Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Theology at the Theater: Watching Film as a Communal Spiritual Discipline – Part 4

The Sundance Film Festival is just around the corner.  I’m excited to watch over a dozen movies next week.  In light of that, I have been doing this series on Theology at the Theater. If you need to catch up with the series, you can check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 first.

Cinematogrpheum Divina – Finding the Sacred in Film
Just as there are six basic movements with lectio divina, so it is with cinematographeum divina. Let me briefly walk you through the six steps then I will explore a couple films I saw at Sundance to demonstrate how to engage this spiritual discipline. While one could practice this spiritual discipline alone, the experience will be much richer if done with a group of people. As Moltmann has said, “Theology is like a network of rivers, with reciprocal influences and mutual challenges. It is certainly not a desert in which every individual is alone with himself or herself, and with his or her God. For me, theological access to the truth of the triune God is through dialogue. It is communitarian and co-operative (Moltmann 2000:xvii). So what are the six movements?

Step One: Silencio (Preparation)
Take a moment of silence in order to be fully present at the film, receiving the film on its own ground with a critical openness.

Step Two: Specto (Watch)
When watching the film it is important to pay attention to where you have meaningful connection with the film, be it with the plot, a particular character, a dialogue, a music score, a song or an image. What stands out to you?

Step Three: Meditatio (Reflect)
Now take some time to focus in on what struck you. If it was the plot, what was it about the plot that caught your attention? If a theme, what was it about the theme that resonated with you or that shocked you? If it was a character, in what way did you identify or not identify with the character? If it was a song or a symbol, what was it about the song that caused it to stand out to you?

Step Four: Oratio (Respond)
What is God saying to you through this? Perhaps you were touched in a place of pain, frustration or anger. This is a time to pour out these feelings to God. Perhaps there is a flash of self-knowledge and you were convicted of a sin. Take a moment to confess it. Maybe God is calling you to a new adventure. This is a time to respond to what God is doing.

Step Five: Contemplatio (Rest)
After giving your response its full expression, take a moment to release and return to a place of rest in God.

Step Six: Incarnatio (Resolve)
As you emerge from this place of encounter, take time to contemplate how God has used this film to touch you and ask him how he might want you to enflesh this word in the concrete spaces of your life. Resolve to take what God has shown you and live it out in the context of your daily life.

The way this would happen with a group, is you give each person a copy of these six movements prior to going to the theater or watching a DVD at your home. Then before watching the film, take some time to quiet yourself so that you might be fully present to the film. Then after watching the film, someone could lead people through the rest of the steps. After step three, depending on the size of the group (if it is large group, you may want to break it up into small groups for more vibrant discussion), you could have each person share what stood out to them. There could also be a time for discussion after steps four and six.

The beauty of art is that it has the power to reshape our desires and our imaginations. Films are stories, which shape us. As Detweiler says, the “most timely, relevant, and haunting films resonate with the shaping story of scripture: from beauty of creation, through the tragedy of self-destruction, to the wonder of restoration” (257), and both general and special revelation “are complementary gifts for navigating the complexities of life, for fueling our dreams, and for enduring our disappointments” (263). So what does this look like in practice? That is what the next post in the series is about.

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