the secret? I would say the secret for us, is knowing the whole story before we judge someone…
We got nuggets through the books of Snape as an unloved and highly teased and tormented boy. We get nuggets of unrequited love. But we find out, through his memories (after his death, so maybe a lesson for us to not wait too long to listen to another person’s story, because we don’t have that kind of magic to hear the memories of our lost loved one)…we find out that he was redeemed by love. His love for Harry Potter’s mom, Lily.
Snape was the bad guy. On the bad side. And when Lily is killed, he is so terribly remorseful that he comes over to the good side. Because of his love for Lily, he agrees to protect Harry (in some very strange ways, due to his own prejudices and assumptions) and while it looks like he is still on the side of evil, his love redeemed him and drew him to work for Good.
You might note that Lily didn’t return Snape’s love in the way he would have wanted, but love saved him anyway. The reciprocity didn’t matter. It was the fact that he loved, and loved deeply, that redeemed him.
Love is the beginning, the middle, and the end. Love is the possibility for change, redemption, and forgiveness. Love that begins with us and has nothing to do with reciprocity. We can be hated and tortured and yet we are still asked to love our enemies. It’s not easy to follow a path of love.
Jesus knew this. Jesus asks it of us. Jesus shows us it is possible.
It’s a moment when you pull out the books yet again and explore…how is this possible? How is this love? And yet…it is.
We come to love when we understand, even if we don’t always agree. Love and understanding allows us to sacrifice self, and self will, and selfishness, because of the depths of love. Sometimes, the evils of the world are just a story we don’t yet know or understand. Sometimes, extending love is the thing that changes everything.
Love isn’t about “them”, but about us. Love washing away prejudice and assumptions to make way for forgiveness and hope. If we can watch stories and empathize enough to understand motives for murder…perhaps we can begin to watch stories and empathize enough to understand motives for Love and loving when it’s the hardest thing to do.
Our job is to love. To love when it’s scary and hard and maybe even dangerous. To love, even before we know the whole story. One might argue that there is no person unworthy of love if we only knew their story.