There are few movies on the subject of faith that linger with me, inviting me to examine my assumptions about life with God, prodding me to consider my sins and the price paid for them. There are fewer still that inspire me to love God more deeply, to follow Christ more closely. In the past years, I can could them on one hand: Into Great Silence and Doubt are two that spring to mind. In the past month, I have added a third: Of Gods & Men.
While not a documentary, Of Gods & Men is based on a true—and heart-rending—story of a group of monks living in community in Algeria in the late 1990s. These missionaries from France live in a monastery, serving their community through free health clinics, support and occasional donations. Theirs is a simple life, and they love those around them with a simple love that transcends religious (they live in a predominately Muslim area) and gender (they serve and love both the women and men) boundaries.
When the instability of the area begins to breed a type of radical Islam that even the villagers foreswear, the brothers are faced with a decision: stay in the face of near certain persecution and possible death, or leave and return home to France and families that they left for the mission field long ago.
Even though I knew the thrust of the movie going into it (thanks to my good friend and movie critic, Jeffrey Overstreet), I found myself completely wrecked and undone on the shores of the faith of these simple brothers. Their love for Jesus and for one another was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen portrayed on the big screen. Their honesty with their struggles and decision-making illustrated the respect and grace of leadership at its very best—at its most Christ-like. Their tears, their laughter, their prayers all tunneled their way into my soul—and I am continuing to be transformed.
At one point in the movie, Brother Luke (who is, appropriately, the monastery’s doctor) is contemplating the road ahead. His life, his ministry, and his commitment to Christ. In a breath-taking moment, he presses his cheek against a painting of Christ on the Cross, his face cradled against the breast of Jesus. Although I’ve seen the film only once, the tenderness, the majesty and the comfort of that moment has followed me almost every day since. I long to have the faith that expresses itself so simply and without artifice or agenda.
Without spoiling the arc of the story, the words penned by Brother Christian near the end of the film, as he considers his uncertain fate, are worth meditating on, living with. His courage and understanding of the life of Christ are things to which I aspire, and I am grateful to him for having the foresight and faith to write them. May you, too, be formed by his words today:
Should it ever befall me, and it could happen today, to be a victim of the terrorism swallowing up all foreigners here, I would like my community, my church, my family, to remember that my life was given to God and to his country. That the Unique Master of all life was no stranger to this brutal departure. And that my death is the same as so many other violent ones, consigned to the apathy of oblivion. I’ve lived enough to know, I am complicit in the evil that, alas, prevails over the world and the evil that will smite me blindly. I could never desire such a death. I could never feel gladdened that these people I love be accused randomly of my murder. I know the contempt felt for the people here, indiscriminately. And I know how Islam is distorted by a certain Islamism. This country, and Islam, for me are something different. They’re a body and a soul. My death, of course, will quickly vindicate those who call me naïve or idealistic, but they must know that I will be freed of a burning curiosity and, God willing, will immerse my gaze in the Father’s and contemplate with him his children of Islam as he sees them. This thank you which encompasses my entire life includes you, of course, friends of yesterday and today, and you too, friend of last minute, who knew not what you were doing. Yes, to you as well I address this thank you and this farewell which you envisaged. May we meet again, happy thieves in Paradise, if it pleases God the Father of us both. Amen. Insha’Allah.
What movies, television shows or pieces of art have inspired you to greater faith?
Which words of Brother Christian’s letter move you? Which words bring resistance? What might God be saying in them?
Tara M. Owens is the senior editor of Conversations Journal. A certified spiritual director with Anam Cara Ministries (www.anamcara.com), she practices in Colorado and around the world. She is profoundly grateful to do ministry and life with her husband and best friend, Bryan. She is working on an upcoming book from InterVarsity Press on spirituality and the body. If you’d like to continue the conversation with Tara, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can follower her on Twitter at t_owens.