Saturday, April 23, 2011

Of Gods and Men

I have no idea what happened to my original post, but I've reconstructed it as best I can:

Last night, for reasons not entirely clear to me, my nonreligious family agreed to accompany me to Of Gods and Men for its first screening here.  From my point of view, Good Friday was an auspicious day on which to see the film for the first time

It's been thoroughly reviewed in many venues, including The New York Times, here, so I'll just offer a few personal observations.

At dinner afterward, I mentioned that monks in the Benedictine tradition make vows of stability, committing themselves to a lifetime in one place, unless asked by a superior to make a move.  "Oh!" everyone exclaimed, wishing they had known that at the outset.  They would have better understood what was at stake in the abbot's abrupt and unilateral decision that they should stay where they were, continuing to serve the impoverished Algerian community in which their monastery was located, and the anguish that accompanied their subsequent communal discernment as to what steps to take in the face of increasing danger.

"Isn't that why you make vows?" asked Gregarious Son.  "So that in a time of crisis, the decision has been made?"

I was quite taken with the abbot as a model of the reconciling behavior to which we are called; my children, with what they saw as his fascination with other religions.  He was fluent in Arabic, quoted the Qur'an to the radicals who burst into the monastery late on Christmas, and eagerly opened the package containing a copy of Chaim Potok's novel, The Chosen.  The monks joined their neighbors for a family celebration at which a lengthy passage of the Qur'an was recited, and worked with and cared for them with an easy camaraderie.  Perhaps reconciliation and fascination are two sides of the same coin: an attentiveness to the many ways in which God labors among us all.

I have been thinking, since somewhere in the middle of the film, about what the Incarnation means, and about our own task of embodying God's presence in the world.  Many years ago, a then-young pastor asked me, "What does it mean that we are to pray without ceasing?" As if I should have known.

But now I think it means that, to the extent that we immerse ourselves in sustained and attentive prayer (as monks do at regular, scheduled times throughout the day and night), so we become in our ordinary lives, conscious or not, thoughtful or blundering, expressions of God's intention for goodness and love among us all.

Happy Easter.


  1. Thanks. Lovely post. I too saw it yesterday.

  2. It may be that that is the only way to do it - start with, and go out carrying, the clearest loving intention you have, and do what comes to you. I don't know, but maybe that's it. I'm so grateful that you got to have those conversations with your family. That is beyond price. Happy Easter to you, my friend.

  3. Where on earth did my post go???

  4. Robin - that is what I was just wondering. How odd!

  5. Very bizarre. Maybe I'll try to reconstruct it later.

  6. That's the answer, isn't it...the "ecumenical" spirit that is embodied in these religious. It is recognizing that whatever name you give it: God, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, the Universe, it is the same power we are all acknowledging.

    ...and a Happy Easter to you too, my friend!

  7. Well, I would argue that God and the universe are quite different, one being the Creator and the other, the created.

    But I understand your point. A particularly Happy Easter to you, Lisa!

  8. I am working through a wonderful book on St. Benedict's rule and it's attention to humility. I am struck again and again by this vow of stability.

    Regardless of our fascination with celibacy, poverty and obedience I do believe this vow is the one least conscious in our culture.

    A vow of stability is a continuing invitation to return, reconcile and repent .... in this one place, in this one life.

    In my life I have often been seduced by the promise of a geographic cure. Even if it is just a few feet - to the kitchen, to the bedroom, to the television. Or across the country, to a new community or church. Put this book down, pick up another.

    There is a profound humility in stability. Perhaps this is what enabled us to have the Incarnation. Jesus chose stability. Here on earth.

    And look what we have today.

    Blessings to you - and a glorious Easter!

  9. Cindy, what a beautiful reflection. You should post it as a blog entry.

  10. love the quote by the gregarious one. Hope to see the movie.