Reel Spirit: A Guide to Movies That Inspire, Explore and Empower
(Unity House, 2000)
Reel Spirit gives a refreshing perspective to movie watching. The first anthology of spiritual movies, Reel Spirit includes reviews and synopses of some 400 movies that truly matter. These are movies that put you in touch with your true spiritual nature, perhaps change your way of looking at the world, and help you understand and love yourself and other people.
This invaluable reference guide covers all types and genres of movies that span the history of cinema, beginning in the early 1900s. It includes such films as the Stars Wars series, It’s a Wonderful Life, The Lion King, The Wizard of Oz, Life Is Beautiful, When Harry Met Sally, Malcolm X, and National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
Robert Osborne, host of Turner Classic Movies, praises Reel Spirit as “a great guide for family viewing.” Tim Miejan, editor of The Edge, remarks that the endearing nature of the book is that it “prompts us to think in a new way.”
Shadow’s Stand (Unity House, 2001)
Shadow’s Stand is a powerful young adult novel, a story for all ages. Perfect for dog lovers! Inspired by a true story, the book centers on a mysterious dog called Shadow who is living on a median strip of a busy city street; a troubled boy named Shake who has an appreciation of life despite challenging family circumstances; and Becca, a 14-year-old ninth-grader who is a budding journalist and whose life changes as she becomes involved with both Shadow and Shake. It’s ultimately a story of compassion, love, and our connection with one another.
Revs. Frank and Margaret Pounders, Unity of Irving, Texas, call Shadow’s Stand “a sensitive and very interesting adventure with great understated morality. A good read for all ages.”
Reel Spirit and Shadow’s Stand are available on Amazon.com.
The Christ Within (Unity, 2000)
This booklet in a series Exploring Spirituality for the 21st Century examines the phrase “It is not I, but the Christ within who does the work.” That “Christ,” the author explains, is the universal presence of God that is the true essence of each person, of whatever spiritual path, nationality or ethnicity.
The Christ Within, says Unity minister Allen Liles, “is many faceted: mystical, metaphysical, academic and comforting. Not a bad combination.”
Copies may be ordered by calling Unity at 1-800-669-0282.
Three inspiring essays:
You check your car’s oil and gauge air in the tires,
Balance your checkbook,
Measure flour for baking,
Feel the moisture in your house plants,
Assess your appearance in the mirror.
When was the last time you checked your joy level?
Whenever – if ever – ask yourself these questions:
How much joy is in your life now?
What brings you joy?
How can you add more joy to your life?
Like love and peace, joy is one of the attributes most associated with our spiritual core – a basic, constant aspect of God.
A favorite chant from Paramhansa Yogananda goes:
“From joy I came,
For joy I live,
In sacred joy,
I melt again.”
Keeping in touch with our joy level and maintaining a joyful high is important to a sense of well-being. We need to give ourselves regular joy checks.
A friend recently reminded us of the value of such checks. After several years of health, relationship and career challenges, it dawned on him that he had lost his sense of joy.
“I realized that I can reclaim my joy,” he said. “It’s my choice.”
He began by playing an upbeat song and dancing with abandon, and by recalling stifled dreams and making plans to fulfill them. He ended a relationship that wasn’t bringing him joy. “You need someone who makes you laugh,” his son told him.
Check your joy, and make the changes needed to experience what you want. Possibilities and activities are endless: Would it give you joy to wear bright colors, play with children, sing, laugh, tell jokes, visit with friends, hike, watch movies, act in a play, start a hobby, travel, take quiet time to ponder the Ultimate?
Joy is always ours to be claimed. Go for it – and joy to your world!
“Love Is the Only Medicine”
This is a love letter to You, Love.
I could say it’s a love letter to God, the Universe, the Absolute, All That Is by whatever name. “Love” carries less emotional baggage with religions and dogmas than some of Your other names. So I’ll call You Love.
After all, the Bible says “God is love.” That’s about as direct as You can get.
This letter began forming in my head, I realize now, in Rishikesh, India. I was on the banks of the holy Ganges, listening to temple bells ring out across the foothills of the Himalayas. It sounded as if the bells were saying to me, “God, I love you; God, I love you,” over and over and over. “God, I love you; God, I love you.”
You’ve really been on my mind since then.
I guess what I want to do is apologize – for all the times I and my brothers and sisters haven’t fully acknowledged what Love truly is – namely, everything.
You see (I know), that we get lost in Love’s earthly reflections. We obsess on the material trappings. A full-page ad for diamond rings proclaims, “What extraordinary love looks like.” Au contraire.
We fail to realize or remember that love in any form – puppy, platonic, romantic, whatever -- is a glimpse of Divine Love.
In our human experiences, we first come to know something about Divine Love through expressing love to each other. And that is as it should be and is wonderful.
In her classic book Lessons in Truth, Emilie Cady says, “We cannot see love, nor grasp any comprehension of what love is, except as love is clothed with a form. All the love in the universe is God. The love between husband and wife, between parents and children, is just the least little bit of God, as pushed forth through visible form into manifestation.”
There is so much more love. Plato said, “All loves should be simply stepping stones to the love of God.”
I’m apologizing for the times we stop on the stepping stones. I’m sorry because we are missing the fullness of Love – and therefore of ourselves – when we don’t see Love everywhere, as the all-inconclusive, ever-creating energy of everything.
It’s not that we aren’t reminded frequently by the great sages and seers of every age, including our own.
American mystic Charles Fillmore said that love “is the power that joins and binds in divine harmony the universe and everything in it.” Sort of a spiritual glue.
Amma, the Indian “hugging saint” recognized as an embodiment of Mother Love, agrees: “In the end, love is the only medicine that can heal the wounds of the world. In this universe, it is love that binds everything together. Love is the very foundation, beauty and fulfillment of life. If we dive deep enough into ourselves, we will find that the one thread of universal love ties all beings together. As this awareness dawns within us, all disharmony will cease. Abiding peace alone will reign.”
Thank you, Love, for our capacity to awaken to the truth of our existence, to Love itself.
Novelist Elizabeth Goudge in her autobiography The Joy of the Snow tells about the death of her father, an Anglican minister, in 1939. Goudge sat with her unconscious father in a nursing home. The nurses told her that he would never regain consciousness, but he did. Appearing to come back from some great distance, Goudge’s father said slowly and distinctly, “Dear one, it is loving that matters,” and then “drifted away again upon the great, peaceful journey.” Goudge herself concluded, “Only love remains important and is immortal.”
A friend, Hal Mallet, confided in me that after a lifetime of studying religions, earning a doctorate in theology, and performing all the duties of a Presbyterian minister and chaplain, he had come to the conclusion that everything boils down to love. That’s really the only thing that is important and needs to be taught, Hal said.
In the introduction to A Course in Miracles, Jesus tells us that love’s presence is our natural inheritance. He says, “The opposite of love is fear, but what is all-encompassing can have no opposite.” In other words, God, who is Love, is all there is, all that really exists.
You love us, I’m sure, whether we remember or not – and no matter how long it takes us to remember. Still, I apologize for our memory lapses.
Bonnie has a quote on her office wall: “Where love rules there is no will to power.”
May we conquer spiritual amnesia and remember that there really is only Love to rule.
“You gotta ring them bells!”
At the age of 94, Charles Fillmore, co-founder of the Unity spiritual movement, said, “I fairly sizzle with zeal and enthusiasm and spring forth with a mighty faith to do the things that ought to be done by me.”
Now there was a major passion player!
“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” declared another passionate trouper, Auntie Mame of book, play and movie fame.
The passion players – those living with enthusiasm and exuberance – have landed the plum roles on our earthly stage. Acting out their life with gusto, they inspire others to do the same.
A few more starring role models of dynamic and positive energy, from life and fiction:
--Sally Bowles, lead character in the musical Cabaret, “What good is sitting alone in your room? Come hear the music play. Life is a cabaret, old chum, come to the cabaret . . . Start by admitting from cradle to tomb, isn’t that long a stay.”
—Helen Keller, “When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.”
—My 102-year-old hospice patient, “You do what you can when you can.”
—Rocky, Lionel’s elderly father in the BBC’s As Time Goes By, whose response to any new adventure is always, “Rock on!”
—Liza Minnelli singing the Kander-Ebb song “Ring Them Bells” about 31-year-old Shirley Devore who finally leaves her parent’s house and travels around the world to meet the boy next door: “You gotta ring them bells . . . Make ‘em sing and really ring them bells. You gotta swing them, ring them, swing them, and really ring them bells!”
Shirley doesn’t find a life for herself until she works up some passion for life. She has to take the action. In its refrain, the song emphasizes the personal responsibility of passion: You must do the ringing. You must have the passion. No one can do it for you.
—My late wife Sylvia, who chose in her last years with leukemia always to be grateful for whatever physical abilities she still retained and for all the love in her life. Her final diary entry was simply, sublimely, “So much love.”
Sylvia shared the conviction of Viktor E. Frankl, author of Man’s Search for Meaning, that “Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: ...to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” She chose to live, all the way, with enthusiasm.
Some people seem to have a natural, ever-ready passion for living.
Others once had passion but lost it to repeated hard knocks and depression. They may be unable to lose the sadness, loneliness or meaninglessness that brought them down; they just go through the motions of life.
Still others learn, through example and their own practice, to bring more feeling and fervor into their lives. They adopt Frankl’s belief in the importance of attitude, letting their own attitude soar.
Passion players don’t have passive roles but active ones. They rush onto the stage of life, having fun with their parts, and choosing—always choosing—to sizzle with zeal, ring them bells, open those doors, step up to the banquet, and rock on!
Science of Mind magazine cover story, “Moving Images: Finding Inspiration in Film,” October, 2001
Newlyweds, played by James Stewart and Carole Lombard, were learning to cope with new challenges in a pleasant 1930’s film titled Made for Each Other that my wife, Sylvia, and I were watching on video one evening.
Suddenly it happened – that moment when the movie truly leaves its inspirational mark. Louise Beavers, a talented character actress playing a domestic, offers this homespun advice: “Never let the seeds stop you from enjoying the watermelon.”
Amen! Say it again, Louise. She doesn’t, but the line stays in my mind. I recall it and make it my own whenever I find myself slipping into negativity or getting caught up in perceived problems. Okay, I say to myself, I am not going to let the seeds stop me from enjoying the watermelon.
For me, that’s the true magic of the movies – the ability of cinematic stories and characters to inspire and empower us as they connect with our spiritual essence. Such magic may light up a whole movie, as in The Sound of Music or Billy Elliot, or it may especially shine in one character, scene, or line, such as from Made for Each Other.
Movies that champion the human spirit, inspire and empower, and explore the fullness and meaning of life – Reel Spirit movies, I call them – come in all descriptions and genres: romances, historical dramas, war epics, comedies, tragedies, science fiction, musicals, westerns, blockbusters, award-winners, B movies, G-rated and R-rated.
We have a rich heritage of life-affirming, life-enhancing movies, beginning especially in the 1930’s and 1940’s, with beloved titles like City Lights, Lost Horizon, The Enchanted Cottage, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and The Bishop’s Wife, and continuing through recent years with films such as Gandhi, Field of Dreams, Forrest Gump, What Dreams May Come, The Iron Giant, and Erin Brockovich.
In this age of increased spiritual exploration and renewal, the movies have become our cultural storyboard for a great awakening. At this point in the evolution of human consciousness and creativity, it is divinely logical that Infinite Spirit would use one of today’s most popular pastimes (for example, an estimated 70 percent of Americans go to the movies) as a way to show us what really matters in life.
By their glamorous, larger-than-life nature, movies always have influenced society’s actions and tastes, just as they have served as visual records of times and attitudes. Some people rail against movies as being basically unwholesome and immoral. The truth is that movies have always shown us at our best as well as at our worst.
Unquestionably, many older and newer films depict humans walking on the wilder side of life, but many others provide uplifting perspectives on life. Movies that communicate feelings of love, joy, peace, and understanding are those through which our divine or Higher Self is expressing; movies that do not communicate love, joy, peace, and understanding are those through which our human self is acting as director.
By choosing and watching films with messages of inspiration and empowerment and incorporating these messages into our lives, we can improve not only our own outlooks and conditions but also help influence those of people around us and in society generally. Dialogue about these movies and issues can lead to increased family communication while sharing entertainment, and help us find meaningful direction and purpose in life.
A lifelong movie buff, ever since seeing The Wizard of Oz at the age of seven, I first became truly aware of Reel Spirit movies after my family’s house was destroyed by fire in 1985. After the fire, my wife, our ten-year-old daughter, Alexandra, and I needed time to heal from our losses, so we moved from a large city to a rural town.
Away from choices of movie theaters and other cultural opportunities, we bought a television and a VCR for the first time and began watching movies at home. I noticed that we were being intuitively drawn to those movies filled with hope, inspiration, and positive messages. That’s what we needed. I started thinking then that if such movies were helping my family, they could help others, and eventually I began compiling what became Reel Spirit: A Guide to Movies That Inspire, Explore and Empower.
What I have discovered is that the movies are constantly giving us clear pictures about when (to use film titles) It’s a Wonderful Life, when Life is Beautiful, and when life is As Good As It Gets. Among the many spiritual directives that we are receiving through the movies are five prevalent ones showing how we can better connect with the power and presence of God and therefore live more fulfilling lives:
1 – Have faith. Faith is the awareness that sees God everywhere present. There are many movies about faith. One of my favorites is The Inn of the Sixth Happiness, a true story starring Ingrid Bergman as English parlor maid Gladys Aylward, who against considerable odds, in 1932 becomes a missionary in China.
Like Daniel going into the lion’s den, Gladys knows that God is always with her and that her actions reflect her faith. A dramatic example is when she volunteers to stop a dangerous prison riot. Standing at the entrance to the prison, Gladys says simply, “I am afraid. Open the gate.” Gladys is showing us a way to face any difficulty: If need be, acknowledge a human fear and let it go – let go and let God – and then “open the gate” of consciousness to allow spiritual power to take over so that you may proceed with faith, not with fear.
2 – Pray. We also know the divine presence when we seek God’s guidance – prayer – and listen to that guidance – meditation.
Recall It’s a Wonderful Life as an example of the power of prayer. A desperate man facing financial ruin, George Bailey (James Stewart) prays, “Dear Father in heaven . . . Show me the way. I’m at the end of my rope.”
God answers with an angelic idea named Clarence, who takes George on an extended visual meditation to appreciate life.
3 – Love unconditionally. “God is love,” we’re told in 1st John. Sounds pure and simple. Or pure, but not-so simple? Divine Love is unconditional – the sort of love that binds with no ifs, ands, or buts.
In the film Moulin Rouge, about love in the notorious Paris nightclub, we find one marvelous recurring theme: “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.” The nature of love may be rather mixed up, but it is literally the unconditional thought that counts.
In human terms, loving isn’t always easy, and sometimes taking unconditional love to its outer limits is extremely difficult. We see that in Moulin Rouge and in the film Pay It Forward.
In Pay It Forward, a seventh-grade student, Trevor (Haley Joel Osment), accepts the challenge of a teacher to “Think of an idea to change our world – and put it into ACTION.”
Trevor’s idea is a “pay it forward” plan in which one person does something truly big for another person that the person can’t do for himself or herself. The recipient in turn passes a good deed on or “pays it forward” to three other people, who all do likewise.
Now, Trevor’s is not a simple, touchy-feely, spread-a-little-random-kindness plan. Trevor’s plan goes to the Christ, the spark of divinity within each person (often hidden perhaps, but always there), and the plan is designed to change the world by igniting that spark into full view.
To “pay it forward” requires a person to give through total unselfishness.
In such a giving, there can be no loss to self, no matter what happens to an individual.
4 – See beyond appearances. We’re being aware of God’s presence when we see only the Christ in another, and that means not being judgmental or prejudiced.
The movie Shrek shows clearly that you can’t judge an ogre only by its cover – that is, appearance, behavior, or reputation – and you can’t judge a princess by those criteria either. Shrek himself identifies the problem:
He says sadly, “The world seems to have a problem with me. They judge me before they even know me.”
5 – Lighten up. Too often we ignore the truth that God is not only love but also joy. Being truly reverent is also about enjoying life. That’s one of the messages of Chocolat, a delicious film about a woman who opens a chocolate shop in a small French village full of traditions and rigidity and many pursed lips. Her chocolate confections are a catalyst for change.
If all the world is a stage, surely the whole universe is a movie. In an ultimate spiritual sense, sages have often compared life to a movie projector that we ourselves are running. In a more literal sense, films can mirror our existence and help us find out what it’s all about, Alfie.
So the next time you are watching a movie at home or at the theater, consider what the film is saying about life. In seeing the Big Picture, you’ll be doing yourself and the world a favor – and you’ll learn to ignore those seeds and enjoy the watermelon.