Discernment and the real ‘Bird Box’ challenge
Have you heard of the “Bird Box” challenge? It comes from the Netflix film “Bird Box” and has sparked copycat videos and memes spanning from the ordinary to the dangerous.
So what is it? Using the movie as their inspiration, individuals are recording themselves going through everyday situations, such as buying groceries, walking around the backyard or finding their keys to get in the front door — all while blindfolded. A Utah teen even took the challenge while driving (please don’t do this) and crashed her car. Such actions prompted Netflix to tweet a warning begging people not to end up hospitalized because of memes.
So what is “Bird Box,” and why the blindfolds? “Bird Box” is a movie about fostering relationships, connecting and communicating — but most importantly, it’s about listening to the right voice. And this discernment of the right voice becomes a matter of life and death.
Unpacking the plot
The movie begins with a dramatic pan across a raging river with flashes of people in blindfolds, tense music and slashing sounds. A mother grabs her children, pulls them close and says intensely: “Listen to me because I’m only going to say this once. We are going on the trip now. It’s going to be rough. … You have to do every single thing I say, or we will not make it. Understand?”
|The Art of Discernment|
The following is an excerpt from “What Do You Really Want?: St. Ignatius Loyola and the Art of Discernment” by Jim Manney (OSV, $12.95). “When we become aware of our inner life, what do we find? We find God, but we find other movements and impulses and desires too. Nothing stays the same for very long. Our hearts are agitated, and the restlessness never seems to stop. This is true even for those who love God ardently.
This was Ignatius’s experience … . His heart was pummeled by contrary impulses, some taking him toward God and some taking him away from God. This is why we need discernment; we need help sorting through these spiritual impulses, as Ignatius clearly saw. Ignatius’s great insight was to see that the problem contains the seeds of its solution. These contrary impulses are meaningful. The upheaval in our spirits is not something to overcome; it’s something to reflect on and learn from. When we learn how to interpret it, we will find the way forward.
The restlessness inside is a spiritual struggle. God is constantly inviting us into deeper union with him, and other spirits are constantly pulling us away from him. Ignatius was a soldier, and so it was only natural that he would describe this inner struggle as a battle — spirits that move us toward God contend with those that move us away from him. Part of us wants to do the right thing; part of us doesn’t. Sometimes we experience this struggle as mild pushing and shoving. Sometimes it’s fierce combat. This spiritual struggle throws off a maelstrom of feelings, thoughts, and impulses that are the raw material for discernment.”
Five years after an ominous, unseen presence drives most of society to suicide, this family is making a desperate bid to reach safety. Malorie (Sandra Bullock), the mother, spends most of the movie teaching her children how to recognize her voice and walk carefully wearing blindfolds. They must get to know and follow her voice — and only her voice. The blindfolds prevent them from seeing the evil entity that is plaguing the world.
The first half of the movie deals with how to communicate with one other, and how to determine who they can trust and who they can’t. Significantly, a primary tool for communication is walkie-talkies. Though widely in use before cell phones, walkie-talkies really are hit-or-miss when it comes to being effective. There is often static and mixed signals. Voices sometimes are cut off. There can be a lot of disturbance. At other times, however, communication can be strong, loud and crystal clear.
In “Bird Box,” the voice of the evil presence comes in waves of intensity. At its strongest, the voice begs and pleads, in a familiar tone, for one to follow it. It often uses the voices of loved ones. If the person listens carefully enough, however, the sweet voice of their loved one doesn’t last, and the real voice of evil comes through like static on a walkie-talkie. The evil presence tempts people to look at it. But removing their blindfolds, of course, leads to their demise.
Discerning the right voice
“Bird Box” is a cultural phenomenon that brings to mind how each of us must come to know and listen carefully to the voice of God. Like in the film, the voice of the enemy also is at work, and the terrifying reality is that Satan can sound like God. But the real “Bird Box” challenge is not to be found in memes or games. The real challenge that we all face is the “discernment of spirits” — understanding when we are hearing the voice of God and being able to distinguish it from the enemy.
In the fifth rule of The Second Set of Rules for Discernment of Spirits, St. Ignatius says the voice of God is clear and consistent: “And if the beginning, middle and end is all good, inclined to all good, it is a sign of the good Angel.” He goes on to warn that if at any point there is something bad, distracting or less good than expected, or if it weakens, disquiets or disturbs the soul, taking away its peace, tranquility and quiet, “It is a clear sign that it proceeds from the evil spirit, enemy of our profit and eternal salvation.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that prayer is a battle “against ourselves and against the wiles of the tempter who does all he can to turn man away from prayer, away from union with God” (No. 2725). “Bird Box” illustrates this battle as it cuts back and forth to the climactic scene on the river. Malorie, like a mother hen covering her children, enters the rapids. The intensity builds as they dash against the rocks and the water rages over the boat, capsizing it and separating the mother from her children. Still blindfolded, they must find each other using only their voices. The children must listen carefully for the voice of their mother. They all end up at different points on the shore, wandering through the woods in search of each other. While separated, the children and Malorie all are nearly seduced by the evil voice, and they must listen carefully to distinguish good from evil.
Prayer leads us out of the static
In this life, we will face the rapids. We will face confusing and horrible and sometimes unspeakable things. There will be times when we are capsized and lost. Life will toss us and turn us in such a way that we don’t know which way is up and which way is down. It is in these times that we must listen carefully to the voice of Our Lord and renounce the voice of the enemy. How do we come to know and listen to the voice of God? Prayer. We encounter God in the sacraments, and we also come to know his voice by spending time in communication with him. We have to be connected to the voice of God lest the “angel of light” (cf. 2 Cor 11:14) tempts us into going off course. If we are not fully in tune with God’s voice, then some other voice will try to capture our hearts. It is critical that we come to know God’s voice. Often it is not until after we pray and are silent that we are able to discern.
When the children are looking for their mother, the enemy is using her voice to lure them. But there was a disturbance in the noise. In a similar way, when the enemy is luring us into temptation, there is disquiet — there is static. When God speaks to us, however, his voice is clear. There is no static. There is no disturbance. It just resonates to the core of our being.
The voice of God will come like thunder. It will be strong, and it will be clear. We must learn how to listen carefully.
Fr. Michael Denk is the founder of The Prodigal Father Productions (TheProdigalFather.org), author of “Pray40Days: The Personal Relationship with God You Have Always Wanted,” and the creator of the “Examen Prayer App.” He is priest-in-residence at Walsh University in Ohio.