Such a movie is The Last Samurai. Captain Algren, a 'war hero' is now a drunk, a shill for the rifle company who pays him to share his exploits killing Indians. He is tired, disillusioned and angry. He agrees to go to Japan to help train the emperor's army to put down a rebellion. He says for 500 dollars a month he will kill whoever he has to. He goes there prepared to make some quick money and get out. Instead the Colonel demands that the poorly trained army head out immediately to quell the rebel fighters. They are so ill prepared that most of them are killed, the others run away. Captain Algren fights until he cannot stand any longer. The leader of the rebels, Katsumoto is compelled to spare his life. He is taken to the village where the Samurai live and train.
After Algren recovers from his injuries he lives among the villagers. He cannot leave until spring, so he begins to observe his captors. He is drawn to their way of life, to their commitment and dedication to the way of the Samurai. "They are an intriguing people. From the moment they wake they devote themselves to the perfection of whatever they pursue. I have never seen such discipline. I am surprised to learn that the word Samurai means, 'to serve'." I was struck by the meaning of the word 'samurai'. You assume that they are just warriors, men of the sword, militants led by a warlord. Instead they lived by a code of service to their lord. Some of the first written documents available from Japanese history are poems written by warriors about service as border guards:
Without regard for myself
I set out
A shield strong but humble
For our Sovereign Lord." (1)
That is to be our lives as servants of our God. We are to be Samurai in the service of our Lord. I think most of us just live as Thoreau wrote in Walden, "The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation". What a sad commentary that is. There is a time for quiet contemplation and there is a time for getting out there and making some noise. How often do we wake up, start the day already worn out and just hope for a somewhat peaceful day to pass quickly so we can get back into bed again. Forget about seeking perfection in what we do, let's just get this day over with. We serve a most noble Lord. We serve the great Creator and Redeemer. How does that reflect on Him if we while away the hours just getting by? How does His excellence and majesty get portrayed when we can barely muster the energy to get through the drive thru lane at the local coffee shop? Discipline, we hardly have enough self-control to get through the commute to work without expressing our displeasure with our fellow drivers. Oh, how I want to live a life that is devoted to the perfection of being a child of God. I want to emulate my Lord. I want to stand up for the things He stands up for and to put behind me the things that displease Him.
We are so busy with all that is temporal. Sleep, and work. Household duties and children. Taxes and too little pay. Yard work and recreation. Too much to distract us from what is truly important. Most of it things we need to think about; loving our spouses, teaching our children. But so much that is not imperative. What restaurant to eat at, what kind of lawn mower to buy, where can I find those shoes I really want. As Algren learned when he was defeated in sparring practice, "too many mind". He asks what is that? "Mind the sword, mind the people watch, mind enemy - -too many mind. " His instructor says, "no mind". Meaning let everything else fall aside. Keep your mind on the thing that is most important. Focus on the essential, let everything else fade away. Like that beautiful old hymn, 'and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of Your glory and grace'. Seek Him first. His will, His way and then your focus will become laser clear.
When we are still, when we stop and let things become clear we can feel His presence. Again Algren comes to understand this in the quiet of that lovely village. "There is so much here I will never understand. I've never been a church going man, and what I've seen on the field of battle has led me to question God's purpose. But there is indeed something spiritual in this place. And though it may forever be obscure to me, I cannot but be aware of its power." The thing that he did not understand though was that when we seek God, we will find Him. He will never stay hidden from us when what we desire most is Him. Yes we will be aware of His power, but more than that, we will bask in His presence and we will know His purpose for our lives.
It amazes me what I can get out of a movie when I see it through the eyes of the Spirit. There was so much here that spoke of the Father's love for us. One such scene was when Katsumoto is being held prisoner and Algren, Katsumoto's son and some men from the village come to rescue him. In the ensuing fight, the son is shot. He knows he is going to die, but he wants that death to mean something. He tells his father to leave him there, that it is his time. He wants his life to have purpose even in his death. He will use his last bit of strength to die at the enemy's hands so that his friends and family may escape that same death. Katsumoto props him up against a tree, looks at his son with tears in his eyes and then turns his back and lets his son die for his people. If that is not a picture of the Father's love for us and the sacrifice He made by allowing His Son to die on that tree for us, then I don't know what is.
At the end of the movie, when Katsumoto knows that all that is left for him and his people is death, he says to Algren, "For nine hundred years, my ancestors have protected our people. Now... I have failed them." Algren replies, " So you will take your own life? In shame? Shame for a life of service? Discipline? Compassion? " To that Katsumoto answers, "The way of the Samurai is not necessary anymore." "Necessary? What could be more necessary?" We are told in our modern culture that it is every man for himself. That it is a dog eat dog world. Take care of number one. All of that goes against what is meant by a life of service. Remember that Japanese poem above, 'From today, without regard for myself...' That is what the life of a spiritual Samurai is supposed to be about. Service, discipline, compassion. Having the heart of God for our neighbor, and yes, for our enemy. Living with no regard for ourselves, esteeming others higher than ourselves. That is an oxymoron to most people in the world today. But to those of us who have committed our lives to serving our Lord it is a call to action.
A life of service is not an easy one. There is hard work, there is commitment to duty and honor. There are rough times and there are times of ease. There are times of sorrow and times of joy. People today think life is wasted if money is not made. If success is not seen in the eyes of others. We pursue fleeting things, rather than eternal things. We seek highs, forgetting that the lows have their value also. Katsumoto tells Algren, "The perfect blossom is a rare thing. You could spend your life looking for one, and it would not be a wasted life." He was implying that it would be almost impossible to find that perfect moment, that perfect blossom. It wouldn't be wasted time, but you may never find one. As he lay dying on the battlefield, he sees cherry blossoms floating in the air among the smoke. He says with his last breath, "Perfect... They are all... perfect..." Here I go crying again as I write. Every moment that God gives us is perfect. Every one. The painful, the beautiful. The loss and the achievements. Every moment can be exquisite if we will look at it through the eyes of our Father and let Him work out His will in us...becoming perfect as He is perfect.
(1) Origin of the Samurai, https://judoinfo.com/samurai/
Movie quotes from imdb.com