Homecoming: The Spiritual Metaphor of Spider-Man

These days it’s almost not officially summer until I see a superhero movie.  Last month I saw Wonder Woman. While ground-breaking in so many ways, it was a good movie that didn’t entirely wow me. I almost nodded off during the climactic battle that was about 85% monologuing. And I’ve been repeatedly accused of being a monologuer so I know the effects on others. Earlier this week I watched Spider-Man: Homecoming, the 3rd effort to bring everyone’s favorite web-slinger to the big-screen. And in my opinion it’s the best effort so far. The day after seeing it, as I replayed scenes and examined my reactions, I realized that it is an apt spiritual metaphor for our time. Before I share a few of my insights, be warned: Spoilers ahead...LOTS of spoilers!

 

  • The origin story doesn’t matter. Every previous Spider-Man iteration included some version of the well-known tale in which Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider. I loved that they skipped it in this movie. Why? Because our origin story doesn’t ultimately matter. Sure, it goes a long way in explaining how and who we are. But when faced with choices in this present moment, do we make them from who we were, or who we believe ourselves to be now? That was Peter’s dilemma...no, opportunity: to discover who he was in the midst of the choices placed before him. It is also ours. Regardless of what we believe happened to us, we get to choose in every moment if we will live from a belief of human limitation or as the embodiment of God.

 

  • Everyday spirituality might seem boring. This version of Spider-Man first appeared in Captain America: Civil War. Having been discovered and recruited by Tony Stark (aka Iron Man), the awestruck teenager fights beside and against other super heroes he idolizes. It was a nice comic touch to hear him apologizing to Captain America for stealing his shield and then tell him he’s a big fan. “Homecoming” picks up after that battle, and Peter finds himself back in Queens NY enacting justice against petty criminals (bike thieves, purse snatchers) while waiting for a call from the Avengers to rejoin them. The call never comes, and he begins to feel unfulfilled, as though he was meant for so much more. We too fall victim to this ‘not enoughness’... to the ‘there must be more than this’ feeling when life doesn’t suddenly become the nirvana we expected. One of my favorite Zen quotes reminds that, “Before Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water...after Enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.” Joy is found not in being transported away from our ordinary lives after transformation, but bringing transformation to our lives, making them extraordinary. As Peter learned, he was needed right where he was, even turning down the eventual invitation to join the Avengers he had been dreaming about. Not only was he needed, but it was what he needed.

 

  • We are not our spiritual tools. In homecoming, Spidey’s suit is a tricked-out technological marvel (courtesy of Tony Stark’s genius) complete with drones, talking on-board (maybe on suit?) computer assistant, various web-shooting options, and a “kill-mode” the computer hilariously keeps trying to turn on. Initially I wasn’t a fan. In my world, homemade web-shooters were the only tech needed, and I didn’t appreciate this radical departure from the comics. (Sidenote: I haven’t read an actual Spider-Man comic in decades and come to find out it wasn’t a drastic departure, just an exaggerated one). At one point Peter, trying to do the right thing, inadvertently foils an FBI sting operation and puts innocent lives in danger. In ironic parental-style discipline Tony Stark takes back the suit. Peter says he’s nothing without the suit, to which Tony replies, “If you think you’re nothing without it, then you’re not ready for it.” Our spiritual tools and practices are not the end-game. They are also not methods to manipulate the world around us. They are means for self-discovery; for deepening and expanding our awareness of Self and Spirit; for coming back to center; for never leaving center; for silencing the outside so we may intuit what’s inside. Our tools enhance who we really are: Divinity made visible. But we have to first (and always) believe that.

 

  • Make peace with the unexpected. We think we know how things should happen. I bristled at Spidey’s new suit, sat perplexed at hearing the ‘M’ in ‘MJ’ was for Michelle not Mary-Jane, and I’m still working on accepting the casting choice of Marisa Tomei as Aunt May. Aunt May was supposed to be an old, wise widow imparting wisdom to her teenage nephew struggling to find himself… a Crone in the best sense of the label. This younger sexier version being flirted with by waiters was too much! As I step back to observe my struggle with this, I can appreciate that I had expectations that were not fulfilled. So it goes with our spirituality: if I’m doing it right it should look this way or I should feel this way. Byron Katie says, “I am a lover of what is, not because I'm a spiritual person, but because it hurts when I argue with reality.” So much of our discontent would evaporate if we stopped wishing things were different. To be clear, accepting does not mean condoning. Katie goes on to say, “When we stop opposing reality, action becomes simple, fluid, kind, and fearless.” There will always be action, but it will now come from a clearer more centered place; from love rather than fear. And by the way, the same applies for church: when we stop struggling with how we think it should be (like what the music should sound like, what the minister should say, what people should wear) and focus on how we are showing up to spiritual community, we will love showing up.

 

  • Our relationships do not define us...except when they do. “Homecoming” did a really good job of portraying Peter’s everyday struggles and awkwardness as a teenage geek in high-school while developing into a full-fledged superhero. They’re only so many hours in the day! He repeatedly had to choose between answering the call for Spider-Man or for Peter Parker. Only he could make that choice, and only he could live with how it affected his relationships. This is the great paradox of self-discovery. It is an inside job, a work of our own choosing in our own time. And at the same time it cannot be done alone because we are never alone. There will always be people in our lives giving us feedback about ourselves, projecting their expectations on us, assuming who we should be and what we should do because of our beliefs. They are neither right nor wrong. However, they help bring clarity on how we show up in this world. All our spiritual knowledge and progress is meaningless if we don’t enhance the lives of others around us. We are the Grace of God made visible. We are the Peace of God made real. We are the Love of God bringing comfort.  We are the Joy of God lifting up. And we can only be these things with the other people in our lives.