Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Ignatius at the movies.

Since the beginning of this academic year, a small group of Jesuit scholastics here at Ciszek Hall has been meeting on Monday evenings for what we informally call "praying with film." The format for our gatherings is pretty straightforward - every week, we watch a movie and then seek to analyze it from a spiritual perspective. The inspiration for this project comes from Finding God in the Dark: Taking the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius to the Movies, a book written by two Jesuits who teach at Regis College in Toronto, John Pungente and Monty Williams. Finding God in the Dark takes the meditations of the Spiritual Exercises and pairs each one with a particular film, the idea being that an individual or group using the book would pray each meditation as they would during a retreat, watch the film keyed to the meditation and then consider how the two fit together. Some of the films chosen by the authors of Finding God in the Dark easily lend themselves to comparison with the material of the Exercises - for example, Pungente and Williams effectively use films like Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance and Requiem for a Dream to demonstrate the reality of sin and its effects. Another particularly good choice on the part of the authors was to suggest watching Mystic River in conjunction with Ignatius' meditation on the Three Classes of Persons. Some of the other films suggested in the book fall into the "loose-link" category or, in a few cases, seem to present a message contrary to the one that Pungente and Williams intend. (Pleasantville, possibly my least favorite of the movies presented in the book so far, appears to twist the fall of Adam and Eve around in such a way as to endorse sin - this clearly isn't what Pungente and Williams want us to get from the film, but it's hard to ignore the apparent intentions of the filmmakers.) Pungente and Williams offer more films for viewing than most people have time to watch, but one can easily omit a few (as my cohorts and I have done) while remaining faithful to the dynamics of the Exercises.

Though I may quibble with some of the cinematic choices made by the authors of Finding God in the Dark, I've found the book helpful both as a tool for personal reflection and as a starting point for some thought-provoking conversations with my fellow scholastics. In a broader way, Finding God in the Dark has helped sustain my abiding interest in faith and film. Many Jesuits have been active in this area, some as film scholars (such as Richard Blake, Marc Gervais and Gene Phillips) and others as filmmakers (like Mark McGregor and my hallmate Jeremy Zipple). With Finding God in the Dark, John Pungente and Monty Williams offer their own contribution to the Jesuit tradition of creative engagement with modern culture. At the same time, their work also represents an effort to present the gift of Ignatian spirituality in a new and innovative way. As a member of the group that gathers every Monday night at Ciszek to "pray with film," I appreciate what Pungente and Williams have set out to do with Finding God in the Dark. Their cinematic take on the Spiritual Exercises is worth a look, and I hope their efforts will inspire others to do more work on the same subject. AMDG.


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