When we were choosing passages for our book Spiritual Literacy to illustrate how to read the "book of the world" from a spiritual perspective, we found that certain words kept coming up in our conversations. An author writing about some aspect of everyday life expressed "gratitude" or "wonder." Another revealed the importance of "teachers" or "connections." Still others demonstrated how to express "compassion," "reverence," and "faith." Eventually, we identified 37 key words and organized them into the Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy.

As we worked with this alphabet, we realized that these words signify practices that are recognized by all the world's religions as being markers of the spiritual life. If you want to know what makes something "spiritual," look for them.

This, then, is one of the trade secrets of our book, audio, film, and video reviewing. We are constantly watching for evidence of the 37 practices.

How do you find spirituality in today's films? Here's what we look for. How can you make watching a film into a spiritual experience? Here's what we do.


Buddha says everything comes down to one thing — staying awake. The film experience — a darkened room, eyes focused on a screen, few distractions — supports the practice of attention, but it still doesn't come naturally. You have to consciously notice what is happening on the screen so that in the rush of images you don't miss a clue or an epiphany. Many movies will be big events with spectacular special effects and soaring soundtracks where the signs are obvious. Others will be little slice-of-life pictures where God is in the details. Some will feature characters that have a gift for attention revealed in the way they observe the world around them. Attention is a spiritual quality you bring to the film as well as one you may find demonstrated in the story.


There are countless moments of beauty in movies. But to relish these treasures, you have to — as the Native Americans put it — walk the path of beauty. Make an intention before watching a film to enjoy the beauties unspooling before your eyes: the beauty of place; the beauty of face; the beauty of acts of kindness, goodness, and selfless love; the beauty of community; the beauty of connection between people. You will know when you've walked this path in the theater when you come away feeling your soul has been deeply nourished. That will also signal that the movie is an example of beauty.


Movies compel us to be present. It's in the very nature of the experience that we have to live in the moment. All we need is right here now on the screen. Going to the movies, then, is good training for the practice of being present. At the same time, some films give us a glimpse of one benefit of heightened presence, what in sports is called a "sweet spot of time" when everything seems effortless, fluid, and free.

Page 2: Compassion - Forgiveness

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