THE BLOG
05/24/2010 07:55 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

I Once Was Found and Now I Am Lost : Reflections on the Religious and Spiritual Dimensions of Lost

By Bradley B. Onishi with Albert Silva

It is not a matter of gods or of God. Lost's narrative was never about deities. Yet, the manifestations of the metaphysical and paranormal were obvious from the pilot to the finale. From start to finish, Lost gave us demons, spirits, voices, hauntings, and mystical experiences related to destiny. Over the course of its six seasons, Lost constructed its own version of the sacred through various forms of rituals, resurrections, consecrated sites, and elaborate temples. If there are idols and representations of the divine, there is no worship. If there is an origin story, there is no creation story. And if the themes of faith, redemption, penance, and forgiveness were clear throughout the show's duration, the finale certainly did not provide a definitive form of salvation (just ask Ben or Mr. Eko or Ana Lucia or...).

Whatever your opinion might be concerning the overall quality of the resolution of Lost, in terms of the show's religious and spiritual themes, last night's finale was a fittingly esoteric ending to a narrative that has always been permeated by spiritual and religious themes but conspicuously void of tangible or visible deities. Certainly, Lost's religiosity captivated different portions of its massive viewership for a myriad of reasons. After all, one of the brilliant aspects of the series has always been its ability to balance coherence and consistency with a startling amount of mystery and surprise. I have to admit that I am not one for fantasy or science-fiction. I don't buy paperbacks in order to get lost in magical worlds or mysterious realms. Yet Lost turned me into a rabid and overly analytical disciple. In the last two years, I have routinely followed up professional meetings with colleagues with boisterous discussions of what the Smoke Monster might really be or why the Island keeps traveling through time.

After watching last night's finale, I became convinced more than ever that part of Lost's captivating appeal comes from the nature of its distinct religious and spiritual motifs. Despite the overwhelming presence of symbols from a variety of religious traditions and time periods, Lost was never about transcending the human realm in order to become divine. Lost's religious dimensions reflect a persistent, almost maniacal desire to be human (see the Man in Black). The reconciliation island-time with the sideways flashes in the finale played on the themes of awakening and realization. Jacob was candid with the candidates when he told them that their lives were broken and characterized by loneliness. They needed the Island as much as it needed them. But they didn't need it as a reprieve or sanctuary. It is a sacred Island, but here the sacred is terrifying, confusing, and painful. It does not serve to provide rest or comfort but a jolting awakening from a resigned acceptance of the stifling amount of frustration, boredom, and dissatisfaction that characterizes large portions of everyday life. Our heroes are not on a quest to get to paradise or return to the Garden of Eden. In fact, it is just the opposite. They are in paradise, but paradise has not turned out to be what we thought it was. Their goal is not to stay on the Island to create a Utopian community; their goal, despite the loneliness and brokenness they left behind, is to return back to the world -- back to the profane realm.

As a result, the collective spirituality reflected in Lost's characters communicates that the goal is not an exit from the profane in order to experience the sacred. The logic is not one that reads the everyday world as something to be escaped. Rather, the lesson is that often we take for granted the beauty of the profane. The sacred isn't always the Good. It is just the opposite: sometimes you have to have terrifying sacred encounters with a Smoke Monster -- a Smoke Monster who wants desperately to have his limiting, finite, imperfect body returned to him -- in order to realize just how badly you want to be a walking, talking, breathing human being with frustrations, obstacles, and inescapable limitations.

However, despite its distinct religiosity, Lost's definitive mythological element is familiar. In a narrative full of surprises and unbelievable mystery, the resolution hinges on a very traditional formulation of a foundational theme: love. The last scene of the show took place at the long-awaited funeral of the dead Father (whose voice narrated the beginning of each episode), who had been present all along. It seems that in Lost, God the Father was dead from the beginning, but the last scene makes clear that it didn't prevent him from doing a good deal of shepherding. In the scene, Jack speaks with his father, Christian Shephard, in a room filled with crosses and other traditional Christian symbols, although this was nothing new for Lost. The show has always been able to interweave symbols and themes from different religious traditions in a way that leaves the viewer unable to categorize the different religious elements into neat categories. There are no straight lines, 90-degree angles, or neat analogies in regard to the show's religious and spiritual dimensions. One of the show's ingenious feats was its ability to mystify its viewers vis-à-vis the juxtaposition of various religious symbols and themes in a manner that left them irreducibly related. In season six alone, Lost presented an origin story that recalled the biblical story of Jacob and Esau, a temple controlled by a Japanese-speaking alchemist, the resurrection of Sayid, and Hurley's constant encounters with the dead. If Jacob's governance of the Island generated comparisons with certain biblical characters in one moment, his residence in an underground temple near a massive Egyptian idol shattered the hopes of turning him into a biblical type in the next. Despite the presence of the Father in the church, the Christian symbolism was not the definitive element of Lost's resolution.

As it turns out, the myth governing Lost's religiosity was based on the logic of love. In a series that included fantastical elements at the core of its narrative (a time-traveling island, earth-shattering electromagnetic energy, and don't forget the Light at the center of the Island that may or may not make existence possible) without reverting to tired formulas or cheesy plot lines, the narrative hinges upon the good old-fashioned myth of the soulmate. If we were not given a recast version of a transcendent, monotheistic religious universe, in the end Lost did give us another manifestation of the myth of the One -- not the One God, but the One Soulmate, the one who can awake you from your slumber in order to help you realize who you really are, whether in this realm, this temporal dimension, or in those that lie before or beyond them. There have not been many disappointing scenes throughout the six seasons of the show, but the way the last scene shaped up was striking -- there they were, this disparate and often hostile group of individuals, all paired up into pairs of heterosexual, love-struck soulmates. When the camera panned across the pews, Locke was the only one who sat alone. Strangely enough, as it turns out, the deities remained absent in Lost's religious universe, but the One was omnipresent from the start.