Practicing Cinematographeum Divina (Theology at the Theater, Part 4)

If you have followed this blog series from the beginning, you know we’ve been discussing how our experience of film can augment our relationship with God through a process I call cinematographeum divina. To read more about that, please read Theology at the Theater, Part 2, here.

Let’s see how this 6-step process can be applied to another Sundance film, Abraxas.

Step One: Silencio (Preparation)

I had time to center myself before the film started.

Step Two: Specto (Watch)

We meet Jonen the punk-rocker slashing his guitar and rolling around on the ground.  Then we see him in quiet meditation as a monk.  Which is his true calling?  Can he do both?

The overwhelming theme that popped out to me in this film directed by Naoki Kato was how important it is for us to discover and live out our calling in life.  This theme was most evident in the character of Jonen, who finally discovers a way to intertwine his calling as a monk and heavy punk-rocker, despite the issues it created in the lives of those around him.

This idea of calling was also seen in the character of another man in town who took on his dad’s business out of a sense of duty instead of calling.  In a strange turn of events, he commits suicide.  It seems life was not worth living, if one could not live out their calling.

Step Three: Meditatio (Reflect)

As person who lives to help people discover and live out their calling in life, I found this film amazing.  It reminded me that finding our voice and understanding our sense of calling is what life is about.  If we miss our calling, we end our life early even if we don’t take our life.

Yet to discover and live out our calling in life has a cost.  For Jonen it involved a couple of things.  First, Jonen practiced moments of silence regularly in his life, which is probably one of the reasons he hears his calling.  When we sit in silence we no longer get lost in the noise of the various voices calling us; we are able to find our true calling and live it out.

The other cost is that, often, living out our calling costs those around us. For example, Genshu, the resident temple priest made some decisions on behalf of Jonen, to his own detriment.  Many questioned his ability to live out his calling as a priest because of his support for Jonen.

In addition, Jonen’s wife seemed to have major issues with him being a heavy punk-rocker.  This was something Jonen had to work out on a daily basis and eventually resolve. Additionally, many people in the town had certain expectations of how a Buddhist monk ought to live his life, and being a heavy metal punk rocker didn’t quite fit their expectations.  Yet in spite of all these social pressures, Jonen decided to live out his calling, and became a hero for me.

Step Four: Oratio (Respond)

My initial response to this film was one of great joy.  One of my biggest passions in life is that people would have the courage and wisdom to discover and live out their calling, whatever the cost might be.  For the cost of not discovering and living out our calling is undoubtedly greater, as shown in the man who committed suicide years before he took his life.

Also, as a pastor for the last twenty years, I recognize that the people I serve have certain expectations for me, some that are healthy, some that are not. Often different people have contradictory expectations, which means that it is impossible to please everyone. Thus, I have found it best to live for an audience of One in a humble way.

Another reason I identified with Jonen was because I’m at a cross roads in my own life as it relates to my calling.  I’m seeking discernment and I’ve realized the important practice of silence in this time.  Yet I often find it a struggle to slow down with deadlines crushing in all around me.

Step Five: Contemplatio (Rest)

I took some time in the evening after the film to sit in silence and give my life freshly to God.

Step Six: Incarnatio (Resolve)

This film reminded me of two quotes that I think about often.  This first one is by an unknown source. “You can’t make footprints in the sands of time with your butt, and who wants to make butt prints in the sands of time?”

The second one comes from the pen of Fredrick Buechner who says, “Calling is where your deep hunger meets the world’s deepest needs.”

Through this film I’m reminded of the fact that every human being on this earth has a calling, and the moments where we are most fully alive are not when we are on vacation, but when we are striving and stretching to discover and live out our calling.

After watching this film, I was stirred to take more moments of silence, especially in my current time of discernment.  I was also encouraged to strengthen my resolve to take the sabbatical that I’ve been planning to take this summer.

The world is noisy and sometimes screaming with needs, but I realize that if I’m going to hear my calling, it requires paying attention to God, being fully present with who I am, and how God wants to uniquely use me to meet needs in the world.

Secondly, this film strengthened my resolve to continue to learn how to help others discover and live out their calling in life. I’m committed to continue to acquire tools that enable me to do this with passion and wisdom. Mark Twain said, “Most men die at 27, we just bury them at 72.”  I hope to change that. My mission in life is to awaken people to join God in the renewal of all things, according to how God has made them.

Good filmmakers are the poets and prophets of our day, for they freshly awaken our imaginations through life shaping stories.  The tens of thousands of hours that are invested in creating films have the potential to touch people’s lives in ways that reshape their desires and enable them to be fully human.

Films are powerful. But if we are going to capture the full power of films, we need to finds ways in which film watching becomes a communal spiritual discipline.  One such way is through cinematographeum divina.  Of course, there are other ways to do this as well.

My hope in this series of posts is that you would be encouraged to watch film as a communal spiritual discipline. For we are all theologians, and we can do theology everywhere, including the theater.

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JR Woodward
JR Woodward is a church planter, activist, missiologist and author of Creating a Missional Culture (IVP, 2012). He co-founded the Ecclesia Network and Missio Alliance. He currently serves as the National Director for the V3 Church Planting Movement and is pursuing a PhD at the University of Manchester (UK).
JR Woodward

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