Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Media Watch
‘Soulful Spirituality’ demonstrates prayer from variety of traditions; Scorcese scores a hit with ‘Hugo’

by Father Tom Caswell, for the Inland Register

(From the January 19, 2012 edition of the Inland Register)

Book Review

David G. Benner, who spent some of his academic career in Victoria and Vancouver, B.C., has a new book out on spirituality, titled Soulful Spirituality: Becoming Fully Alive and Deeply Human. The publisher is Brazos Press and the list price for a large-size paperback is $16.99.

Dr. Benner brings to his very helpful approach to spirituality a wide background in Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish, and Islam faiths that includes spending time in many countries across the world.

Soulful Spirituality is for the person who likes to learn from a wide selection of ways of prayer from many religious traditions. The Christian influences that are strong include Father Thomas Merton, St. Benedict, Franciscan Father Richard Rohr, and Oblate Father Ron Rolheiser.

Since David Benner is a psychologist, there is the element of psychology that plays a role in his approach. I found the sections on “Spiritual Practices for the Human Journey” particularly helpful and at times inspiring. The key areas he focuses on are Awareness, Wonder, Otherness, Reality, Presence, and Surrender.

In his section on Presence Benner has a great short section of three types of meditation. In reference to the Centering Prayer, his short description goes like this: “A final group of meditative approaches is based on surrender. Here there is no need to watch thoughts or emotions. As they – or anything else – emerge into consciousness, you simply let them go. Whatever you become aware of you gently release. The goal is not to empty yourself or to make yourself still but simply to be totally open. The best example of this approach to meditation is Centering Prayer. Because surrender is so central to the Christian approach to the spiritual journey, Centering Prayer is deeply congruent with Christian theology and spirituality.”

For me, the section on Surrender was especially eye-opening. The author writes: “Surrender is simply inner acceptance of what is. There is probably nothing more difficult for humans. There is nothing more freeing.”

The quotation given from Dag Hammarskjold’s great book Markings is very helpful. The former UN Secretary-General once wrote, “I don’t know who, or what, put the question, I don’t know when it was put. I don’t even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer ‘Yes’ to someone or something. And from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal.”

Benner puts it well when he writes: “Only with the passage of time can we begin to separate out the blessings and misfortunes contained in any development in life. When we are able to do this we will often notice that the greatest blessings lay right in the midst of the things we would instinctively think of as our greatest calamities.”

Soulful Spirituality is a book for the searcher and for the committed Christian. In uncomplicated language it helps clarify the journey to a gracious God in prayer. You don’t have to be a so-called expert to find practical positive help here on the pilgrim way.

Movie Reviews

There is a powerful new independent film that hasn’t found large audiences that is a gem and should be seen more widely. The film is J.C. Chandor’s Margin Call, which tells the story of the economic collapse of 2008 through a Wall Street firm similar to Goldman Sachs.

Whether Margin Call is a somewhat accurate fictional presentation of the recent financial collapse is for the viewer to decide. But it is certainly like a Medieval Morality Play that focuses of the seven deadly sins, especially greed. It is not often that popular films take on with passion the ethical issues of our time.

At a large Wall Street firm, the film opens with half of the staff being let go. Eric Dale (Stanley Tucci) as he is fired and leaving in the elevator hands a small computer file that has material he has been working on in Risk Management to a young Peter Sullivan (Zachary Quinto) who is a former rocket scientist. Dale tells Sullivan to be careful where this material may lead him. The young man begins using the material and then within hours calls in his bosses. Will Emerson (Paul Bettany) and Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) suddenly realize that the company is about to collapse on weak sub-prime offerings being sold.

Thus begins a dramatic give-and-take involving higher-ups played with distinction by Demi Moore and television’s Simon Baker (The Mentalist). But the key dark character who comes in by helicopter, landing of the roof of the Manhattan office tower, is Jeremy Irons’s John Tuld. Note the name is similar to the real executive of Goldman Sachs, Mr.Fuld.

The ensuing give-and-take of the Board is fascinating stuff. And the decision to morally compromise the company completely by selling junk material to unsuspecting clients is incredibly sad.

There is a speech justifying evil by the Jeremy Irons character to the Kevin Spacey character that is as chilling as the famed speech in the ferris wheel by Orson Wells in Carol Reed’s great film The Third Man, written by Graham Greene.

Margin Call is a film of first-rate acting. Sure, it is a bit dark, but it may well be at least partially the way things were. It is a film that makes history come alive and really gets the viewer thinking.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film R-Restricted, for language and adult themes. Catholic News Service has not rated the film.


The great director Martin Scorsese has given us a movie that is an enjoyable family film. The traditional violence and Catholic iconography of his classic films has given way to a very entertaining film based on Brian Selznick’s illustrated children’s novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret. The new film is simply called <>I>Hugo.

Hugo (Asa Butterfield) is a 10- or 12-year-old boy living in the great Paris train station, Gare Montparnasse. He is the secret unofficial keeper of the clocks in the station.

Before his father (Jude Law) died the two worked on repairing an automaton his father had found in a nearby museum. It sits high in the station near one of the huge clocks.

Hugo steals some food items and pieces for the automaton in the station that puts him at odds with a very dedicated police inspector (Sacha Baron Cohen). There are lots of chases around the huge railway station.

A toy store in the station is run by Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley) who catches Hugo stealing some items and is very harsh to him. Melies is a real curmudgeon and affected by secrets of the past.

Eventually Hugo meets the granddaughter of Melies, Isabelle (Chloe Grace Moretz) who becomes his ally and holds a key to the broken automaton. Incidentally, Moretz is a wonderful actress who lights up the screen.

Eventually the two youths, with the help of an adult or two, open up Melies, as we find out that he is one of the pioneers and popularizers of early movies. So Hugo through its beautiful story-telling becomes an impressive history of early silent films and the power of the medium of film itself. The modern film is able to show us a beautiful hand-tinted color print of Melies’s early 1902 masterpiece, A Trip to the Moon.

If you shy away from children’s or family films, don’t in the case of Scorsese’s Hugo. It is a thought-provoking, interesting adventure that gives you a birds-eye view of the joys and sorrows of the pioneers of the modern film.

The Motion Picture Association of America rates the film PG-Parental Guidance (Mild thematic material, some action/peril and smoking). Catholic News Service rates the film A-II – for adults and adolescents.


Last summer I had the privilege of seeing the stage version of War Horse at Lincoln Center in New York City. I was deeply impressed by the use of large puppets made up of three persons who made up the very moveable horses. Two persons were inside the horse and one individual walked alongside the horse. The play seemed more like a gigantic pageant and I must of been one of the few people not emotionally touched by the play.

Steven Spielberg for Christmas has given us an epic and emotional portrayal of the same story from the English 1982 children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo. The movie version of War Horse is said by some to be corny and too sentimental, but it touched me and I would put it up there with the top 10 movies of the year.

The story starts in southern England with beautiful expansive shots of the countryside magnified by John Williams’ lush music. Albert (Jeremy Irvine) through a series of events becomes the trainer of a horse he names Joey. His father (Peter Mullan) has had a painful history in the earlier Boer War and is an alcoholic. There is a danger of losing Joey because of not having money to pay the rent. Eventually Albert’s father sells Joey to the military as World War I begins.

And so we see the Great War through the eyes of Joey. There is his capture by two young German recruits who try to save him. Also there is a French grandfather and his granddaughter who become attached. The key scenes near the end of the film with Joey caught in no-man’s land entwined in the newly invented cyclone wire are memorable. Spielberg does everything in his telling of Joey’s story to bring the audience into the story of Joey’s life with all the joy, hope, suffering and redemption of the human beings touched by him.

War Horse is a classic telling of beautiful story that stays with your memory and feelings.

War Horse is rated PG-13 for wartime violence. The film is rated A-III – adults and adolescents – by Catholic News Service.

(Father Caswell is Inland Register archivist.)

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