Warning: Spoilers for the Disney+ series, “Loki.”
“You could be whoever, whatever you want to be, even someone good.
Just in case someone ever told you different.” – Mobius to Loki
We all have an idea of what we want our lives to look like, but what happens when we don’t measure up to our own ideals or those placed on us by others? The theme of “not measuring up” is a major component of Marvel’s latest Disney+ series, Loki.
If you’ve been keeping up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you know it’s getting more and more complex. You might remember that in Avengers: Endgame, a past version of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) escaped from custody with the Tessaract in hand while the Avengers were traveling through time to collect the Infinity Stones. You know, standard stuff. The Loki series begins with this scene and follows this version of Loki. Moments after escaping, he is quickly apprehended by the Time Variants Authority (TVA), a mysterious organization that monitors the flow of time. Through the TVA, we learn about the “sacred timeline,” which was supposedly established by powerful beings who dictate all events and actions throughout time.
The TVA steps in and apprehends individuals that step off of their predetermined path. These individuals are called “variants.” A person can become a variant for actions great and small: from starting an uprising to simply being late for work. For the most part, variants don’t even know that they are going against the sacred timeline. They make one decision and the TVA charges them and “prunes” them from existence. At first, this appears to be their complete destruction, but it turns out that it moves them to a place where they are out of the way. Variants are essentially thrown away and those that survive seem to lose all sense of purpose.
Is it possible that we are all variants?
As strange as the idea of a “sacred timeline” seemed to me at first, I realized that most of us believe in it in some way. Whether we realize it or not, we have our own idea of how things are supposed to go and who we are supposed to be. Through our hopes and dreams we create a sacred timeline for ourselves. Sometimes we judge ourselves based on these expectations and declare ourselves to be variants. Have you ever wished that you could go back in time and do something differently? Avoid a particular mistake or relationship? Do you often speak in “shoulds,” like “I should have done this or that”? If so, then in some way you have declared yourself to be a variant.
We might also act as if God has set up some sacred timeline with a very particular path that we have to follow. When we look at discernment from this point of view it can be scary or even debilitating. I spent years going back and forth on whether or not to join the Jesuits because I was worried about getting it wrong. I thought that if I discerned the wrong path, then I would be forever off course. Since then I’ve met many people who look at discernment in a similar way—they avoid making any choice at all out of fear. Now, don’t get me wrong, I believe that God knows all, including our entire past and future. God also has plans and desires for us, but our path is not dictated to us. God’s primary desire is that we might be with God forever, but there can be several different routes that can bring us to that destination. We need not look at ourselves or God from such a narrow point of view.
So, how do we overcome this mindset? Look for glorious purpose.
The phrase “glorious purpose,” which was first spoken in the original Avengers movie, is used a great deal in the Loki series. Loki describes himself as being “burdened with glorious purpose” at the beginning of the first episode. He sees it as his destiny to rule—to be above those around him. But this notion of his own destiny is quickly challenged by the TVA, especially when they show him the “greatest hits” of his life, including his failures, mistakes, and his own untimely death. His sense of glorious purpose, and purpose in general, fades quickly. That doesn’t mean, however, that Loki’s “burden” goes away. He eventually meets other variants of himself and they, too, seemed burdened by the idea that they were meant for more. Of all these variants, “Classic Loki,” (Richard E. Grant) seems to be especially disillusioned by the notion of glorious purpose. He is an older version of Loki who spent much of his life in solitude after judging his own purpose to be nothing but bringing pain to others. At one point he says, “We’re broken, every version of us.”
We too can become disillusioned with our own sense of purpose when things do not go as we planned. This is exacerbated when we only focus on our failures. When the TVA showed Loki different parts of his life, they only focused on his greatest mistakes and failures. The Ignatian Examen (different from the examination of conscience) can provide us with a different way of looking at our lives. The examen serves as a way of revisiting the moments of our day to see where God is present, including both our failures and successes. As part of the examen, we always review our past with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, who can help to temper judgments on ourselves. When we do recall a time in which we did not respond as we would have hoped, we do not rush to judgment. We acknowledge these moments in order to reflect on our path forward. We also ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate those moments when we have responded to God’s call in our lives, even just in small interactions or gestures. Even though the examen involves reviewing our past, it always ends looking forward.
Moving forward with God is what our own “sacred timeline” actually looks like. Not a path in which we make no mistakes. God has greater plans for us than we can even dream of and those plans are not so easily thrown off course. We may not know or ever see the greater picture, but we can get glimpses of it through the examen. In reviewing our day, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, we can see those moments when we are closest to God and when God has worked through us.
In the penultimate episode of Loki, Classic Loki performs an act of heroism in order to help Loki. While he does this he shouts out, “glorious purpose!” It was as if he finally realized the meaning of those words. After years of disappointment and hopelessness, he finally found purpose in an act of giving of himself to help others. We too might be disappointed in ourselves from time to time, but God doesn’t want us to think of ourselves as variants. Rather, we can look to Pope Francis’s assurance that “no one is useless in the Church.” That knowledge will help us to achieve small acts of kindness with great love–that’s a glorious purpose we all have to offer.