I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on Marilyn Freeman’s reflection “Cinema Divina: Another Way of Seeing Seeing.” This is an excerpt from her new book The Illuminated Space: A Personal Theory & Contemplative Practice of Media Art published by The 3rd Thing Press, 2020.
I go out shooting video regularly, not necessarily every day, but sometimes multiple times in a day. When I’m shooting, I’m guided by four words: read, reflect, respond, rest. The fact they each start with the letter “r” helps when I want to call my mind back to this practice, which is often. This way of shooting is a contemplative practice I’ve derived from an ancient prayer process called lectio divina or “sacred reading.” I call what I do Cinema Divina.
Lectio divina is a central practice of Catholics in the Benedictine order. It is a contemplative way of praying that can be traced to Jewish mysticism. In order to experience an unmediated connection with the Divine, mystics read passages of sacred texts slowly and repeatedly through a series of meditative steps, usually four, sometimes more. My four simple “r” words are rough translations from the Latin lectio, meditatio, oratio, contemplatio.
This creative contemplative practice I’ve cultivated isn’t rigid. Rather, Cinema Divina is a structured but fluid way for me to bring increasing awareness to all parts of my creative process—from shooting through screening. To see what I’m seeing. Read, reflect, respond, rest. Repeat.
So, my camera is set up and on, and my frame is set. I am shooting, recording. My vision is trained on the viewfinder. I think of this initial phase as “reading.” I’m reading the image in the viewfinder: noticing the whole composition, noticing objects, people and other animals, noticing movement or activity within the frame, noticing colors, shapes and being attentive to what most draws my attention. I ask what is the image offering.
I take it in as wholly as possible, I see all I can see, I am alert for what interests me, but I am not authoring anything yet, not editing anything out or adding anything, not making meaning. I am reading the image in the viewfinder with the curiosity, surprise, irritation or boredom I might read any text.
While trained on my viewfinder, I don’t block out everything else. I remain cognizant of my surroundings. And I am very aware of sounds and that they are being recorded concurrently with the video image. I always record the location sound, usually just using the camera’s rudimentary on-board microphone.
After a while, l look around a bit, stretch, breathe and I let myself notice what is staying with me—an object, the way the light is moving, cars passing in the distance or people walking through the shot, the sky. I let myself be with this process for a bit without really pushing.
Then, I return to my viewfinder to reflect on what I’m seeing, to sink deeper into what most calls to me. If I were doing a traditional lectio practice I would read the text again. But I’m shooting, and in this practice the image and I are moving along together with the flow of time.
A question I use to guide my reflection is What is this scene stirring in me, stirring in my life? I observe any feelings, thoughts, associations, memories, regrets, prayers, insights, questions that arise? I actively notice the affect on me, in me, of what I’m seeing—what it stirs in my heart. Am I excited, tired, anxious, relaxed, annoyed, distracted, hopeful, sad, disappointed? I stay with this for as long as feels right.
Then I turn my attention to responding to what I’m seeing and to what it has stirred in me. At this point, and this may be several minutes into shooting this particular scene with this particular framing, I’m asking, What is the invitation? It might be an invitation to take action—to do something or to stop doing something. To be aware of a way of being or thinking. To slow down. To let go. To go deeper. I notice if there is anything in me that longs to be expressed.
I consciously breathe in order to keep myself awake to this contemplative practice, to be aware of what arises in my heart, to let myself respond: to be affected. I linger here as long as feels right, continuing all the while to see what I’m seeing.
And then, still recording, I rest in contemplation with what is opening in my heart. I let go of actively reading, of reflecting on and responding to what I’m seeing in the viewfinder. If I were doing a traditional lectio divina I would close my eyes and rest in silence. At this point in my Cinema Divina practice I let the camera’s frame, and the fact that it is still recording, hold me in a resting, attentive state.
I settle into what has emerged from the process, what it has conjured in me, what has opened my heart, how I want to bring this into my life and into my art. I might formulate an intention, a wish, a prayer…or it may not take any form. Rest is rest. For me, this resting will most often feel both lovely and loving. Without aiming for it, I’ll often feel connected, part of everything. This process tends to feel nurturing. And nourishing. Not always, but often, it fills me with a sense of wellbeing.
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I invite you to watch How Long Will You Sleep, a selection from Cinema Divina, short films made for contemplation:
Media artist, writer and spiritual director, Marilyn Freeman, is author of The Illuminated Space: A Personal Theory and Contemplative Practice of Media Art (2020) and creator of Cinema Divina–short films for contemplative practice. Freeman’s work screens on PBS, in movie theaters and galleries, at spirituality centers and film festivals worldwide. Marilyn is a Benedictine Oblate at St. Placid Priory in Lacey, Washington, a community with which she has been involved for more than a dozen years.
Visit her online at MarilynFreeman.com