The OA for Lent — Episode 8: Invisible Self
“Only a person of great determination can swim to another side.” — Evelyn
“What’s the point of having a society if you can’t help each other?” — Steve
We are finally here! The last episode. In the first scene The OA and Homer are brought from their cells to an upstairs bedroom. They are asked to heal the sheriff's wife, Evelyn. They perform the movements. A miracle happens, Evelyn is healed from her paralysis. After her healing she tells Homer and The OA that in an NDE she had as a child she was told she would help two captive angels. Life would be painful, but it would be worth it. Evelyn then gives Homer and The OA the 5th movement.
The action moves to the present day as Alfonso breaks into The OA’s house. He finds a Amazon delivery box. The box is filled with books about Russian Oligarch’s, Angels, The Odyssey by Homer…in short everything The OA has been sharing in the midnight stories seems to be in a box beneath her bed.
Elias the FBI Agent suddenly appears. He asks Alfonso what he’s doing. Alfonso shows him the box of books…Elias tells Alfonso that his role in listening to The OA’s story was to absorb the trauma she endured.
There is sadness as the five hear Alfonso’s story and look into the box of books. As an act of faith, hope, or love Buck declares he is going to keep one of the books.
The BBA has lost her job as a teacher. She clears out her desk at the school.
Just as it appears as though all The OA has been sharing has been an idle tale, the final sequence begins. A shooter appears in the distance. He is visible from the glass walled cafeteria; just like The OA’s dream.
As students begin screaming the four misfits crawl from beneath their tables and stand. The BBA hearing screams joins them. As the music builds the five assemble to act out the five movements.
The OA appears too. As the shooter is tackled a bullet pierces the window. The OA has been shot. She is transported in an ambulance. Steve chases after The OA pleading with her to take him with her, take him away…
Throughout this series Keith and I have offered several different scriptural pieces to consider. Some of these have followed the lectionary. Others have resulted from the natural connections our imaginations have made between sacred text and Netflix Series.
Neither one of us believe that The OA writers have been following a Biblical script. We are convinced however that the obvious spiritual themes in the series are present in our stories of faith. I see three scriptural connections in this final episode.
The first story of faith is of Jesus walking on water in Matthew 14. Jesus asks Peter to get out of the boat and join him. Peter begins to walk…gets frightened and begins to sink.
One of my favorite theologians Rob Bell has had a particularly provocative interpretation. He shares a version of this understanding at length in the episode You in his NOOMA video series. (The short version is this. Peter has faith in Jesus. Jesus has faith in Peter. Peter sinks because Peter does not have faith in himself. Bell says when we externalize as aspects of faith to powers outside of us rather than to the power of God at work in us and in the world we misunderstand faith.)
- What do you think? Is this understanding of faith different than one you’ve grown up hearing?
- How might The OA’s box of books under her bed and Peter walking on water be connected? (Did the faith The OA inspired in the five misfits come from the stories she was sharing? Did their faith come from themselves? How did the five sink when they found the books under The OA’s bed?)
The second piece of scripture I associate with Episode 8 is from the gospel of Luke chapter 23. One of the criminals condemned to die next to Jesus on the cross says, “Jesus Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The 9 words are the entire lyrics of a hymn. The phrase is an Ignatian spirituality meant to focus devotional life . I happen to think the phrase is also a one sentence sermon.
I find it unlikely that the man on the cross executed for capital crimes would turn into a whimpering mess at a moment of punishment. My imagination sees him as: tattooed, tough, and worldly. His sermon is a reminder to Jesus; not a plea. “We are both going to die. Jesus look at the way I’ve lived. Look at the way you’ve lived. As we both prepare to meet our maker you’ve lived the better life, ‘Jesus remember me...’”
- You may not share this interpretation. As an exercise imagine the physical characteristics of the criminal on the cross? What is his height, weight, hair color, hair length? What does his voice sound like?
- What is the name of the person? What crime did he commit?
- As you begin to build a portrait of the person does this change the way in which you understand the story?Do you believe he is offering a plaintive cry? A sincere prayer? Could be be offering a sermon of faith to Jesus?
- This is the kind of imaginative theological thinking that helps us build connection between movies, music, and television series. Where have you seen Jesus in this series? What other Biblical characters of plot points have been obvious to you?
The final piece of scripture I see in this episode is contrasting the Two endings of Mark; the short ending: “And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing.” (Mark 16:6–8). The longer ending: “Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it.” (Mark 16:20). Though there is some debate in scholarly circles about what a shorter and longer ending mean, the real question is how everyday faithful people understand the conclusion of the Gospel of Mark.
- Does it matter to you which version Mark ends with? Why?
- Which version do you like better? Why?
- What is the implication for either in a life of faith?
- Would you have liked The OA if it would have ended without the shooter and the five doing the movements? Would you have been satisfied with the series without an announced second season?
This series has been a Lenten exercise. In Episode Five, after the resurrection of Scott, I suggested in our podcast that this is when The OA becomes The OA for Lent. I was particularly struck by the resurrection…but I am also captivated by the movements and their meaning, as well as the importance of storytelling.
Storytelling is used in different ways in the series. The journalist who offers to ghost write a book says that Prairie and her family can become financially independent by telling their story. The FBI Agent Elias suggests storytelling is a way of healing from trauma. The five misfits gather to hear hear the story because they want to know how it (and they) end.
- How do you connect the storytelling of The OA with the storytelling of faith?
- What is the relationship between the books in the box under the OA’s bed and the story she shared with the five?
- Is there a difference between faith stories that come from scripture and from culture?
- Is there a difference between personal stories and institutional stories?
Symbols of the movements are physical scars on The OA’s back. She carries them on her body. The movements were obtained individually in death. The movements need companions gestures in order to bring healing.
- What do you think happens next to The OA? Is she transported to another dimension? Is she healed? Was her story an idle tale?
- If The OA is a story of physical resurrection what does that mean? If it is not what does that mean?
Tell the story. This project has grown from our workplaces of a church and a college campus. Our watching of the series was in a New York apartment and suburban house outside Philadelphia. Our reflections grew from presentations on road trips to workshops around the country. Most importantly, this project has grown from conversations we’ve been having with you and with one another.
Use this series to talk about faith. If you are a Christian what does this mean? How do you talk about this series? If you are not a Christian what does that mean? How do you talk about this series?
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