Saturday night, Jon and I watched the lauded French film, “Of Gods and Men.” It is based on the true story of Trappist monks dwelling in an impoverished Algerian community under the threat of Islamic Fundamentalists.
The monks live harmoniously, working to cultivate love. They nurture the ground, care for the ill, discuss life with the local Muslim leaders and give advice to the youth, who all clearly trust them. All this is interspersed and structured by their worship habits—their beautiful chants and prayers to God.
Very early in the film, we learn the threat of Islamic fundamentalists who violently murder Croatian aid-workers; authorities urge the monks to leave their monastery. The majority of the film, thereafter, records the monks’ agonizing struggle to know what it looks like to love their village with the love of Christ. Everything in the film is understated. It is slow and silent. It leaves room for the viewer to insert their own weaknesses and questions into this tumult of fear and struggle, peace and love. It is profoundly heroic, because it is profoundly human and painful.
I loved how the film shifted between expansive, exalted landscapes scenes; the small, plain chapel, in which the monks unite to sing and pray to God; and each monk’s quiet and measured service in his daily duties. Each scene compels with variegated beauty. The monks love the sparse glory of the world around them; they love Algerian people who depend on them; they love each other with honesty and understanding; they love life and good wine and beautiful music; but more than anything, they love the Prince of Peace who would give up his life for the love of others.
So that was the context for hearing our pastor preach from 1 Corinthians 13 on Sunday morning. It was so good to have the film re-playing in my mind as he reminded us that love “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” I loved that the film depicted all levels of this—it wasn’t only a matter of physically dying, but the daily dying to self-interest out of love for each other. I need these sorts of examples. I need to see how my brothers and sisters have shaped their lives according to the Gospel—the shape of Jesus’ life and death, hoping in the resurrection. I need to see how the powerful love of Christ cascades through those who have gone before me, making them fall down in worship, love, and sacrifice, in the hope of being set once more on their feet in new life, in the hope of “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”