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Sacred – Milestones of a Spiritual Life

A Japanese monk holding colored string beads in his hands…he rubs them to make a crackling sound……a venerated bow…and then moves away and walks along the rocky mountain path in the dark carrying a lighted cylindrical lantern.   He is one of those marathon monks of Mt. Hiei and the Buddhist practice of ‘Kaihogyo’ which is a way to clarify the mind and the spirit.  This was the first scene of the movie, “SACRED” and this was our first field trip with our World Religions class taught by Dr. Charles Chesnavage of the Unification Theological Seminary – which offers educational programs in an interfaith context.

The population of the world is pegged at 7.7 billion of which 6.5 billion hold some form of religious belief.  Recognizing that faith dynamic both individually as well as collectively, the producer of the movie, Bill Baker of WNET, chose world religions as his inspiration. With the collaboration of multi-award film maker Thomas Lennon, SACRED was shot by 40 filmmaking teams around the world

“At a time when religious hatreds dominate the world’s headlines, this film, sweeping in global reach and yet intensely intimate, explores faith as primary human experience: how it is used to navigate the milestones and crises of private life.” 

The film takes us through three chapters of faith, namely: Initiation, Practice and Passage.  The journey of a religious person undergoes some sort of initiation into a belief system, practices his concept of truth based on knowledge, and then departs on a passage with some sort of hope.

Thus, with Lennon’s creative collage of practices, scenarios, rituals, and other sights that tantalize the mind, our curiosity, as viewers, is piqued and we are drawn in.  The core to what is relevant to the universality of this film is Lennon’s ability to show on screen the different kinds of people and their cultures in an intimate way through the lens of their faith.  The director creates without a story line or script; he does not favor any one religion.  He treats each belief equally, and finds a way to engage the minds of the viewers to be hungry for more knowledge about people’s experiences with personal truths. As the film journeys through the milestones of private life and the faith practices of individuals, a singular story of universal humanity begins to unfold.

There are many similarities within the diverse religious approaches, yet represented in different ways.  Growing up as a Christian, circumcision was one way of knowing that you were of the faith and could be done, preferably, before adolescence. To the Jews, as depicted in the movie, it would be a ritual in the synagogue with the rabbi snipping off the foreskin amidst the congregation, and then welcoming the baby after the procedure. To a Muslim, it is carrying the newborn in his arms while chanting some welcoming prayers signifying his acceptance into Islam.

The Practice and Passage as illustrated in the movie are the journeys in life through the eyes of one’s religious beliefs and doing the rituals mandated by their faith.  The different marriage ceremonies, fertility practices, atonements for sins, and transitions in death are some of the major elements of the film.

At a time when global conflicts seem inevitable due to differing ideologies, the need for religious tolerance is crucial and should be cultivated if harmony and peace among nations is to be achieved.


Thomas Lennon (left) and Bill Baker (right) in Q and A after the film showing

Taking a Master of Arts in Religious Studies at UTS, I am enlightened with an understanding of world religions, their importance in the global scene, and how that understanding helps bridge religious and cultural divides which is a crucial element of peace building.  In this time of world conflicts, every common citizen on earth is left to rely pretty much on their own understanding – and finding that consciousness and awareness is key to one’s comprehension.  I am privileged and glad to be a student, as even if I am just a drop in the bucket, it will be an achievement to assist in gaining the much awaited peace among brethren.

The film ends with the same monk, supposedly having walked his 7,000 miles within a 5-year period, who must now seclude himself for 9 days without food or water.  Shouldn’t we do some sort of personal practice to clear our minds and spirits; to become observers and disciples of our own consciousness?  We need to do so, if we want to survive harmoniously in this place we call civilization.