Paperman: God is My Paper Airplane Co-Pilot

Cartoons should be seen, not heard.

That seems to be the philosophy for short animation films these days. \”Forget dialogue,\” animators seem to say. \”Let\’s tell a story with just pictures and movement and maybe a little music. Who needs those stinkin\’ words?!\” 
And they\’ve got a point. I mean, the folks who craft these moving works of art are … well, artists. They\’ve been trained to talk through image. And when we see Pixar\’s amazing short films (most of which are wordless) or \”The Master,\” which I blogged about last year, words seem superfluous–even distracting. These artists understand what we sometimes forget (particularly us writers): The most profound, most powerful moments often come unaccompanied by syllabic flotsam. Words just get in the way.
Take a look, for example, at \”Paperman\”–a short by Disney that\’s been nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Film (Animated). Just six minutes long and presented in gloriously rich black and white, it still conveys a world of emotion.
Nifty, ain\’t it? It needs not a single word of explanation but is still filled with promise and regret and tension and magic. No back story needed. No subtext required. It\’s a  gem to be appreciated simply for what it is.
And yet, it also sticks with you. And maybe in its wordless way, it propels you along an unexpected line of thinking.
\”Paperman\” obviously wasn\’t designed to be a spiritual illustration. And yet it could be–on the strange, mysterious way in which some of us feel God works in our lives. 
Look at the man again, throwing his pile of paper airplanes. All his work and toil (and perhaps painful papercuts) seem to come to naught. But then, the airplanes themselves seem to pick up the cause, mysteriously forcing these two would-be lovers together. The planes lead, encourage, even flirt. And when the man seems bent on going another way, they physically force the guy to move toward his destiny.
I\’ve interviewed a lot of folks who feel as though God has \”told\” them what to do–that He pushed them to perform a certain task or take up a certain job or give a certain gift. \”I didn\’t want to do it,\” they sometimes tell me. \”I had no intention of doing it. But it became so obvious that that\’s what God wanted me to do.\” It\’s as if God\’s paper planes surrounded them and pushed them along.
Now, I\’ve always treated these stories with a certain skepticism, maybe because I\’ve never really been there–never felt so obviously \”pushed\” by God. I have no burning bushes or talking donkeys in my backlog of memories. I\’ve never heard God tell me to do something. Never felt Him manipulate me like a Ouija pointer to a pre-determined course. Oh, don\’t get me wrong: I\’ve felt God\’s presence in my life (or I feel as though I\’ve felt Him), but when it comes to big decisions–to leave an old job or capitalize on a new opportunity or take a grand leap of faith–God grows silent. 
Or perhaps not. Maybe He, like the film \”Paperman\” itself, speaks to me without speaking  … His influence quiet but inexorable, graceful but unmistakable. After all, He knows us all so well. Maybe He knows (just like my wife knows) that I don\’t like to be told what to do. Maybe He speaks to us in tailored language, communicating what we need to hear in ways we best understand. 
Maybe God knows that, for some reason, I need my illusion of control. That I need to make my paper airplanes. And that the beauty of faith for me isn\’t so much in certainty–a call from God by bullhorn–but in mystery. To watch my planes float through the air, wondering where an unseen hand might take them. 

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