‘Super 8’ and the value of spiritual wonder

Josh Larsen

“Super 8” thrives on something that’s been missing from many of our summer blockbusters as of late. Watching it, I realized that this same element is too often missing from my faith, as well.

An acknowledged throwback to the early science-fiction films of Steven Spielberg (who serves as a producer), “Super 8” follows a group of teens in 1979 Ohio who sneak out late at night to make a no-budget horror flick. Without warning, a top-secret military train comes rushing out of the dark and derails. The astonished kids watch as something – I dare not say what - emerges from the scattered wreckage.

Like any summer flick worth its popcorn salt, “Super 8” has big explosions and intricate special effects. But what it’s best at is something less tangible: creating a genuine sense of wonder. “Super 8” captures that rush of amazement that washes over us when we encounter something powerful and mysterious. We feel a burst of awe, even if we don’t fully understand what we’re witnessing.

In “Super 8,” writer-director J.J. Abrams manages to make this happen on two levels. As their rickety little movie starts to come together, the kids come to experience the wonder of creating art. There’s a great scene in which the girl in the group (Elle Fanning) suddenly, out of nowhere, actually acts - and all of them recognize that a true creative moment has been captured.

After the train wreck, Abrams amps up this sensation by having something otherworldly come crashing into the kids’ previously humdrum lives. In both instances – the personal and the fantastic – they’re humbled by something greater than themselves. Their eyes are opened wide with wonder.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t always allow room for wonder in my faith. Sure, I’ll give in to moments of worshipful awe when immersed in nature, but who doesn’t? (It’s the sort of instinctual thanks for God’s creation that even an atheist can give.) When it comes to actually defining my faith, I’m much more comfortable relying on intellect and reason.

I suppose that’s why C.S. Lewis - and his “Mere Christianity” in particular - is such a bedrock text for me. In elegant yet direct language, Lewis is able to make complicated Christian theology sound like common sense. “Mere Christianity” and similarly reason-based apologetics help me understand my faith.

And yet, Lewis is better known for “The Chronicles of Narnia,” the fantasy novels that operate as an allegory for the Christian narrative. Those books don’t offer an explanation of Christianity, one that will satisfy the intellectually curious, but they certainly capture the creativity and imagination – the wonder – that God employs in his zeal to restore his relationship with humankind. Lewis seemed to recognize that reason and intellect can only take us so far.

At some point in our faith journey, should we simply allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by wonder? John Wilkinson makes the case for this in his book, “No Argument for God.” “There truly is no argument for God that is capable of bearing the weight of his existence,” he writes. “Things that operate within the realm of human reason bear the fingerprints of human inventors. The stuff of God, however, doesn’t just sound strange, it is strange.”

It’s actually beyond strange. It’s wondrous.

Which do you lean on more in your faith: reason or wonder? Is it fair to divide the Christian walk in this way? What did you think of the sense of wonder in “Super 8?” Did the movie inspire any other thoughts for you?

(Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.)

Topics: Movies, Culture At Large, Arts & Leisure, Theology & The Church, Faith, Theology