I’m a nine on the enneagram. This means I value keeping the peace above all else, even to a fault, and that I can be prone to laziness. All true. I was reading recently about the spiritual component of the enneagram and, as has happened many times as I read about type nines, I came across a description of our nature that rung profoundly true. The Enneagram Institute’s website puts it this way: “They are typically ‘spiritual seekers’ who have a great yearning for connection with the cosmos…” Similarly, Ian Cron, co-author of The Road Back to You, explained on an episode of the Liturgists podcast that nine is “the most naturally spiritual number on the enneagram.”
I’m very sensitive to over-spiritualization; I’ve come to learn that the use of “churchy” language is largely for the sake of outward appearances, and it drives me nuts. At the same time, I do find many things to be spiritual that I was never taught about in church. I’ve always had this indistinct feeling that certain things I’ve always thought of as secular are actually sacred. A particularly moving novel or film, an intentionally-prepared meal, a connection with an old friend—somehow these things are of God. But I also have felt a little bit crazy for thinking this way.
Wait a Minute, God is Love?
I remember reading in 1 John in the Bible when I was a kid about how “God is love.” It says it a couple of different times. I always thought that was a weird way to put it.
In the book The Divine Dance, writers Richard Rohr and Mike Morrell paint a picture of God that I found at once startling and beautiful and strangely familiar. In their discussion of the theology of the trinity, they argue for a definition of God and his love that encompasses everything:
…everything is holy, for those who have learned how to see…This triune God allows you, impels you, to live easily with God everywhere and all the time: in the budding of a plant, the smile of a gardener, the excitement of a teenage boy over his new girlfriend, the tireless determination of a research scientist, the pride of a mechanic over his hidden work under the hood, the loving nuzzling of horses, the tenderness with which eagles feed their chicks, and the downward flow of every mountain stream.
This takes the idea that “God is love” to another level. If this description of God is true, if God really is at work in everything love-filled—in relationships, in nature—then maybe I’m not crazy after all for experiencing “secular” things in this world as sacred. What if God is at work in art, too?
A Night at the Movies
Chilean director Sebastián Lelio’s newest film Gloria Bell tells the story of the title character, played transcendently by Julianne Moore, as she navigates love, work and family relationships in her 50s. She sings along to pop ballads in her car, does her best to relate to her adult children, finds common ground with people dealing with divorce, contemplates her own mortality, struggles to keep a stray cat out of her home, and dances every chance she gets.
Sitting in the theater with Gloria Bell, I got that spiritual feeling. Afterward, I tried to figure out why, and I think the answer is that the movie is brimming with love for its central character, a type of character who doesn’t typically get a lot of love in the movies. On its surface, many would not consider this type of story interesting or exciting enough for the big screen, but this movie takes a long, close look at one woman’s life and says, “This experience is important.” To the very final frame, it truly celebrates her existence. It makes you fall in love with Gloria Bell, and in so doing, gives a new appreciation for people in her station of life. It makes you love Gloria because she is worthy of love.
The movies make me feel love for characters more readily and deeply than any other art form, and I don’t think I’m alone in this. Movies can be uniquely emotive, and they are also really good at communicating worldview. If artists have a responsibility to push back darkness (as I’ve discussed before), then maybe the best, or most important, movies are the ones that make you feel love for your fellow man and woman. And, if God truly is love, then maybe I’m not crazy for finding cinema to be a spiritual experience.