Posted by: Mike Ferruggia | March 28, 2011

Of Gods and Men

How often does a movie come out in which the protagonists are contemplatives? Not often, unless you like kung fu movies and the heroes are shaolin or taoist monks. But in “Of Gods and Men” we have a group of Cistercian monks, living in their monastery in a North African Country, living their lives of prayer and contemplation(this is based on a true story), when they are confronted by the adversity of being bedieged by Islamic extremists.

They are torn between leaving behind the ties to the local village, which is also affected by the violence, leaving for their own safety, or staying and living out their calling in the face of violence.

As events unfold, through contemplative prayer and community(their monastic community) discernment, they re-center themselves and refocus themselves on the truth that has called them to the monastic life in the first place. Through the adversity, they are able to rediscover who they are, which is the real victory here, no matter the outcome. They, in fact, 7 of the 9, are martyred(sorry for giving it away). But they died true to themselves. The elderly brother who climbed under his bed during the hostage taking lived til he was 86.

And so, as I watched the movie, with my love and affinity for Catholic monastic life, understanding that, centered in Christ, one can handle all adversity, I wondered how a taoist or tai chi contemplative responds under similar circumstances.

I suppose the answer is that when anyone is grounded and centered in their convictions, they can deal with advbersity with sincerity, honesty, and truthfulness. The tasoist apporaches life with a sense of detachment when it comes to the ego. Pride and ego ought not to play a role. The tai chi master understands that life is change. Good things come. Bad things come. We embrace it all with moderation and modesty. And a tai chi contemplative, just as even a Cistercian Monk, adheres to being a force of justice and balance. Both types will take a stand against evil, against violence, against exploitation. Even in the movie, the Abbot displayed a strength and forcefulness and ingtegrity when first confronted by the armed rebels.

Perhaps the only difference is that the Cistercian, the Christian, is called to respond with love and non-violence, even for one’s enemies. It affirms the hope of the transformative power of love and non-violence. The end result is not always an immediate victory, but one of a more eschatological nature. For a tai chi master/contemplative, their may be a duty and responsibility to respond by attempting to defend oneself and the community by physically fighting back, with the all important caveat that it is not done out of the inferior emotions of the ego such as fear, anger, revenge. One would fight back in order to fight for truth, justice, and balance. In the end, the tai chi monk may not be successful either, but would be fighting for a more cosmic victory.

And I would also venture to say that it would not be unusual for either group to do the other. That is, I could envision Cistercian monks fighting to protect themselves and others, and I could envision tai chi contemplatives, as skilled as they might be in martia arts, choosing to stand up against violence with non-vilence(Not in the traditional tai chi sense of using softness against hardness), but in a more christian context of using nonviolent resistance to transform the situation, which, in fact, is really a very taoist thing to do.

So, one thinks about preparing oneself for a situation like this. Do I fight? Do I stand up for justice with nonviolence. I don’t think one choice is right or wrong. The important thing is the sincerity and integrity with which one follows one’s convictions.





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