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“The Flash,” Fear, and the Kenosis of Marriage

April 16, 2018


I’m a huge fan of The Flash. The CW has had my viewership since they created Supernatural. I would count myself as a storyteller, and I know that every story always points back to the ultimate Creator. All of creation reaches back to its Creator. I look for that reality all around me, and most recently, I found it in “The Flash,” season 4, episode 16: “Run, Iris, Run.”

This episode has several themes: the isolating nature of fear, the natural call to holiness, and the altruism of marriage. For this, I would like to focus on the altruism of marriage or the kenotic love of the sacrament of matrimony.

Setting the stage, Barry and Iris were married a few episodes ago. Their lives are intertwined through almost every facet imaginable, and for the most part, they are both defined by their roles on “Team Flash”—Barry is the speedster (aka The Flash) and usually out in the field, while Iris is the boss, working her magic from a bird’s eye view by guiding the time using technology at their headquarters (usually not in the field).

The pivotal point comes early on in the episode when Iris tries to empower another Team Flash member (Ralph) who is living in the isolation that fear causes. From within that fear, he lashes out at Iris: “You don’t have any concept of how dangerous it is for me out there…You’re always back there hiding safe and sound while the rest of us are out in the field putting our lives on the line.”

Obviously, Ralph speaks out of fear at this moment, which is a whole other topic, but this is how the enemy sometimes works. He uses our brothers and sisters to plant seeds of doubts during their (and our) moments of weakness, moments of disquietude. It’s also worth mentioning that prior to this line from Ralph, Iris tried to refute him with: “I am the leader of this team!” A lion doesn’t need to roar to show himself to be a lion.

Now through a strange turn of events, Barry’s speedster power is transferred to Iris. This further escalates Iris and Barry’s struggle with their identities—Iris, involving her leadership and place on the team, and Barry, regarding the recent loss his job and (seemingly) never-ending quest against his latest foe.

They end up having to switch their normal positions on the team in light of the transference of power. Iris becomes the speedster in the field and Barry runs point back at headquarters. They each face hardships when they are thrust into their new “identities”—Iris is unsure of how to use her powers and Barry can’t explain how he has utilized them in the past.

Iris ends up going back out into the field, and amid her self-doubt, she is empowered by Barry’s encouragement, which inevitably runs back to the show’s title and one of its favorite lines: “Run, Iris, Run.” 

In the end, Iris and Barry both thrive in their new positions but not without help from the other, and they both return to their previous positions, positions in which they utilized their individual charisms the best, and that they grow more fond of when they are taken from them.

Now all of this somehow leads me to the kenosis required of the husband and wife within the sacrament of marriage. There is an individual call for each to “pour themselves out” for the other, a self-emptying (kenotic) love. This can sometimes invite us or even thrust us into environments with which we are not accustomed. 

I have found that there are gifts that have been given to my husband and I, individually, as well as gifts that we both share in together. Within our individual gifts, we are more fully ourselves and find the best avenue for self-emptying. These gifts are not the only avenues, but they have proven to be the best for each of us.

On the other hand, there are situations which call us into further self-emptying through the use of gifts that “feel” unnatural to us or gifts that require more effort on our part to put them to best use. In those unnatural environments, there is a deeper level of humiliation (of dying, of kenosis) that is found because in order to use the gift, we must turn to someone that has used it before, that naturally exercises their theosis (transformation to the likeness of God) within this method of kenosis. This ebb and flow is beautifully exemplified in the sacrament of marriage.

While we live in a state of kenosis, there is an added benefit of a sharper reflection of God when our “light” is shined outward instead of inward. While we are the mirror, we are unable to see such a reflection but rely heavily on the other to remind us that the reflection is indeed the face of God, even when we have muddled the surface of the mirror with our dust and smudges or insecurities and self-doubt. We encourage one another and wipe away that which has been marred to reveal a perfect reflection of the Godhead when our hermeneutic is for the Other.

In the last scene of “Run Iris Run,” Iris explains what she believes makes a speedster great, and I believe the same applies to what makes each of us great: “It’s being the light that everyone needs when the world goes dark.”

So in the spirit of Easter, let us follow the Son into death only to rise with him in the light of the Resurrection. Where must I die in order to live more fully? Maybe the best way is by living just as Rachel is called to live. The world is not in need of a thousand of the same person—a thousand Mother Teresas or Padre Pios—but perhaps, enlightened by their holiness, we may be fully ourselves, inspiring those that live in darkness to walk out into the light.