Of Pilgrims and Fire: When God Shows Up at the Movies

Of Pilgrims and Fire: When God Shows Up at the Movies

Of Pilgrims and Fire: When God Shows Up at the Movies

Of Pilgrims and Fire: When God Shows Up at the Movies


Every human being, Roy Anker points out, is a pilgrim searching for a destination that promises meaning and welcome. We seek a glimpse of light or fire pointing the way to a place that soothes the soul. This light often shines most clearly in the stories we love to see on film.
In Of Pilgrims and Fire Anker explores some of cinema's most profound moments of pilgrims looking for light. His movie choices are rarely those we might consider "religious," yet he argues that they may be truer depictions of God's light because of their lack of overt Christianity. These select films depict the struggles of ordinary people trying to find some measure of light to make sense of the world and of themselves -- sometimes running into surprising renditions of what God might look like.
Each section begins with a basic filmography of the pictures discussed, including awards and ratings. Anker also provides a preview of each film and suggests what the filmmaker seems to convey. Finally each chapter includes a series of questions to guide personal or group discussion. Like the movies he chooses, Anker avoids the preachy or didactic and strives to make viewing and reflecting both enjoyable and provocative.



As Yoda would no doubt put it, pilgrims all we are — whether we know it or not, like it or not. Strangely enough, that old notion of what constitutes humanness still has a lot of “grab,” and not just because of John Wayne’s famous movie greeting, “Howdy, Pilgrim.” Movies fade, truths persist.

What was both catchy and memorable about Wayne’s greeting was that it included everyone in that fellowship of pilgrims, every stranger-wayfarer he came across. Out there on the vast emptiness of the frontier, it seemed especially apt, though the same greeting fits the present well enough, perhaps even more so, especially for those wandering souls searching for paths in urban jungles and suburban sprawl. For all our techno-dazzle in getting around quickly via cars and planes, not many people anywhere — in the church or outside it — seem to have much of a sense of where in fact they’re headed and why.

The term “pilgrim,” of course, has within it a whole anthropology, a view of what makes humans tick deep down. We theorize about what people most desire, though “desire” is perhaps too tame a word for what propels us all: the word “crave” perhaps moves closer to the core, so thirsty and determined are we to find some fulfilling magic as we move from one thing to another. After all, every human creature searches, albeit unconsciously, for a destination that promises meaning and welcome, a “true” place that sates the self and soothes the rest-

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