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Commentary

Circle of Life

Originally Appeared in : 9914-7/4/19
A new version of “The Lion King” will be released in theaters soon. Many of us eagerly anticipate viewing the film with our children and grandchildren. My children were young when the first version of the film was released. I have happy memories singing along with the film’s soundtrack. While we all loved the film, we never discussed in much depth the lessons it imparts. Perhaps this time around, I’ll have an opportunity to talk about it with my grandchildren.
 
Even if I don’t get that chance, from an adult perspective I can appreciate the lessons in the film. Some may seem obvious, but others are more subtle and worth a second look. 
 
Among the more obvious lessons is the theme of the “circle of life.” Considering this theme as a grandmother, I sense my own circle closing. But, of course, a circle never truly closes, and wherever my circle on this planet ends it continues not just in eternal life, but in the life I leave behind. That life includes my children and grandchildren, but it also includes all those I have loved and their memories of me. What I leave when I die also includes any good I have done for others, especially if the good works offer a legacy of concern and care for those who continue to live after I have died. 
 
Crucial at this time are efforts to protect the environment and combat the effects of climate change. Knowing that I will be dead before the worst effects are felt should not prevent me from working to ensure that those in future generations are protected from the life-threatening calamities looming if we fail to act now. 
 
The rich diversity of the natural world in Africa is at the core of “The Lion King.” And the harshness of Scar’s greed and cruelty in the film are seen in the barren landscape and suffering inflicted upon all the creatures who depend on the land for sustenance. Once greed and cruelty are vanquished, the land returns to its glorious former conditions. As stewards of God’s creation, we have a responsibility to ensure that all we’ve been entrusted with is protected, not exploited and destroyed for profit and gratification. What we do — or don’t do — will have lasting effects in our circle of life.
 
Another lesson from “The Lion King” might seem personal to Simba, but, in fact, is one we can all learn and relearn. We are only truly free when we become the people we are intended to be. At the beginning of the film, Simba is “anointed” by Rashiki, the religious leader, and presented to the kingdom. Yes, Simba is literally a king, but at our own baptisms we too were anointed to be priests, prophets, and kings. How many of us truly accept those roles and consider the enduring impact of our stewardship for our own circles of life? 
 
Too often, like Simba, we try to hide from becoming the people God intends us to be. We surround ourselves with diversions and seek comfort and complacency. We avoid introspection and see only what we want to see because we convince ourselves we are unworthy or incapable of greatness. 
 
 
Of course, greatness doesn’t have to mean we become famous or powerful. Our greatness lies in our willingness to take the risk of loving greatly and completely, of opening our hearts to all people and following Christ’s example of selfless sacrifice. Our kingdom is the same kingdom Christ proclaimed when he announced his mission, and we are charged with building it in whatever ways we can. At our baptism, we are called to the same mission Christ began.
 
And, like Simba, at our baptism we were presented to a community who welcomed us and revered Christ’s presence in us. We are members of a body and, as Saint Paul reminds us, each member of the body has a crucial purpose. To ignore or abandon our purpose is to betray our community and ourselves.
 
Just like Simba, who becomes liberated from fear and shame, we are only truly free when we let go of whatever prevents us from fulfilling our God-given purpose. Too many of us allow fear to limit our lives and shame to diminish our sense of worth. Fear and shame present serious obstacles to grace. 
 
But we cannot be released from fear and shame under our own power. We must surrender whatever our ego clings to in order to allow God’s grace to enter. Doing so is a lifelong spiritual process, a circle of dying to self and rising to new life, a circle of life for us and for all.
 
When you see the film, spend some time speaking with your children and grandchildren about your family’s circle of life and enrich it through Christ’s example and teaching.
 
Mary Hood Hart is a freelance writer and educator living in Pittsboro, NC. She can be reached at  maryhoodhart@gmail.com
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