My/Our Life in Film: A “Sacred Romance” Montage

SR coverIn retrospect,      I see the ways that my passion for spiritual formation particularly ignited with a reading of Brent Curtis & John Eldredge’s The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God, back in 2001.  No, it’s not real academic in nature.  But, it themes resonated deeply in my heart then – echoing strongly still to this day.

Looking back now, I can see how several of our “explorations” have their roots here (and in attending workbooks and conference audios).  And, then there’s a host of great quotes from others that they share [as, e.g., Buechner’s words about our “original shimmering selves getting buried so deeply”]–nuggets that find themselves playing in a wide variety of our discussions.  They (Eldredge and Curtis) most certainly sent me onto a host of books to read, movies to watch, and listening playlists.

Two explorations especially come to mind as I think of The Sacred Romance:

  • Curtis & Eldredge’s incorporation of cinema and contemporary music in their presentations is clearly the basis of what has become “Reel Theology: Focused Discussions at the Intersection of Hollywood and Divine.”  A basis of the movies we review and discuss in this offering is found in Eldrege’s words:

I believe we need to hold the creeds in one hand and our favorite forms of art in the other. These are films, books, poems, songs, and paintings I return to again and again for some deep reason in my heart. Taking a closer look, I see that they all tell me about some part of the Sacred Romance. They help wake me to a deeper remembrance. As Don Hudson has said, “Are is, in the final analysis, a window on heaven.”  (Eldredge, The Sacred Romance, p. 204)

Act One: God’s Eternal Heart (for Us),

Act Two: God’s Heart/Love Betrayed,

Act Three: God’s Heart on Trial
(with “scenes” of haunting, arrows, and pursuit), and

Act Four: Heaven…

Are these not, in fact, the acts and scenes every man and woman’s journey back home to God?

Let's Go to the Movies (no border).jpgThese two threads came together a few years ago – when I melded some of my favorite movie scenes into a “Sacred Romance” montage.  Admittedly, it’s a bit choppy and jumpy…  Not real polished.  But still, it “works.”

There’s a movement in the progression of the clips (for those who care to follow).  Maybe you can see (or feel) the sequence as you watch:

from first suggestions of the power of story and metanarrative
to our original, innocent beginnings
to a sense of disorientation and alienation and disharmony… being stuck
to a sense of wakening (or the promise of such)
to a sense of finally “stepping out”—journeying, fighting the fight
to a sense that, behind it all, there’s a Love and Truth pursuing
to a sense of triumph and victory and freedom [now and coming]
to a sense of final consummation and coming home

[Click here if you’d like to see a more detailed storyboard for this montage.]

So grab a cup of your favorite beverage.
Kick up your feet.
Enjoy, yes.  (I hope.)
But, more deeply, prayerfully ponder your place in the Sacred Romance.

As you have reactions or impressions, I’d love to hear from you via comments, here below!

Join Me in an Exploration of Spiritual Formation: “Mapping Our Journeys Back Home to God”

In the coming month, I will be launching my newest online course via BeADisciple.com.

ifd238 graphic2.jpg“Exploring Spiritual Formation: Mapping Our Journeys Back Home to God” is a four-week, self-paced course which invites individuals to timeline their faith stories and, then, to compare these timelines with maps and models crafted from a variety of sources, spanning the history of the Church.

The “flow” and foci of the course might be summarized as follows:

Week #

Topic/Focus

1

Introductions, Foundational Considerations,
& “An Initial Mapping/Time-Lining of Our Stories”

2

Establishing a First Map of the Spiritual Journey
* “Awakening, Middle Chapters, and Union” (cf., Wu & Demerest)
* Hannah Hurnard’s Hinds Feet on High Places

3

Adding More Layers to Our Map
* the “threefold way” (cf., St. Bonaventure et al)
* “stages of faith” (cf, Teresa of Avila & Janet Hagberg)
* “order of salvation” (cf., John Wesley)

4

Next Steps:
Processing Practical Implications for Our Ongoing Journeys

The goal in all of this is not just to know where we’ve been and where we are, but to have some sense of what’s next… and what we might do to cooperate with the ongoing flow of God and Grace in our lives.

(A fuller course description
as well as a registration/enrollment link
are available by clicking here.)

As is true in so many subjects, analysis has its limits. It’s among the concluding points I make (in the video sample from the course, here below): that data and discussions thereof can be useful, but they are no substitute for experience. Having a map of our “journeys back home to God” can be helpful, but it counts for nothing if there’s no real progress and participation in the pilgrimage and the homecoming.

My hopes, my prayers in and surrounding this course, then,
are that it would go well beyond
a mere feeding of thoughts about the journey.
But, more — oh, so much more:

that it would provide practical wisdom
that facilitates movement and progress
in this “critical journey”

(i.e., Janet Hagberg’s label for this journey of spiritual formation)
–promoting, in each and all,
a desire to step out
more boldly
and joyfully.

As you have a question or or a comment,
feel free to leave one here, below.
Or, feel free to drop me a line at
jim.reiter@zoe-life.net.

What Simon Cowell Could Learn from The Voice: “You Can’t Judge a Book by It’s Cover!”

Culture’s crammed with heaven–
with every common show (and song) afire with God.
But only the one who listens takes off shoes;
The rest sit round, switching channels.

— Elizabeth Barrett Browning,
Aurora Leigh (paraphrased)

“That will preach,” folks have heard me say through the years – pointing to any number of meaningful object lessons or stories or movies and songs or encounters.

Britain’s Got Talent has been a source of quite a few such pronouncements through the years.  (Maybe it’s something that Simon Cowell brings to the mix?)

For our purposes here, now, I have in mind a performance by Jonathan Antoine and Charlotte Jaconelli (aka “Charlotte & Jonathan”), in 2012.  (Don’t miss it, by the way: Simon’s prejudice (his pre-judgement) – thrown out, as a quick aside, at the beginning of the clip.  See picture, below.)

simon cowellGive yourself a few minutes, then, to this preachable moment – with a cup of coffee or tea in hand… and, perhaps, a kleenex.  (I’d hope it provokes a choke and a tear!)  Here’s a sermon about how you can’t judge a book by its cover –  about how beauty and power and grace show up in the most unexpected places and people.  (And then, there’s another powerful message, near the end, of loyalty and devotion – of sticking with those who have stuck with you [in spite of messages that you might want to “dump” them].)

And the text for such message(s)?
Many to be sure…
God employing a ruddy youth to slay a giant.
A little boy’s sack lunch becoming the basis of feeding 5,000.
A Savior born in a lowly stable – first visited by outcast shepherds.
Or maybe this one from St. Paul…

26 Brothers and sisters,…  not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are…    (1 Corinthians 1:26-28)

Of course, like any good sermon, the message goes beyond the particulars of Simon Cowell and Britain’s God Talent.  To borrow from Gerald Manley Hopkins, like all truth, it “plays in 10,000 places.”

May God bless us with hearts and minds to perceive and appreciate the deeper truths and realities all around –but often (yes, very often) below the surface of what we can see!

A Voice from the Center: “Shut Up and Listen!”

As I understand it, early on in his work, Richard Rohr added the word “action” to the name of his Center in Pecos, New Mexico.  Without “action,” you see, as an essential compliment and counterbalance, contemplation can too easily digress into self-serving navel gazing.  I appreciate the ways he frames this tension, this paradox:

The most important word in our Center’s name is not Action nor is it Contemplation; it’s the word ”and“… We need both compassionate action and contemplative practice for the spiritual journey. Without action, our spirituality becomes lifeless and bears no authentic fruit. Without contemplation, all our doing comes from ego, even if it looks selfless, and it can cause more harm than good. External behavior must be connected to and supported by spiritual guidance. It doesn’t matter which comes first; action may lead you to contemplation, and contemplation may lead you to action. But finally, they need and feed each other as components of a healthy dynamic relationship with Reality.  (Rohr, adapted from an exclusive video teaching within the Living School program)

It’s a crucial word, an essential tension to maintain in our spiritual formation discussions and explorations.  It’s a variation of Wesley’s prayer that we’d “join the two so long divided: knowledge and vital piety.”  Meaningful action emerges out of authentic knowledge/contemplation.
Meaningful contemplation demands informed action.

It’s a helpful reminder as I experience the political divisiveness and social unrest in our land… and in our world.  Epitomized by the breadth and depth of ongoing protests surrounding the senseless killing of George Floyd (demonstrations which highlight strong currents and undercurrents of racism and social inequities in the fabric of our beings and our communities), the question forcefully rises from my core:

What can I do?

What am I supposed to do?

shut up and listenFor me (and here, I can’t help but wonder if it’s not something all white males should think about), the best thing I can do (at least as a start) is to “shut up and listen.”  No, it’s not the end all.  It can not and will not replace the real roll-up-your-sleeves and lay-down-your-life work that’s needed.  But, it is a start—an essential start.

“Shut up and listen!”: at its best, it’s at the intersection – the overlap – of contemplation and action.  Being still and contemplating  (i.e., really listening for) the voice of Jesus, the despair and anguish of others, the angst and reactions within me (and pondering their sources),…   AND, believing and trusting that, in a world of impulsive reactivity and defensiveness, this listening is a most meaningful action – the source of real, authentic action.

“Shut up and listen!”  It’s not easy.  In fact, it’s far more complex and difficult that I think we can imagine.  At or near its core, it raises all sorts of difficult questions:

  • To whom should I listen?
    (I’m not sure. In fact, I am rather convinced, that listening to your old familiar “stations” and commentators is really not listening.  It’s more of hearing what you want to hear—solidifying what you already are.  In fact, real listening might mean turning off the all the traditional stations and networks and commentators altogether…  and finding a more relevant and fresh voice out there.)
  • How and why will I listen?
    (Our most recent issue of Ruminations (focused on community) had a quote from Henri Nouwen that has lingered with me.  “We cannot change the world by a new plan, project, or idea. We cannot even change other people by our convictions, stories, advice and proposals. But we can offer a space where people are encouraged to disarm themselves, to lay aside their occupations and pre-occupations and to listen with attention and care to the voices speaking in their center.”  For our purposes here, now, the question is whether I am listening as one step in a series of steps aimed at controlling or planning or advising… or if I’m listening in a manner that provides a safe and disarming space that fosters a corporate listening to the Voice speaking at our center and centers.)

(It is no surprise, I’d add: how each of these questions about listening has a way of pointing to some kind of action.)

For all the ways that this listening makes sense to me
(that is, for all the ways that his word emanates from deep within),
I know there are others out there who will not see it this way.
If Facebook has taught me anything,
it’s that there is no consensus on anything these days.
So that some, seeing these words (assuming they have read this far),
will see me as a misguided soul –
duped by some establishment out there,
complicit in driving “their” agenda.
Here might be the hardest “shut up and listen” of all (at least, for me):
listening to (and trying to stay in truthful, loving relationship with)
those who have to have all the answers
and who do not know
(or even care to know)
what it is to “shut up and listen!”

Ultimately, though,
for all the ways
that more could be added,
I believe it’s time
I heeded
what I am hearing
from my center:

it’s time
to shut up
and listen!

Pentecost’s Promise of Community

Every now and then, I dream of writing another book.  It is not that I have written one, mind you.  It’s simply that a general dream of writing attaches itself to another possibility.

benedictine scanAmong the books I have actually begun to commit to writing is a reflection on the “Rule of St. Benedict” and how it’s ancient wisdom can speak to the Church today. So much is there for the benefit of clergy, individual congregants, and entire congregations.  In a world which is every bit as tumultuous and threatening as Benedict’s 5th Century, the security and stability of a “cloister” (i.e., an enclosure or garden) would seem to be a necessity as much now as ever.

Benedict writes, for example, in chapter 1 or his Rule, about there being “Four Kinds of Monastics.” So doing, I overhear his writing about four kinds of church members:

  • There is the (very rare and exceptional) “anchorite” who has outgrown the need for community in his/her spiritual growth;
  • There is the “sarabite” who walks with one foot on the Church rolls… and one foot in the world—making claims on the Church when it suits them or meets their needs;
  • There is the “gyrovague” who hops from setting to setting in pursuit of a community in their own image;
  • And, then, there are the “cenebites” who yoke themselves to one community and authority over time. (These are the “strong kind” for whom Benedict intends his Rule.

Here, it might be important to reflect upon an important word and concept in Benedictine thought and practice.  While it will not make its formal entrance into the Rule until the end of Chapter 5, the concept of “stability” is very much in mind and heart in this chapter and in the inferred elevation of the “cenobite” over the other two kinds of monks we’ve discussed.  Stability: the “commitment to faithfulness where we are.”   (Canham, Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation, p. 35)

For all the many things stability is, it is most certainly the affirmation that living in community is a “means of Grace.”  Among other things, it’s the recognition that far from being someone I need to get away from, my neighbor  is a mirror through whom and with whom I can and do discover myself – and, paradoxically, an “image of God.”  Stability is a vow to attach myself to that lens, that mirror (not to mention the other gifts of community).  Stability is not something monks are when they come to the monastery.  Stability is something they do.  It is the commitment by which they anchor themselves to, root themselves in, stand in solidarity with a given community – believing that Grace can use that commitment to a given time and ruminations June 2020 (rotate + shadow)place and relationships in its ongoing work of conversion.

In an issue entitled, “Community & Spiritual Companionship as a Means of Grace,” we are exploring this notion further via this week’s publication of Ruminations, a free quarterly/seasonal resource.

Among the gifts of Pentecost, you see, is loving, Spirit-filled community – a reversal of all the babel and confusion which divides.