There is no way to fully describe the tone of this movie, but the opening scene of the monks engrossed in their daily prayers, songs and meditations in their chapel sent chills down my spine.
“Of Gods and Men”, now out in selected theaters, is based on the true story of a small order of Trappist monks in the isolated mountains of Muslim Algeria who were besieged by a group of fundamentalist Islamic terrorists in the mid 90’s. This movie is stirring on so many levels. We see why a group of aging monks are here, first and foremost to help the village that surrounds them, poor farmers and shepherds in desperate need of medical care, (one of the monks is a physician). And we see the beauty of their emotionally symbiotic relationship with the people around them. As they are discussing their possible departure with their Algerian friends in the face of this threat, one of the villagers says, “If you go, we lose our footing.”
They are careful to respect the society that surrounds them, as demonstrated by the scene where the head monk, Brother Christian, picks up his well-worn Koran and consults it during his correspondence work. These men quietly live out their lives, planting and harvesting their own food, selling some it at market and are an integral part of the villager’s lives, celebrating customs right along with them, living each day in calm order until the climactic scene of the terrorists infiltrating the monastery’s walls. There are several scenes, as an audience member, I wanted to cry out, throw popcorn at the screen, weep at just how unfairly this small village and these holy men are being treated.
During the course of this movie, we are taken into these men’s lives, one’s own struggle with his faith as it is severely tested under pressure, the question of brotherhood, putting your own needs behind that of the collective and standing with solidarity, and ultimately the concept of grace and forgiveness staring down the ugly face of murder and rage.
A movie in which I spent the last 20 minutes bawling like a baby had me asking some tough questions:
- What what I do in a situation like this, would I stand firm with a band of fellow believers when the going got really tough, or would I tuck my tail and run for greener pastures? (The monks had an opportunity to go on several occasions and we see that they were commanded to leave by the army)
- What would be my attitude toward my captors?
- What does living out my faith while being respectful and loving towards people around me look like?
- And as the head monk reminds one of his brothers of the passage in I Cor. 13 “Love endures everything.” Can I do that?
Some light food for thought…