The tears on my face have hardly dried after watching "Of Gods and Men." This beautiful, heartbreaking film won the grand prize at Cannes in 2010, putting to rest the myth that the arts and the gospel are at odds with each other.
I want to say that this is more of a Christian movie than anything that's been shown in American theaters in the last few years but I fear that would diminish what it really is. Also, I want to say that it is a Christmas movie but the themes are of violence and waiting and only distant hope and so it would be truer to say that it is an Advent movie.
The film observes the same rhythms of the Trappist monks it portrays--silence, prayer and conversation in rhythmic repetition, making it a meditative experience to be entered into as much as a movie to be watched. It begins in the days before Christmas and continues to the days before Easter, as the monks look back to their experience of the Christmas mass after their great fear comes upon them and as they look forward to the resurrection hope of Easter.
In between, they face the decision to stay or leave their tiny monastery in an insignificant village in Algeria in the 1990s, knowing that the violent confrontation between Islamist terrorists and corrupt government forces will eventually invade the monastery walls. As the anxiety increases, they struggle to define themselves--to themselves, with each other, with the village outside the monastery walls--with the kind of courage that incarnates the love that brought them to Algeria in the first place and that bears witness to the hope that is within them.
They contemplate what it means to follow Jesus in laying down their lives to find them even as they know they have chosen their own deaths. And as they do all this, they pray the psalms and chant the liturgy as they have every day of their lives as monks.
When the movie was over, I cried some and prayed for those around the world who face the same kinds of choices today. The prayer "Lord, have mercy," which I often pray, had fresh and haunting meaning. I contemplated whether the Lord does have mercy and I recited the beatitudes and then I stood and looked out the window for awhile. And then I came to tell you about it.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.