The informal classroom of feature films has a lively and varied spiritual curriculum. The practice of teachers involves learning to recognize the lessons all around us and the many sources they come from. This happens in movies all the time as the characters come to new understandings of themselves and their world thanks to the influence of a mentor, a friend, or a lover. Situations, the stuff of the plot, are also teachers. As Rabbi David Cooper writes, "Every experience is a challenge; a teaching is always hidden in it." Notice how often what someone says or does is just what you need to know.


One of the most popular and timeless motifs in the movies is the story of how something happens and the character finds his or her life turned around. The catalyst may be immensely dramatic or so subtle that you barely notice it. In any case, film is an ideal medium to convey the process of change with its emphasis upon time, motion, and energy. Transformation films proclaim that no matter who you are and what has happened to you, it is still possible to be and to do something new.


Another popular theme in the movies is people who have been estranged coming together again. The drama may open with an explanation of what separates the characters — personality, background, gender, class, culture, or religion. Along the way, then, they discover that despite their differences they have much in common, and they reestablish old bonds or forge new ones. Other unity films depict the strength that comes through community in stories of people working together for a common cause.


The spiritual practice of vision covers both the otherworldly revelations of those with extraordinary perceptions and the down-to-earth thinking required for ethical decision-making. Visionaries in the movies run the gamut from shamans and psychics to politicians and teachers. One key to recognizing them is their effect on you. They often will help you see reality in a new way and encourage your idealism.


The movie theater is the ideal setting to practice what comedian Lily Tomlin calls in one of her skits "awe-aerobics." Look at the screen with the curiosity of a child and you will see many marvels. Some films really give your senses a workout — vivid colors, rich sounds, images so real you can almost taste and touch them. Your wonder may be evoked as the movie camera caresses a stunning vista or lingers over a banquet of food.

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