Movies

10 Things I Loved About ‘Messiah’

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‘Messiah’ is a 10-part drama series created by Michael Petroni on Netflix which premiered on January 1, 2020. It follows the rise of a mysterious, soft-spoken Christ-like figure named al-Masih (aka “the Messiah”). A skeptical CIA agent Eva Gellar (Michelle Monaghan) is assigned to figure out whether this person they call al-Masih (Mehdi Dehbi) is actually a divine entity or just a dangerous con artist looking to upend the world’s geopolitical order. While the critics didn’t warm to it, and religious traditionalists criticized it, here are 10 reasons I absolutely loved it (Spoilers Ahead).

  1. Firstly, the ambition of the show—to explore the core of spirituality on a global scale—is worthy of admiration. Using the comforting tropes of the global CIA thriller makes it palatable mainstream entertainment in its own right, but what made it stand apart for me was that the high spiritual EQ of the show. The fact that it got green-lit and made is a miracle in itself.
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  2. I loved that every crisis of the key characters, while it may appear to be about conceiving a child, accepting their homosexuality or guilt over past wrongs, is really a spiritual crisis. In almost every other thriller/drama, the solution to the protagonists’ problems is attacking, punishing or killing someone. Here, as the external action unfolds, the characters either come to peace with themselves, or continue choosing to suffer. While some critics complained of the plot having loose ends, the real story—that of the inner transformation of the characters—is beautifully fleshed out.
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  3. If Al-Masih is meant to be the return of the Christ, thank God he’s not played by a blond American. Perhaps the first time on screen that such a character is played by a person of Middle-Eastern origin. Good to see a brown lead who isn’t trying to enter the US, blow up the US or play Tonto to a Lone Ranger US agent.
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  4. I loved that Al-Masih is not a cocky know-it-all prepared with the answers. He doesn’t have a plan to save the world and does not go around showing off how much he knows about whoever is in front of him. (“Ah Agent Aviram, I have been expecting you.”) God’s Will is revealed from moment to moment—and that is enough for him. Trusting in God’s goodness means trusting, as he says, “Nothing shall befall us, except what God has ordained.” Side note, also loved how simply and pragmatically the guidance comes—from an Instagram post, a ‘spontaneous’ decision, a dream.
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  5. The show doesn’t shy away from asking difficult questions relevant to modern life and doesn’t provide easy answers. Al-Masih killing an injured dog to put him out of his suffering is a courageous scene to write. Likewise, the show’s take on abortion and immigration (…and ACLU lawyers!) At a larger level, the entire architecture of the show is designed as a spiritual Rorschach test, with enough evidence to support alternative theories. As Al-Masih says in his sermon on the Washington: “What you see happening depends on you.”Messiah Netflix
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  6. I loved that each character has a different crisis of faith. The CIA agent, the ex-Mossad officer, the pastor, his wife and daughter, each has a different challenge to finding peace. The pastor Felix Iguero (John Ortiz) wants to believe and has moments of Grace but falters when he demands a plan. His wife Anna (Melinda Page Hamilton) wants to believe but not at the cost of the security of her family. The ex-Mossad officer Aviram (Tomer Sisley) keeps recreating situations of self-punishment for his past guilt but refuses to accept forgiveness. The CIA agent Eva Geller seems hell-bent on proving God wrong by having a baby even after her husband has died with his frozen sperm. Also, the show accurately depicts one important point: our fantasies of a savior notwithstanding, how easily the ego-mind reverts back to doubt even after experiencing miracles. The pastor burns his church even after he’s seen Al-Masih save his daughter from the storm and walk on water. Isn’t that how it is for all of us as well?
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  7. The show’s creator Michael Petroni reposes hope for the future in the youth. Screwed up with teenage angst and confusion, they are still the most clear-eyed and willing to trust. “The fire burns brightly” in them, as Al-Masih says to the pastor’s daughter Rebecca (Stefania LaVie Owen) at one point. The other reflection of Al-Masih is the refugee boy, Jibril (Named after the Arabic name for the angel Gabriel meaning ‘hero/strength of God’. By the way, the Biblical choices of names are intriguing in themselves. Aviram and Eva are the two characters who seem most hopelessly stuck outside heaven… coincidence?)
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  8. The government and religious machinery from both sides of the world are united in trying to discredit him, without any desire to know the truth about who he is. As the rich televangelist played by Beau Bridges suggests, they need to keep God out of these decisions.
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  9. Loved that the character of Al-Masih spends much time communing in silence, instead of running around problem-solving. He’s comfortable even in a jail cell without needing to fix other prisoners’ problems. Neither does he try to unite Christianity and Islam—his single focus is on our connection with God. Broken spokes on a wheel don’t need to be fused together, they need to be joined to the center. Then they all work in unison. A nice reminder that the joining between man and God is the only real joining, not the joining between bodies or between dreams.
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  10. Finally, loved his conviction that ‘History has ended.’ (Eva Geller’s father reinforces this when he says he has been feeling something different in the sunrise these days) And by the way, in case you didn’t notice, the show was released on January 1, 2020… or if you want to call it ‘20/20’. Is it time to look with clarity at our world and simply “make a new choice”?
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Can’t wait for Season 2 of the show. I hope it is greenlit by the Algorithms-That-Be at Netflix and I hope the show holds its nerve to keep asking the questions that are worth asking. What if God really exists? What if His Will is audible to each one of us? Would we follow even without knowing the entire plan? Would we drink our fill like the bird that finds water in unseasonal frost, or would we ask questions first?

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GD Speaks

Where Does Your Salvation Lie?

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Sometimes, when we make a life-choice that is not in accord with our highest vision of our life, it appears as if we have succumbed to weakness or temptation. Guilt prompts us to struggle against these ‘lower impulses’ by urging us to change our actions – to quit smoking, to stop overworking, to end an old affair. And yet, when the carousel comes around again, we find ourselves riding the same hobbyhorse in a modified form.

Maybe the root problem is not the temptation itself – it is our belief that salvation lies therein. My mentor GD often refers to this as ‘creating false gods’:

“A false god is anyone or anything external that is seen as the source of completion. Every time we run outside ourselves to seek joy and fulfillment, we need to create false gods. It could be in the form of relationships, power, money, success or even addictions. We often dedicate our lives to these ‘substitute’ gods, in the vain hope that they will bring us happiness and deliver us to salvation. But every false god will eventually fail you – and push you back inside – to your own divinity and oneness with source.

Where do you believe your salvation lies? It’s easy to tell, because this is where your attention flows obsessively. This is what you speak about and value in others. This is where your energy moves,and where your time is spent. It’s the substance and significance of your dreams.

A Course in Miracles is unequivocal on this subject: “All idols of this world were made to keep the truth within from being known to you. And to maintain allegiance to the dream that you must find something outside yourself to be complete and happy. It is vain to worship idols in the hope of peace. God dwells within, and your completion lies in Him.”

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Journal, Life-Saving Tips

BLESS YOU!

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A few days ago, I was unexpectedly invited to a high-profile party. In general, I find almost everything unpleasant about parties – the ear-damaging thump-thump of music, the smoke-and-alcohol fog, the stilted conversations and the late-late hours. But this time, as my wife Aditi and I dressed, it struck me: “You know why we are going? Our job is to bless everyone there.

The idea came with force and clarity and resonated for both of us. So as we drove, we sent blessings ahead to the party. When we reached, we silently, sincerely wished real joy on all those we could see. It wasn’t difficult because we  genuinely adored the host, and were fond of many of the guests. Bathed in an aura of blessing, we found ourselves easy and open, generous and unselfconscious. We saw God in many different forms and ended up having a smooth, beautiful time.

The next day, as we reflected on how unexpectedly perfect the night had been, I connected the dots. And I realized that for the last few years, the joy of blessing has grown almost unnoticed.

Today, I do it as often as I remember. On flights, I bless everyone on the plane as we take off. Before meetings, I bless those who are going to be there. After meditation, I play a little audio track which reminds me to dedicate the positive potential of this meditation. I even bless my blog posts before I publish so that they may reach those who need to read them.

This gradual love for blessing was triggered a few years ago after a conversation with my brother and mentor GD. When I was going through a dark spell of frustration at how life was not working out for me, he suggested as a solution: “Why don’t you try wishing for others what you want most in life?”

In those days, grappling with mental advaita gymnastics, I thought his suggestion was sentimental, feel-good foo-foo. But I instantly experienced its joy. Over time, as I heard more about it from GD, I saw the deep insight behind it.

For example, it is impossible for the mind to bless and judge others at the same time. To bless someone, you cannot vibrate with the lower frequencies of scarcity, fear or anger – you have to hold the energy of love and abundance.

The state of blessing is also close to our true nature. So, as you clean your inner load, the bedrock of quiet blessing begins to shine naturally (A sage, without saying a word, is a blessing to the planet). Not surprisingly, every ancient religion prescribes some form of blessing or prayer – it is the simplest way to connect with your true nature!

Initially, blessing seemed wiser use of intention than manipulating the universe into manifesting what I had to admit were conditioned egoic desires. Over time, the sheer joy of doing it caused it to spread to other parts of my life.

A few months later, GD recommended a little book, ‘The Gentle Art of Blessing’ by Pierre Pradervand (which I would also endorse unequivocally). “By blessing,” Pradervand says, “I mean wishing from the bottom of the heart, in total sincerity, the very best for those people – their complete fulfillment and complete happiness.” In his book, Pradervand suggests:

On awakening, bless this day…
On passing people in the street, on the bus, in places of work and play, bless them…
On meeting people and talking to them, bless them…
As you walk, bless the city…
P. S. And of course, above all, do not forget to bless the utterly beautiful person
you are.

Do try this if you feel inspired. Take a few minutes to bless others in whatever words work for you – the sincerity matters more than the phrasing. Picture them joyful and forgive them for any real or imagined wrongdoing; forgive yourself for the same. If the other is not ready to receive the blessing, Pradervand says, it stays in their aura until they are – but for you, the result is always instant and liberating.