Reflecting on the film, “Of Gods and Men”
By Sister Martha Pavelsky, MHSH
“What‘s a nice kid like me doing in a place like this?”
Why were Trappist monks living in the mountains of rebellion-torn Algeria in the 1990s? What was the point of their being there at that time living among decapitations and slit throats, and how could it ever speak to our being here now?
Furthermore, why was I at The Charles, Baltimore’s only “art theatre,” two weekends in a row seeing the same film, “Of Gods and Men.” The film lays out in spectacular photography before our sometimes startled senses the grit of daily life in that part of the world at that particular time.
Americans, among others, may wonder what those monks were doing there. On the surface, not a lot: no NGO (Non-Government Organization) projects, no seed money for local artisans. They were just there, being monks, living simple, prayerful, struggling lives, much like their neighbors, Muslim townsfolk.
They harvested honey and sold it at the weekly market, offered basic medical treatments to anyone in need—villager, soldier, rebel. In one vignette, they celebrated a milestone in the life of a young family by cooking and cleaning and….But this is so ordinary, so mundane, so boring. Those are things we all do every day.
Precisely. What challenges us to examine our own fidelity, to ask, “Is this really what I was meant to do? Might I do better somewhere else, with someone else?”
It’s not easy to dare such a reassessment. It wasn’t easy for those monks, either, but it was clear that their lives could soon come to a painful, gruesome end. They agonized, as we all do, each coming to his own decision to stay or flee.
Making the effort to track down and see “Of Gods and Men” could trigger a rich and threatening reassessment of what you do and how you be.
Question: What life experiences or everyday activities might lead you to re-evaluate your life? What if you knew, as the monks did, that your life could soon come to an end? Would you stay or flee?