Dear Friends,

“What was that?” asks the (Hot) Priest. “Where did you just go?”

Fleabag has once again turned her face to look at us - breaking the fourth wall. It is, by now, a familiar, funny move.

But suddenly, here is someone who notices - cares even - that Fleabag wasn't present to him. That she's with us, the viewer, not with him, in the scene. In her life.

The second season of Fleabag is "perfect" says Vulture, "unmissable" says Vanity Fair. Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 100% score. Yes, another addition to the Golden Age of television!

It isn't just good TV, though. For Diane Winston, shows like Fleabag are sites of religious activity. In watching the show, we pose ethical concerns and raise questions of ultimate meaning.

In her book, Small Screen, Big Picture: Television and Lived Religion, Winston writes that, "The experience of watching, and responding to, TV characters’ moral dilemmas, crises of faith, bouts of depression, and fits of exhilaration gives expression – as well as insight and resolution – to viewers’ own spiritual odysseys and ethical predicaments." Television becomes an altar where we "exchange our daily struggles for visions of transcendence."

For example, we might recognize Fleabag's deep guilt of betraying her friend, Boo. The relationship, really Fleabag's only friend, echoes our intense longing for intimacy with, not just friends, but friends friends. 

"More than other media, television reflects life as we experience it. We see our own struggles and successes in the small gestures of characters who, like us, strive to do good, fall short of the mark, and try again," writes Winston.

Most poignantly in this show, the locus of religious activity is in the hilarious and tender love that grows between the (Hot) Priest and Fleabag; against all her expectations, and all his priestly judgement.

The religiosity isn't in his officiating a wedding, or telling of drink-laden theological stories, however.

It is in his noticing her smirking volte-face to camera, her terror of being present to her own grief and fear and anything real. Her courageous turn towards that reality and intimacy is what elicits the sweetness and heartbreak that is the soul of the show.

Fleabag learns - as we do - that life is full of undeniable suffering, "but spirituality is not our insulation from this suffering," as Sufi teacher Kabir Helminski writes. "Presence allows us to open to the suffering of the world; compassion is being able to feel the world’s suffering without being drowned by it.”

And that's how we leave Fleabag. Or more accurately, how she leaves us. Her heart broken, but fully alive, suffering but no longer drowning, walking down the street away from the camera, ready to live without the need to escape. 

May we awaken in one another this kind of heartbreaking and compassionate courage.

Have a wonderful weekend, Shabbat Shalom,

PS. If you've shared a recent newsletter with a friend - thank you! It's wonderful to hear from readers old and new. 

I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
you’ve been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
our friend the poet comes into my room
where I’ve been writing for days,
drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
and I want to show her one poem
which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
and wake. You’ve kissed my hair
to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
I say, a poem I wanted to show someone . . .
and I laugh and fall dreaming again
of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
to move openly together
in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.

Adrienne Rich
Copyright © 2018 Casper ter Kuile, All rights reserved.

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