The physical adventures and challenges of Epic Monday are matched by the mental framework challenges of Tuesday. Tuesday is the first small group discussion, first prayer session, and John Mark Reynold’s talk on beauty. Then, in the evening, we watch a film.
Habakkuk and Prayer
Student Mentor Juliet San Nicholas de Bradley opened the morning with an honest devotional on Habakkuk. Walking us through each part of Habakkuk’s complaints about violence and injustice, Juliet talked the groups through God’s response. It was honest and invitational. Habakkuk is in pain and demands an answer from God. The response to the Almighty’s answer is worship and prayer — not complete understanding, but confidence to endure for God’s plan. For students who may be experiencing pain in their own livesHabakkuk is a constructive look at questions like “How do we wait on God’s timing?” “How do we pray about our pain?” “How do we watch for God the way Habakkuk does?”
That introduction to Habakkuk led right into a session on prayer led by Peter David Gross and Megan Depaso. Students could ask any question about prayer they wanted, and Peter and Megan helped them begin to find answers. Peter focused on describing prayer as an honest offering of yourself to the God who is offering himself to you. He reminded students that God prays too, so they’re never starting something new; they’re joining what Jesus and the Spirit are already doing. Megan focused on how knowing God as your friend relieves us from worry about praying “in the right way.” Then, the students and staff spend half an hour in silent prayer together, seeking God’s voice and guidance. Prayer is our top priority for youth, and this session was a good beginning.
Next, Peter David Gross talked about discussion as a communal effort in truth-seeking. Finding places to discuss a single topic, listen well to others, and say what you think are under-used practices in America today. By asking students to discuss for three hours each day this week, we are asking them to try the hard work of listening and responding The goal is to discuss a single unknown truth together. It build student’s abilities to consider each other as people, speak kindly to one another, and learn to focus on a single goal with others.
Why pick Plato? Plato’s works have been time tested —students get to join a discussion that has been going on around these works for thousands of years. It’s a text that is organized enough, yet confusing enough that everyone is put on equal footing. It is within that confusion groups begin to seek truth together.
The two film offerings are meant to challenge patterns of consumption in media. Films are picked intentionally for their resonance with the theme. The week’s films were A Monster Calls (2016) and The Passion of Joan of Arc (1928).
A Monster Calls follows a 12 year old boy, Conor O’Malley, whose mother is terminally ill with cancer. The film was originally a book started by Siobhan Dowd, who herself died from cancer, but asked author Patrick Ness to finish the book. The film was directed by Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona who filled the film adaption with rich details and beautiful cinematography. We asked students to pay attention to moments of stillness, listen to the music in each scene, and pay attention when a particular scene jumped out at them. We discussed things like:
What is the significance of time?
What role does grief play in the movie?
What role does anger play in the life of the main character?
Is a monster good or bad in this film?
Students picked up on the fine details and shared thoughts and reflections on the emotional arcs of the various characters.
The second film groups could choose was The Passion of Joan of Arc. It’s a 1928 silent, French Historical film based on the actual trial of Joan of Arc. She was a historical figure who claimed to have visions from God that caused her to lead the French in liberation against the English. She was captured and tried by the English church for heresy and later sentenced to burning at the stake. The black and white shots and intensely intimate close ups are considered classics that have influenced movie making to this day. Students watching this film considered the ways that faces, devoid of audio, could still communicate so much feeling. They considered questions like:
Is it wise endurance or foolish endurance to do as Joan of Arc did?
Is it necessary to be certain about one’s actions?
Is certainty necessary for courage?
How do silent films make us pay attention?
Praise be to the God who sees.