Of Gods and Men
Directed by: Xavier Beauvois, 2011
I had written down the title Of Gods and Men as it was recommended to me, though I can’t recall who did or the context. They were right however; this movie has lingered with me since I watched it. It drew me in with the passages they quote1 and the silence.
It is the story of Christian Monks in Algeria. They live in harmony with the Muslim community they serve until Civil War breaks out. Even as their peaceful life is threatened by Islamic fundamentalists, their leader declines protection from the government.
In the process the Monks are divided as to flee or remain in Algeria. They eventually choose to remain despite the unlikelihood of peace and certainty of more violence. It is not a happy ending.
What continues to have impact is the deliberate pace of the movie and how, for me, it captures the monastic life. We witness the violence, but it is not glorified as in so much of our entertainment today. Everything is understated, even their commitment and the practice of their belief.
As I continue to ponder this movie, its impact isn’t so much in the story; I have no desire to be a Monk. I’m not sure I’m cut out to confront violence with passive resistance. Rather I am drawn to the gentle community they portray, and their service to the community and to each other.
What is most appealing are the scenes of them robing and in chapel, singing or praying; eight men in silence, solitude and communion. I am reminded of my teacher training at Kripalu. There, breakfast is silent. At first odd, it was something I soon enjoyed, eating in a cafeteria with perhaps 200 people, with just the clinking of utensils on plates.
We live our lives in such a hurried state, one of constant stimulation. My initial thoughts while watching the movie was that I want to go on retreat, in the company of men. I want to work on simple and necessary projects with our hands, and be comfortable with silence. What was really wonderful, was the realization soon after that I already have that in what we’ve created, especially in Senior Men’s Yoga.
What started out as a class introducing men to Yoga, has turned into a class that is more a moving meditation. And while there is still humor, more and more, we share the practice in silence.
Postscript… the quote I liked was this, from Pensées by Blaise Pascal:
1. “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.”
When I looked up Pascal, I became even more fascinated. The name of his book, the Pensées was given posthumously to writing fragments which he had been preparing for an Apology for the Christian Religion which he did not complete before dying. I find the notion of a convert apologizing for Christianity 400 years ago intriguing, to say the least.
This was submitted for the Daily Post – The Sound of Silence.
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