House of Shadows, House of Light (II). A Master who Serves

“I have nowhere to return to, like a lost child/ Make no mistake, I still don’t understand/ Not there (not there) not there (not there)/ But I don’t care anymore.

If I lost both shadow and form, it’d be better that way/ And piece by piece from the ashes, start anew…

These are, again, the words of ReoNa’s “Nai Nai”, the ending theme of Shadows House, season one. Words that resonate deeply with the themes of this show, which are displayed through its imagery and premise, among them: connection, duality, ashes, shadows, confusion, rebirth, and home.

In my last article, I talked about the influence of the works of the Golden Age of children’s literature in Shadows House. I analyzed the paradoxical “Emilico effect” by which the loyal and virtuous servant subverts an unjust system. I acknowledged the revolutionary critique of that ideal, but pointed out in turn that an aggressive response to evil has its own shortcomings. So then, where’s the balance?

The show has its own response to this, and I think it to be a wise one: Emilico is balanced by Kate, and vice versa. Stay tuned.

Miss Kate and the Opium of the Masses

Miss Kate is the first element of this show that tells us that something is off. A noble manor of the Golden Age might have a noble girl identical to our protagonist… but not one apparently made of soot! As we get to know her, we see a flawed person who can be impatient and cold, who gets frustrated pretty easily, and who has power over Emilico: the power to punish her, order her around, and use her talents.

That’s the very definition of a “class enemy” in Marxist terms, a person who must be destroyed or overthrown for one to exist freely. Even if we resist that idea, it is hard to deal with a grumpy noblewoman who depends on Emilico for practical matters, and who isn’t always kind to her.

But just as she’s loyal to the House, Emilico is loyal to Miss Kate and loves her dearly. And, as we come to see, the thoughtful Miss Kate has a deep sense of justice. That’s how they (spoilers for the first season) become a heroic duo. Emilico is inspiring, idealistic, and heroic, like Superman, shining before everyone’s eyes. Miss Kate is shrewd, determined, and careful, like Batman, and works in the shadows, discreetly.

Together, they bring true hope, deeper than both mere optimism and realism.

This ability to navigate between these two poles is what Christ achieved, and thus, shows us the right balance. He certainly didn’t play make-believe, like Polyanna’s “Glad Game”. “Remember”, He said, “it is I who am sending you out, as sheep into the midst of wolves; prove yourselves as wise as serpents, and as innocent as doves”. And that description fits Christ Himself perfectly too.

Luminous as His words are, self-sacrificing and attentive as His conduct was, He had a sober, realistic yet deep and hopeful attitude towards the world. He had a greater degree of prudence in dealing with manipulation and was able to confront it openly. He saw through people and events and knew when to press on and when to rest, in Galilee or Samaria, and how to take care of others one step at a time.

The moment in which Miss Kate’s similar talents shine is the coffee ceremony. Following the custom of her environment as a matter of course, Emilico loses herself to mind control. It is Miss Kate’s turn to deduce what is wrong, to remember the bit of knowledge that may save her friend—the water—and to be firm and unflinching in providing the cure, even as Emilico, confused in her suffering, resists it.

Who, if not a noblewoman in Kate’s position, could have achieved that? And so, we see a new kind of subversion: Miss Kate puts love and justice before her position. She uses her position for the sake of love and justice, and delivers Emilico from brainwashing.

Our own coffee ceremony, the dark and addictive opium that might gradually erase us from the inside as we try to be heroes, may take very different forms. It may be idolatry, hatred or self-hate, lies, abuse, addiction, idleness, conformity to social pressures, the urge to keep up our image, disordered pleasures, or whatever may make our Golden Age persona crack, as the darkness of the outside mirrors the darkness of the inside.

Our cure is the truth, true hope, and unlimited love. And when we cannot give that to ourselves, realizing our need for these things and searching for their source will give us our identity back, setting us free. For that, we need shrewdness and wisdom, to realize the danger and insist on receiving the cure, no matter how hard and bitter it is while we are being delivered. The Israelites had to face the desert to enter the Promised Land.

Working from Within the House

The attitude of the Apostles in Jerusalem, or of the early Christians in the Roman Empire resembles the attitude of Miss Kate. Since Christ didn’t kill the Romans, these early men and women of the Way are loyal citizens of the various political systems under which they live, even those that are clearly unjust and idolatrous, adoring themselves and destroying others. But when it comes to the ceremonies and practices that harm the soul, these early models of the faith resist, no matter the suffering it may entail.

And not only that. Like Joseph, Mordecai, Daniel, and other characters of the Old Testament, Christians subvert the evil aspects of the systems they live in, furthering the good ones with charity oriented to Heaven. But while these OT figures had in mind first and foremost their kinsmen of Israel, the Christian has in mind… everyone! Shadows and servants, men and women, slaves and non-slaves, Christian, Jew, and Pagan.

At various points in The Book of Acts, St. Paul uses his position as a Roman citizen, as a son of a Pharisee, as someone who studied with Gamaliel, and as a tent-maker to astutely work for the Gospel, counting on the help of Christ. He gets executed for preaching against the ceremony of adoration to the Emperor, but not before working on establishing a wide network of connected churches across all of the Empire.

One of the most puzzling of the parables praises an unjust steward who uses his position to secure a good retirement for himself. Christ calls him “dishonest”, one of the “sons of this world”. What He praises here, though, is how shrewd he is. He subverts his present position because he is working toward his true goal. And we, “the sons of light”, should do the same.

Perhaps you are a “class enemy” to someone, but can’t you use that position wisely and sacrificially, to do good, to store up for you both “treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal”? “I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

We’re living in the shadows, and this won’t change anytime soon. We cannot truly burn the House down. But can we not use it shrewdly and sincerely to work for that other House whose beauty and kindness are truly infinite? I would say that Shadows House is the story of one such subversion, achieved through literature, loyalty, detective work, and friendship.

From the Shadows to the Light

But what about the evil in our circumstances? Shadows House is an anime, so of course, everything in the heroic journey of the characters is connected to their world. What about us, though? Are we condemned to be an Emilico without a Miss Kate in this confusing world, if we happen to love virtue and the people around us dearly, or if we want to strive in that direction? Well, no. We have also a Master who serves.

Instead of killing the Romans, Christ chose to show us that He would freely choose sacrificial love to save us from evil. And then He came back to life, proving that He was speaking the truth about being the God who created this Universe. This was a game-changer. If He had visited the Temple of Jerusalem instead of the private Cenacle where his Apostles gathered, He would have restored David’s throne in no time. But he chose not to do so, instead taking the road of silent sacrifice.

As the Apostles did, we too may ask Him, “Lord, why are You going to reveal Yourself to us and not to the world?” His reply is this: “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” We fight against evil, with Christ, inside of us. Being a Christian is not so much knowing about Christ, the Church, and the Bible, as it is about living in them.

And, as in Emilico’s case in my first post, the way this happens is… fourfold.

First, there is a factual sense to God’s words. God is our witness to the truth of Scripture, the Church itself, its traditions, the world we see with our eyes, and… our personal stories with Him. Deep, kind, attentive, nuanced, courageous, and attesting to the factual truth. The authorities of a shadow world might be mistaken or corrupt, and they might lie. We may too. But God does not lie.

That’s how we know that the world around us is not an illusion, as Plato thought, and that the deepest desires of our hearts are not a cruel joke. God complements our detective work, helping us in getting embedded in reality. Nothing truly natural is false, and we live in a Cosmos. Not a word of the Bible, the book God inspired the sons of Abraham to write in His name, is false. Jesus told us no lies. And the Church brings us the truth.

Of course, we may misunderstand Him in our quest for truth. Each message must be understood rightly and in connection to the rest. In the case of the Bible, we have to take into account the mind of the inspired human author and the literary genre being used. But, once this is deciphered, we have the most absolute level of certainty there can be. It is true. Even what was told through symbolic language is a stubborn fact.

Prophetic and poetic texts, historic books, and sacred customs alike gradually give us a factual part of this story—our story—past, present, and future. Emilico went out of her way to be a part of everyone’s lives. Likewise, God chose to pay attention to our circumstances and approach us as we are: He didn’t give us a myth or a theory, but a report of His real interventions in our common story, to help us draw our map.

Second, there is an allegorical sense to God’s words. We, too, live in a House of Shadows, a puzzling and uncertain world we understand through philosophical systems, narratives, and allegories, an “allegory” being a story with symbols. This world is overcharged with meaning.

For example, the events of Scripture are factual, but they were also chosen—of all the infinity of things that could be told—in order to conform to a specific narrative. The mind-blowing part is not just that a collection of books, teachings, practices, and traditions created during the course of centuries would be thematically connected, but that they reveal things around us as signs, too. Even daily things.

Created by a wise, loving, poetic God, the objective reality around us is meaningful and has the seal of the Artist. Everything is a lesson, and faith in God’s message brings our shadows to light. In Shadows House, some objects, characters and images mean something different than we thought. In Scripture, signs are repeated: Heaven and Earth, Sin and Salvation, the Promise and the People, bread and wine.

Creation was made of divine words—divine ideas—called into existence. These words, now revealed, destroy the great lies around us, like Emilico’s belief that she is a doll, and unlock the truth. Christ didn’t reinterpret reality, Glad-Game-style: instead, He unveiled “mysteries hidden from the beginning of the world”. What is written, taken altogether, is the key: it is what we need to believe to really understand.

Third, there is a moral sense to everything God says and does. To be in the light, your heart needs to change. You must begin to live in this different world. Even if Miss Kate understands the nature of the House better than Emilico, she still needs her, the one who embodies something different in her conduct. To live, you shall believe, and then you shall love.

This is a loving relationship, with the acts and dynamics of love: charity, justice, and heroism. So all things coming from God have also this connection with morality, meaning that they can be embedded in your life. They add to your own love and to your own fight. Through them, everything can be the occasion of a wise and heroic offering to God—for others, for yourself, for the world. God shows us the way.

Miss Kate, a shadow, will discover that she cannot be herself without Emilico freely giving her devotion to her as a servant. By loving God and us to the extreme as “the new Adam” in a life of obedience, Christ took us out of the “shadow state” and gave us a heart of flesh, not stone. We can use it to love.

So fourth, and lastly, all is prophecy of Heaven. In a good anime, every word and every image points to its ending. Likewise, everything God says, everything Christ did and does in our lives, tells us that He is on the move and where to. The visible world is this great map of the future Kingdom of Heaven. One that exists already in this world like a hidden treasure, or like the smallest of seeds.

Like the House of Lights that Shadows House could one day become.

A Coleridge Flower

I have urged you not to put your hope in revolution, not because I think it’s always bad (I don’t), but because our goal is beyond what we may create with our own hands. Sometimes, like Emilico and Miss Kate, we’ll fight in this world. Sometimes justice and love will gain victories, precious but temporary.

Nevertheless, they are the signs we need to keep walking. Because someday, we’ll be truly home. We will be who we are, truly and entirely. That is the Church Triumphant, the House of Light. A place not ruled by any of this world’s “Grandfathers”, but by the loving person whose place such pretenders usurp, the Father of Christ.

The Victorian poet Coleridge once said: “If a man could pass through Paradise in a dream, and have a flower presented to him as a pledge that his soul had really been there, and if he found that flower in his hand when he awoke — Ay! and what then?”

The signs of life and Christlike love we receive here on earth point to our true Home, to a solid reality that can only be entered with faith, hope, and love. When the insecure Patrick is in despair, trapped in a cage, Emilico gives him a flower from the outside, with a promise. His bonds will be honored. Ricky will be there soon.

This is how a heart changes, how the new world begins in someone. Sometimes, a Coleridge flower is greater than the walls of Shadows House.

Shadows House and Shadows House 2 are streaming on Crunchyroll.

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