Several months ago, I was thrilled to discover that Ron Austin, a veteran of the film industry and one of my favorite instructors at the Act One program, had published a book, In a New Light–Spirituality and the Media Arts. Ron’s one-day seminar had such artistic and spiritual depth that his ideas have consistently inspired me as writer since. Needless to say, I eagerly ordered the book…and I just finished my first read.
In a New Light–Spirituality and the Media Arts is a profound reflection on the spiritual foundation for creative work. Ron’s writing is like the classes I took with him–so dense that it takes a long time to “unpack,” which is why it took me several months to read this little book. And I plan to go back for a re-read almost immediately.
“The paradigm for me as a Christian is, as always, Jesus, who ‘emptied himself’ on the Cross to reveal the ultimate truth of God’s redemptive love. This is the model for our spiritual discipline, and if we integrate it into our work, it might be called, ‘creative kenosis,’ an imitation of Jesus’ self-emptying in the context of artistic creation.” (p. 81)
Ron divides his book into three parts. Part One explores the spiritual foundation for the arts today. Ron himself is a Catholic Christian, but the three principles he develops are found in all the major faith traditions. Something in me deeply resonated with each of the three principles: Being in the Present Moment, Affirming the Mystery of the Other, and Transforming Conflict. Ron gives examples of how they can undergird the work of artists, but I am still working at how I can integrate them fully into my choices as a writer.
Part Two is a history of the spiritual in film. Definitely a quick survey but full of insights, Ron covers the development of film as an art form by dedicating short chapters to one or two filmmakers whose bodies of work are especially significant in responding to the spiritual needs of their times –from Charlie Chaplin to Federico Fellini, to Robert Bresson, to Krzysztof Kieslowski. The end of the book includes a filmography of 100 films that reflect the spiritual concerns of the times.
Part Three, entitled “Spiritual Frontiers,” challenges today’s communicators and media artists to respond to the cries of humanity thirsting for meaning, for hope, for transcendence–in his own terms, a “new light” for the media today.
I’ll close with another favorite quotation that deeply challenges me from In a New Light–Spirituality and the Media Arts:
“If we are to meet the crucial needs of our times, the creative task of the contemporary filmmaker will be to develop forms that render the mysterious and healing presence of God.” (p. 72)