I’m so sorry that I haven’t had much time for blogging and reading blogs this week. We’ve had a major project going on at work . . . I’ve been putting in 11-hour days for a week, and it’s not over yet. However, this weekend I did get the chance to relax a little. No time for loneliness this week.

I saw Peaceful Warrior for the third time. Iit’s been years since I loved a movie so much that I paid full admission to see it three times! And I actually began writing my long-promised review of it, but a power-surge knocked off my computer and destroy my unsaved work. (I know, I should know better.)

Part of me wondered why this superb film seems relegated to occasional arthouse screenings. Then I realized that PW‘s higher level of meaning is inaccessible to people who aren’t ready it yet. Hence, most critics and non-seekers see Peaceful Warrior as a familiar sports movie of the well-worn “dramatic comeback” type, sprinkled liberally with vague New-Agey platitudes.

The mind acts as a kind of a filter, almost as a safety valve in some ways, that keeps itself from grasping any truth before it is ready. In a teacher-disciple relationship, it kinds of goes like this:

Teacher: You are not the body. The world is an illusion. God is all there is.
Student: Yeah, cool.

Teacher: You are not the body. The world is an illusion. God is all there is.
Student: Whatever.

Teacher: You are not the body. The world is an illusion. God is all there is.
Student: Got it.

Teacher: You are not the body. The world is an illusion. God is all there is.
Student: Holy Sh*t! GOD IS ALL THERE IS!

Peaceful Warrior portrays the learning process beautifully.

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Peaceful Warrior

I just got out of the Naro’s showing of Peaceful Warrior, based on Dan Millman’s novel, Way of the Peaceful Warrior. It’s simply *perfect.* Finally, a film with overt teaching on the path, that succeeds on all levels and by any standards. I’ll write a full review this weekend.

In the meantime, let me say, SEE THIS MOVIE! Bring your friends. Bring your enemies. Just don’t miss this.

The Holy Grail: still missing the point

I’m writing my reflection on The Da Vinci Code. As I write, what strikes me most is that Brown’s interpretation of the Grail comes so close in some ways, yet still misses the point completely!

The Grail legend is a wonderful confluence of symbols which have been (mis)understood in an amazing variety of ways… rich treasure, holy relic, magic power, historical artifact (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade), sacred bloodline (The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail), sacred person (The Da Vinci Code). And yet they all miss the point!

Any mystical symbol must be understood mystically; and then it becomes obvious:

What is the object of the Holy Quest?
What vessel conveys the “blood of Christ”?
What is hidden where only “the worthy” can find it?
What is the most sublime goal to attain?
What is the ultimate power you can access?

The answer, in a word, is you.

Not the “you” you think you are?not the “you” that has an age, gender, race, and loves and hates. It’s the “you” you really are. Your true nature, your source, your ultimate potential. All mystical traditions have their own names for this: Atman (the one Self within all beings), Buddha-nature, Christ-nature, Nirvana, Emptiness, the Tao, the Kingdom of Heaven, the imago Dei (the image of God), the Holy Grail.

I once heard a priest relate a Hindu parable: Because the gods feared man’s power, they decided to hide his divinity from him. One suggested hiding it in the heavens, but the others responded that man would build spaceships and find it there. Another suggested hiding it in the ocean’s depth’s but the others said that men would build submarines and discover it there. Another suggested hiding it deep in the earth, and that too, was voted down, due to the power of the human mind. Finally, a god said, let’s hide it where they’ll never find it: deep within their hearts.

A more familiar version of this story is the Tower of Babel: God feared that man’s genius would enable him to storm heaven, since he was “of one mind.” To prevent this, the Lord said “let us (plurality again!) go down and confuse their speech.” And so, our divided mind, full of unending, confused chatter, enshrouds itself around the pure simplicity of our actual being, keeping us from seeing it or even suspecting it.

Another close parallel is attributed to Jesus in the Gospel of Thomas.

Jesus said:
If those who guide you say, Look,
the Kingdom is in the sky,
then the birds are closer than you.
If they say: Look,
it is in the sea,
then the fish already know it.
The Kingdom is inside you, and it is outside you.
When you know yourself, then you will be known,
and you will know that you are the child of the Living Father;
but if you do not know yourself,
you will live in vain
and you will be vanity.

Our consciousness is the consciousness of God in flesh.
Our bodies are the body of Christ
Our blood is the blood of Christ.
Our love is the Eucharist.
Our realization is the Holy Grail.

This is the quest. This is the desire of ages. This is the Holy Grail.

The highest of all things desired is to become God. –

The center of the soul is God.

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I saw two good movies last weekend. One was Duma, a coming-of-age story about Xan, a white farm boy in South Africa during the apartheid era, who must let go of his nearly-full-grown pet cheetah, Duma. He runs away from home to try to return Duma to the area he came from, and ends up crossing hundreds of miles of the wild on foot, including part of the perilous Okavango Delta. In addition, he needs to teach a very tame cheetah who loves to play with other animals, how to hunt. Xan, who was home-schooled and sheltered, must also learn to trust Ripkoen, a mysterious black wanderer, in order to survive. As unlikely as it seems, it’s based on a true story.

This is the kind of movie people used to go to the movies for! It’s directed by Carroll Blanchard of The Black Stallion and Fly Away Home fame. If you get the chance to see it, do it. You won’t be disappointed.

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Naked in Ashes

Another good film shown at the Naro last weekend was Naked in Ashes, Paula Fouce’s documentary on the sadhus (holy men) of India, and their extreme asceticism. The documentary focuses on three small groups of yogis (each with two or three practitioners) and follows them for several weeks.

As I suspect many are, I’ve generally found extreme acesticism, especially of the Eastern kind, very off-putting. I can understand St. Francis and his love of having nothing but God, but wasn’t able to make the same connection to these ash-covered guys in India.

Naked in Ashes sheds some much-needed light on the sadhus. Some are true bodhisattvas, dedicating their austerities to taking away the sins of the world. One guru said, “The world is suffering. That is my problem. I take on myself the sins of all, and wash them away in Mother Ganges.” I came to realize the answer why these holy men live in caves with nothing is not that far from why Jesus went to the Cross. The spirit of all-consuming Love is behind it.

The experience was further enhanced by a guest speaker, (an ODU professor on Eastern religion) an excellent enthusiastic discussion afterwards.

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End of the Spear

End of the Spear picEnd of the Spear isn’t a masterpiece on a par with The Mission, but in spite of its low budget and naive manner, it is a very moving story of the power of love to conquer fear, hatred, and violence.

It’s based on the true story of the missionaries who made first contact with the Waodani people of Ecuador, at a time in which they were so involved in revenge killings they were in danger of annihilating themselves off the map. Soon after their initial contact, all five of the missionary men were slaughtered by the Waodani. Yet two years later (in the movie it looks like a few weeks later), Dayumae, a Waodani girl who had lived with the missionaries’ families, returns to the tribe, and brings with her some of the wives of the men who were killed.

Dayumae presents the Gospel in the most simple and profound words:

Oenagongi had a Son: Even though he was speared, he did not spear back.

I love this gospel! I would like so much to hear it proclaimed in America! (In fact, Mincayani, the leader of this Waodani band, eventually came to America with Steven Saint (the son of the missionary he killed) telling how their tribe renounced violence. Are we listening?

I found the “path of the spear” timeline on the official site to be almost as good as the movie itself (and more informative). (Note also the link to Beyond the Gates of Splendor, a documentary of this story which has received better reviews from critics.) Another excellent stop is the Wikipedia article on the Huarani/Waodani people.

Still catching up

I’m still catching up on reading these few blogs. Wow. What I miss when I don’t get to them for a couple of weeks. Your blogs demand thought, reflection, and inspire comments. This is not just a matter of reading a couple of screens of info on less than two dozen blogs.

When I come up for air, I’m going to begin writing about the “first contact” stories of 2005: War of the Worlds, Surface, Invasion, and Threshold. It seems to me that this year science-fiction has impacted television more than ever before, though all the stories are earthbound and tense. What are your thoughts?

The Navigator: a medieval odyssey

Navigator poster The Navigator (New Zealand, 1988) is a wonderful little spi-fi (spiritual fiction) gem. Great movies aren’t always “masterpieces”? the big, conspicuously-wrought if not over-wrought works. There are also gems?small films on tiny budgets that pack more meaning and feeling in 90 minutes or so, than George Lucas did in the most recent seven hours of Star Wars. Please don’t confuse this movie with the cheesy 1986 children’s sci-fi The Flight of the Navigator. This is different. Very different.

The setting is a village in Celtic Cumbria in 1348, which is anticipating arrival of the Black Death any day. Griffin, a boy in the village, has been having visions (filmed in color in an otherwise black-and-white movie) of a journey to the other side of the world and erecting a cross on the steeple of a huge, white church. When his older brother Connor comes back from a journey, he brings news that the Death is much closer than previously feared, and will probably begin striking the village when the full moon sets, which is the next morning.

Griffin inspires the men of the village to follow him to a cave where they can punch through to the great city on the other side of the world, and erect a cross as an offering to God to spare them from the plague. There, in the cave, they see the strange sights that Griffin’s visions described, and depending on him as their guide, he navigates them through the frightening vision that is 1988 Auckland, New Zealand.

I don’t want to give anything else anyway?but suffice it to say this is perhaps the most realistic look at mediaeval British village life ever shown in a movie. The peasants, though illiterate and superstitious, are intelligent, and respond to the horror threatening their world with perfect faith and trust in God, as well as in the visions of their young mystic, Griffin. Ultimately, though, the offering that is needed is not of a cross, but the teacher’s demonstration of love.

This is a brilliant metaphor of Christ’s descent into hell, and the bodhisattva heart. It’s a paean to those shepherds, teachers, shamans, and navigators who devote their lives to guiding us in the territory that only the soul can see. Directed by Vincent Ward, director of Vigil, Map of the Human Heart, and What Dreams May Come, The Navigator also has a brilliant, moving film score by Iranian-born Davood Tabrizi. Only complaint? Subtitles would be useful. I’m an American. I don’t speak that English!

The Constant Gardner

A Different Kind of Thriller

This is easily the best film I’ve seen this year. It’s a conspiracy thriller that breaks all the rules: there are no long chase scenes, no fights, no James Bond-esque heroics, no dramatic explosions, no wrenching suspense, and no pat happy ending. But it works, and works brilliantly.


Brazilian director Fernando Meirelles (City of God) weaves languidly in and out of linear story-telling with stream-of-consciousness and flashbacks used in a unhurried, dreamlike way. It takes a little time for it to work, but the effect is that rather than just seeing the love that Justin and Tessa Quayle have for each other, we feel it, in meandering sequences of snapshots, home videos, and flashbacks lovingly photographed.

Interspersed in this intimate tangle of images and experiences, is the unfolding mystery: Justin (Ralph Fiennes), an experienced, middle-level British diplomat in Africa, is trying to solve the mystery of the murder of his wife Tessa (Rachel Weisz), whose activism on behalf of Africa’s poor has begun to make many enemies. Even worse, he began doubting her faithfulness to him shortly before she was killed.

Who’s to blame—the drug companies doing often-lethal tests on uninformed patients? The governments of Kenya and the UK? Arnold Bluhm, the African doctor with whom Tessa had been spending so much time alone?

Filmed through the Heart


Love, grief, and a fierce need to know the truth, no matter what it is, nor how painful it may be, fuel Justin’s dangerous investigation. We experience the story through the torment of his soul, and this immediacy makes The Constant Gardener riveting while it shuns all the standard tricks of the trade. As a love story concerned with a man doubting his spouse’s faithfulness, Gardener achieves what Eyes Wide Shut failed to, due to Kubrick’s inability to make us participate in the conflicts of the heart.

This movie is magnificently beautiful! Meirelles has a wonderful sense of beauty and shows it to us in the most original and tender ways, from admiring the beauty of the nude pregnant figure, to capturing flocks of white birds wheeling above their indigo shadows on the surface of a still lake. His love of humanity shines through the lens; even in the squalor of a hell-hole where kids play alongside sewage-filled ditches, Meirelles captures the beauty of the incorruptible imago Dei / Buddha-nature shining through their smiles.

However, I had initially planned to criticize Meirelles’ for his over-use of the hand-held camera. He makes the events literally spin around us, a technique I found quite distracting upon viewing. Strangely, though, that flaw dissolves after the movie is over. What remains is the ineffable hope, sorrow, and beauty of Africa, of love, and of life.

To One of the Least of These…

Gardener boldly advances the tradition of social-justice film. Although most of its particulars (based on the John LeCarré novel of the same name) are fictitious, the general outlines of the exploitation of the Third World by the First World are all too true.

Gardener gives us a look at an Africa quite different from the quaint one of picturesque villages that National Geographic persists in promoting. This is an Africa of shantytowns, rusting tin roofs, and omnipresent disease; of corruption beyond comprehension, and human suffering of an extent that is painful to even think about. It’s an Africa where the circles of political influence congratulate each other with martinis in lavish restaurants, and where the knots of de facto power determine the law of the moment by the barrel of an AK-47. It’s an Africa where magnificent scenic wonder contrasts with the horrific darkness of the ego-centered heart. Most of all, it’s an Africa that challenges us to respond.

“‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, a stranger or naked, sick or in prison, and did not come to your help?’ Then he will answer,

‘I tell you solemnly, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.’—Jesus, Matthew 25:44-45

Movie stills © 2005 Universal Studios.