Using the ancient practice of fixed hour prayer observed by the Abrahamic faith traditions, Praying the Hours personifies each hour into a character to tell a story of a 24-hour day. In the feature film, Traveling Man visits with each of eight friends on the day of his accidental death, and—as he crosses over from this life into the next—sees life anew from the perspective of eternity. In the eight short films that expand the project, the story of each hour is told in more detail.
Here, Director Lauralee Farrer comments on the casting of Chris Min as Traveling Man.
Chris Min studied theater at USC, and theology and culture at Fuller graduate school of theology, where I first met him. His thesis project was a fascinating art installation at the Judson Studios in Los Angeles. He was the director of photography on Burning Heart’s first feature documentary, The Fair Trade, and it was through that emotionally heightened, surreal experience that we came to know each other best.
He’s worked at MTV, blogs on the intersection of faith and culture, and is a self-described Christocentric liberal who likes “to connect the dots.” Chris has always struck me as an old soul—very much like the one on whom the Traveling Man story is loosely based. In fact, when we were casting this pivotal character, there was only one name on the list for the duration, until we asked Chris to embody our main character for this ambitious project.
To this production, Traveling Man is like the drummer that goes before a moving army—most vulnerable, unarmed, yet leading the charge. Chris knew when I asked him that it would be a great commitment, that it would require unfettered passion for the project, and that it would demand he go places anyone in their right mind would be resistant to going. To his credit, that was one of the things that interested him. He has said many times since then that he feels somehow holy about this role, as if it were not something he was taking on for himself but on behalf of the audience. He feels, rightfully, that the work is, in itself, an act of prayer.
No wonder we felt he was the right person to play a character crossing over from the surface of this life to the depth of the next. Read from his blog on how he feels as worshipful about God at a museum as at most churches, and see how already prepared he is for this journey:
It is sometimes difficult for me to articulate why a work of art may move me the way that it does. It’s not uncommon for me to stand transfixed before a work of art, having lost any sense of time, while someone stands idly by, waiting for me to get over it. Caving to social propriety, I’ll pull myself out of the way apologizing and say, “It took me somewhere.”
Of course, different works may interest us for different reasons, but when I consider the pieces I find most compelling, they tend to evoke in me a profound sense of longing or reminiscence – even a sense of grief – for something I have no awareness of ever having known. It can be at once strange yet familiar, like a passing scent that suddenly overwhelms with emotion, although you can’t remember why, or like a vague recollection of a dream you’d forgotten long ago. Occasionally, a work of art will leave me overwhelmed by a sense of loss over something I have no language for, but can only intuit. It is a sadness, yes, but in the sweetest sense; it is a sadness with a tenuous hope that will forever be just out of reach. Within my present framework, I categorize these experiences somewhere within the spheres of the mystical and spiritual. I find them to be other and transcendent.
I was reminded recently of experiences C.S. Lewis was said to have had as a student of ancient mythology many years before his religious conversion. In one instance, while reading Saga of King Olaf, Lewis read the passage, “I heard a voice that cried, ‘Balder the beautiful is dead, is dead….'” Describing his response, Lewis wrote, “Instantly I was uplifted into huge regions of the northern sky. I desired with almost sickening intensity something never to be described…” In another, while reading Siegfried and the Twilight of the Gods, Lewis wrote that he was engulfed in “a vision of huge, clear spaces hanging above the Atlantic…and with that plunge back into my own past there arose at once, almost like heartbreak, the memory of Joy itself…at once I knew (with fatal knowledge) that to ‘have it again’ was the supreme and only important object of desire.”
The ambiguity of what I’m attempting to reflect upon here gives me pause. I would be remiss in appropriating Lewis’s experiences of what he would come to call “Joy” as my own. I simply cannot know that what he experienced with mythology, is what I sometimes experience with art. Still, I do think I discern some similarities, and I find it interesting to consider the possibility that Lewis may have been attempting to describe a similar phenomenon.
But what of all this? I don’t know. I suppose I’m just reflecting on the seemingly indescribable place a work of art can take me to sometimes.
still photographs by Jordan McMahon