Earlier this week I watched ‘Of God’s and Men,’ with a group of parishioners. It is a fantastic film. Set in Algeria, the film tells the true story of a group of Cistercian monks caught in the midst of ethnic violence during the 1990’s. The monks live alongside, and serve, an impoverished Muslim community; this is their calling.
When violence breaks out the monks have to decide whether to flee, back to France, or to stay and accept whatever comes their way. After an enormous amount of ‘soul searching’ they stay, in the full and certain knowledge that martyrdom would be their, unanticipated, calling.
So what made them stay? Certainly not a sense of heroism – none of them became monks believing that they were called to martyrdom. Perhaps, the moment when they were able to discern their ‘revised calling’ came one one their Muslim brothers said:
‘If you go we lose our footing’
This irony is this: their Muslim friend simply reminded them of their monastic vow to stability (Cistercians follow the Rule of Benedict – the three Benedictine vows being Stability, Obedience and Conversion of Life).Stability infers long-term commitment to a people, a place and a set of practices. Stability is unlikely, for most of us to lead to martyrdom. But, if we take stability seriously it will almost certainly provide some route for taking up our cross and following (without going anywhere – another Christian paradox) Him.
I was struck by the thoughts that others need our stability:
- in order to retain their sense of identity
- to face, with courage, and in hope, an uncertain future
- to know they are not alone – that others stand alongside them in authentic Christian solidarity
- to witness, first hand, the transforming power of our, Christian, faith
So these are the challenges: what might stability mean to us, in our contexts? How committed are to our neighbours and their footing, even where their practices and beliefs are markedly different?
One final thought: it is not hard to offer stability and solidarity to those who are just like us – in fact, this might be a sure and certain route into all manner of injustice, inequality and, potentially, atrocity.