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(Paul Larsen | Courtesy photo) Huston Smith, a retired professor and internationally known expert on comparative religions, speaks about one of the limitations of science and the rational mind.
Utah filmmaker explores paths to spirituality

Film » Utahn explores the many ways humans experience spirituality.

By Peggy Fletcher Stack

| The Salt Lake Tribune

First Published Feb 14 2014 07:17 am • Last Updated Feb 14 2014 06:20 pm

Paul Larsen has seen his share of aimless young people — the ones with no inner sense of purpose, no feeling for their place in the universe, or rituals to guide them to the divine.

Larsen has seen them at a youth correctional facility, where he has volunteered for a decade, and in his film classes at the University of Utah. He has observed scores of youths who have no tools to cope with crises in their lives. They are depressed, angry, anxious, isolated.

At a glance

See the film

What » “Spirituality for the Uninsured” screening.

When » Friday, Feb. 21, 7:30 p.m.

Where » University of Utah Fine Arts Museum

Cost » The screening is free, though a $10 donation is suggested

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They have rejected their parents’ spirituality, he says, and have replaced it with — nothing. They feel disconnected, lost, lonely.

Larsen understands all too well their perspective. Forty years ago, he was one of them.

"Sometimes we give too much away," Larsen intones in the opening narration of his new film, "Spirituality for the Uninsured," "then emptiness follows, which begs to be filled, and oftentimes by the worst of things."

Those are echoes from Larsen’s own experience.

After he graduated from LDS Church-owned Brigham Young University in the mid-1970s, Larsen recalls in an interview, he went back east with his now-wife, Ann Fluckiger Larsen, and became an agnostic.

He "threw too much away" of his Mormonness, he says, and, some years later, when he faced a personal crisis, "had nothing to grab hold of."

"I started sifting through all the stuff I had thrown off," the filmmaker says, to discover what he believed about God and the world.

Eventually, Larsen returned to his earlier faith, he says, but with a more expansive view of holiness.

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This movie, to be shown at the U.’s Museum of Fine Arts on Friday, is Larsen’s exploration of various spiritual paths, with a focus on personal stories of life-changing moments and long-standing rituals.

It’s a kind of visual companion to William James’ famous 1902 volume, "Varieties of Religious Experience."

"There is so much talk about reaching the divine," says Sterling Van Wagenen, a co-founder of the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, who also teaches film at the U. "I’m tired of the talk. What I yearn for is a connection to the divine and to each other."

And that, Van Wagenen says, is what Larsen’s film captures so well.

Two planes of reality • Cracks of thunder. Red rocks of Zion. Native American sweat lodges. An artist’s paintbrush. A cathedral pew. Tibetan Buddhist mandalas. Christian rock.

Each of these can be a doorway to another reality, says Larsen, transforming travelers on their way.

For 20 years, Craig Keyes fought his drug addiction without success, he says in the film.

Then one day, during a Native American spiritual session, the group heard a thunderclap overhead and it started to rain. Someone in the circle began to sing his gratitude to the creator for the moisture.

"I held my hands out to the rain," Keyes says. "It washed over me."

From that moment on, the addict never went back to drugs.

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