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Utah filmmaker explores paths to spirituality

Film » Utahn explores the many ways humans experience spirituality.

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"An energy settled on Craig and a profound change happened to Craig," Larsen, the film’s narrator, says. "I have felt the same emptiness that pushed Craig to the edge and needed to know what can bring a person back from there. I journeyed to find the answer."

Larsen begins his search with panoramic images of southern Utah’s canyons.

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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"In the early 1860s, my family settled in this canyon. They had walked and ridden in wagons for nearly 3,000 miles," he says. "They felt themselves called here by their God as a vanguard of like-minded believers willing to go through any tribulation to establish their spiritual homeland."

Despite their physical hardships, Larsen says, "they never cursed [the land], but honored it instead, naming this canyon Zion, which means dwelling place of God."

Modern Americans, though, focus more on their intellectual gifts, producing technological wonders and contemporary conveniences that are impressive and lifesaving.

But those advances cause many to feel distracted, disconnected from others, and divorced from their surroundings — and any higher power.

That’s where various forms of spirituality come in.

Artists, Larsen posits, can often provide a bridge between the rational and experiential aspects of consciousness.

"I paint right out of my heart," says Spring City artist Kathleen Peterson. "I am not thinking about the past, not thinking about the future, not thinking about anything. My mind just goes somewhere else."

To Peterson, and the other artists Larsen features, "the whole thing is ritual."

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Next he explores Buddhist rituals, Tibetan and Zen.

About 10 Tibetan monks traveled to St. George in 2008 to create a "mandala," or sand painting.

These works invoke "higher deities to come here," one of the monks explains in the film, "and help us achieve our purpose of helping other beings."

Once the colorful and intricate painting — which provides visual cues for living — is complete, the monks then destroy it, symbolic of life’s transitory nature.

Larsen also showcases Christianity, as seen in Salt Lake City’s Risen Life Church, including its rock hymns that speak of God’s embrace.

"Belief in God is far less important than developing a relationship with God," says Pastor Kevin Lund. "The experience of music helps one get beyond the limits of everyday reality in order to open up a spiritual reality."

And then there’s the youth correctional sweat lodge.

Young people who have been in "trouble with the law" crowd into a small, dark tent, which is superheated with rocks and steam.

"They will feel as though death were close by," the narrator says. "To survive, they will have to learn to pray."

Science has "explained much about physical reality," Larsen says. "But there are aspects of our consciousness that lie outside the realm of science."

Even some avowed agnostics have sensed this.

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