Saturday, April 4, 2020

Miss Phryne Fisher can be awful-but I can, too: A Lenten Reflection

A mystery show following a free-spirited feminist detective in 1920s Australia may not a likely avenue for spiritual reflection, yet there I sat. My eyes were riveted to the screen, and my soul ached with the realization that aspects of the show's heroine reminded me of the worst parts of myself.

I recently stumbled across Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, and I was hooked from the start. Colorful characters, gorgeous costumes, and intriguing murders drew me in-not to mention the sassy, spunky, carefree Miss Phryne Fisher. Yet, what really captured my attention is the relationship between Phryne and Detective Inspector Jack Robinson. Throughout the course of the show's three seasons (I am trying to ignore the unfortunate debacle that is Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears), layers upon layers of complexity build as these two characters investigate murders together.

Amused, I giggled at Jack's frustration every time Phryne shows up at his murder investigations. Delighted, I watched Jack and Phryne develop a deep respect for each other and their work. Happily, I observed the sparkling onscreen chemistry that dances between Jack (played by Nathan Page) and Phryne (played by Essie Davis) in countless glances, gazes, and the very occasional touch. Frustrated, I wondered when these two were going to enter an exclusive relationship--and if that would be even possible with Phryne's attitude towards love and sexuality.  

Jack, though he is no saint, is a good and decent man. He strives to do the noble thing, even when it is difficult. He is loyal and committed, convicted and fairly morally upstanding. In sharp contrast, Phryne is averse to romantic commitment and-contraception close at hand-she entertains a long parade of men who pass through her bedroom door. Yet, her friendship with Jack deepens. There are scenes when they share a beautiful, deeply intimate moment of friendship, and you can easily see how much Jack cares for her--but just a few scenes or an episode later, Phryne will slide in bed with yet another man. Hence, my feelings of exasperation. After sharing such vulnerable moments and deep camaraderie with Jack, how could she run off for brief flings with other men?  

As I grimaced at Phryne (and, admittedly, at Jack a couple of times-he has his own moments of weakness), I realized how much of myself I see in Phryne's cavalier attitude. Whenever she turned from the steadfast Jack to whatever other man had caught her eye, it was painful to see her act in such a horrible manner. Unfortunately, I've done something similar: Time after time, I have turned my back on a deeply passionate, constantly faithful, and loving God. 

Even after a deeply consoling experience of God's grace and love, I'll choose to turn and fly into the sickly embrace sin. Even after the enormous blessing of consuming the Flesh and Blood of Christ at Mass, I'll willingly choose uncharitable thoughts, words, and actions. I'll shelter my own vices, I'll be so good to my "little mad sin," like Julia Marchmain of Brideshead Revisited. 

Yet, even in my worst moments and most challenging struggles with sin, hope shines gloriously into the darkness. That deeply passionate God I turn away from is still there, merciful and radiant in His constancy and faithfulness. He pours forth grace through the Sacraments. He longingly desires for me to cooperate and freely accept both the gifts that He offers and the overwhelming forgiveness that He grants. 

As we embark on the final stretch of Lent, I keep pondering the incredible gift of God's mercy and redemption. Many of Christ's close followers turned their backs on Him during the Passion, but He still died for them. We also have turned our minds and hearts away from God countless times, but He still offered himself freely on the Cross, knowing that we would reject Him over and over. 
"For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly.Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die.But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us." (Rom 5:6-8)
It's tempting to put ourselves on pedestals of holiness so we may look down on others reproachfully. When I began watching Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries, it was nice to tell myself that "I have faults, but at least I don't do things like Phryne!" But, the truth lies right there, before my eyes: I may not practice the specific sins that Miss Fisher entertains, but just like her, I do choose sinful practices. Too many times, I rely on my own independence (in a very Phryne-like manner) instead of God. However, we don't have an inspector in a three-piece suit dashing around at our beck and call, but we do have a compassionate God who deeply desires to offer Himself to each of us each and every day. 
"For as a young man marries a virgin, your Builder shall marry you; And as a bridegroom rejoices in his bride so shall your God rejoice in you." (Is 62:5)
How can I silence myself to listen for the voice of Christ? How can I make changes in my life as I strive for virtue and reject sin? How can I extend God's grace, mercy and forgiveness to other people I know? 
The Flagellation, by Martin Schongauer (1480). 
These are questions drifting through my mind as I prepare for the spiritual intensity of Holy Week and the glorious triumph of Christ's Resurrection at Easter. With our gaze focused on Christ, let us prayerfully enter the coming days with humility and awe as we recall the immense love and mercy that our bloodied, scourged, crucified Savior has for us all. 


  1. It's amazing what spiritual things God can teach us from the most unexpected places!
    I've seen this phenomenon in my own life. I'm so glad the Lord doesn't run out of grace and mercy for us!

    1. How beautiful that you have experienced that, Shannon! I agree, I am extremely grateful that God pours forth an overabundance of mercy-I need it! ;)