I went to the movies with a group of friends last Friday to watch the final Harry Potter movie, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II. It was a great movie, fun and action-filled, and the energy of opening night only made it better. Afterward we all went out to eat and exchanged notes on our favorite scenes – talking about every little detail. At one point, one of my friends commented on the strong role women have in the Harry Potter movies/books. She said the story is carried by the women – that if it wasn’t for them Harry Potter would not exist. She made specific mention of Harry’s mom as having sacrificed her life for him. Lily dies so Harry can live.
This of course is when my brain comes to a screeching halt.
Women sacrificing their lives for others – I become suspicious and my defenses go up. Sacrifice = suffering. Suffering must not be glorified. Sacrifice must not be sacralized. I see red flags everywhere. Wait, though; haven’t those of us who are Christian-identified heard the opposite affirmed a million times? Jesus suffered and died – was sacrificed – for our sins. Further, Christians’ most sacred ritual, communion, includes reference to Jesus’ broken body and spilt blood. So, isn’t that what people do for love, sacrifice, as Harry’s mom did?
No. I don’t think that’s actually what people (or God) do for love.
Feminists in particular have called attention to the problems of sacralizing suffering – even, and especially, Jesus’ suffering. In too many cases, domestic violence as just one example, Jesus’ obedient suffering is referenced and used to encourage the continued endurance of an abusive situation. But suffering is not redemptive. Suffering and sacrifice are not love. To this point my friend once said, “I know what it’s like to have my body broken. I know what it’s like to have my blood spilled. I don’t ever want anybody else going through that on my behalf.” Love does not expect or desire suffering. My friend’s words have left a lasting impression on me. I understand love and suffering and sacrifice differently because of it. Therefore, I can’t help come to a screeching halt whenever it sounds like sacrifice and suffering are being glorified or equated with love. I am thoroughly convinced that sacrifice and love must not be confused.
So what do I make of Lily’s ‘sacrifice’ for Harry, then? First of all, I don’t think she was sacrificing – she was loving. When Lily died and Harry lived, Lily was loving her son. She was at the foot of his crib repeating to him over and over the words of her love for him. Lily was face to face with Harry letting him know that above all other realities in the world, he was loved. Yes, she was aware of the evil force at work to destroy life and love and all that makes the world smile with joy. And yes, she likely anticipated that their lives were in danger and might soon end, so she spent her last precious moments loving Harry. Her love for him, a form of ‘old magic’, is what saved him – love saves Harry, not sacrifice. Lily does die in the process. But Lily does not die because she ‘sacrificed’ herself, she died because she lived in a world where some people value domineering power and control above all things and are willing to murder, destroy, and inflict suffering for it. We live in such a world. But even in such a world, people choose love. People choose love because it is what they find most worthy of their whole person; it is what they most want to embody and what most brings them joy.
Lily loves, and as a result, life continues to be made possible even in a world that seems to distort it all to destruction. Lily was not sacrificing, she was loving. And love is what made the story possible – love is always what makes new stories possible.