Some of the best movies every year open our hearts, minds, and souls to the suffering in the world. During a compelling drama, we empathize with the characters and feel their pain. Or we watch as an initially cold and uncaring person discovers his or her compassionate nature. In those shining moments when the power and the poignancy of such a film is washing over us, we wipe away the numbness and selfishness that too often keep us closed off from others.
Films tutor us in the art of making connections. They show us how our lives are intimately related to all life on Earth and beyond. The best movies accentuate the universal elements of our experiences so we can identify with a variety of characters in different countries, centuries, and cultures. We see that what happens in one place affects all places. And the mystic in us comes alive in stories about synchronicity, fate, and destiny.
In the widest and wildest definition of devotional practice, we can express feelings of praise and adoration for the Holy One through political protest, dance, pilgrimage, making love, and serving others. In many movies, heroes and heroines pray with words and pray with actions. The rituals depicted in films also have a devotional aspect, showing us how people mark the important stages of their lives.
Enthusiasm means "one with the energy of God." It derives from words pointing to being inspired and possessed by the Divine. Enthusiastic people give everything they've got, and their attitude is contagious. Think about how many of your favorite movies have as a central character someone who is bursting with enthusiasm. This practice also covers idiosyncratic characters -- clowns, freaks, saints, and children -- who energize those around them.
Jews, Christians, and Muslims all hold to the catalytic power of faith. It enables believers to walk in the dark without fear. In the movies, faith is a path of heart that enables characters to perceive the mysterious meanings of life, to confront and overcome obstacles, and to live with doubt and paradox. Best of all are those films where we see characters take a leap of faith into the unknown.
"If you want to see the brave, look at those who can forgive," we read in the Hindu sacred poem, the Bhagavad Gita. "If you want to see the heroic, look at those who can love in return for hatred." Many of the most emotionally affecting films give us a sense of the sweet release a character feels after forgiving a person who has wronged him or her. Or, the story may swing to the other side, and we witness the uplift of someone who has received forgiveness as a healing balm. Some films focus on the shadow side of forgiveness as characters are consumed by hurt, hate, and the need for revenge.