Recently we watched a marvelous movie, Of Gods and Men. It is a powerful story of a monastic community in Algiers that is caught up in the civil war of the 1990’s. These monks were faced with question: do we stay in the community and continue our service among these people or do we do flee to the safety of France? The movie takes us on the journey of their struggle. Strikingly, the words of the sung liturgy of this monastic community and the rhythms of the seven daily offices (the communal worship of the monks) were the most powerful moments of the movie. Through them we got ‘God’s commentary’ on the action. It is a movie worth watching.
Afterwards, I read a reflection on the movie by Henry Quinson. He quotes two actors. These actors were not monks. They had not sung these songs before. They spent time in training. At one point they lived in a monastic community. These are the quotes:
“Through songs that elevate and unite us, we became brothers”
“To chant psalms is to breathe together, to share the Breath of Life.”
Coming from disparate actors not known for their religious devotion, these words are a powerful testimony to the power of daily office in which the words of Scripture and songs combine to transform lives.
Listening to this movie around the time of preparing for Good Friday led me to reflect on the words of Jesus in his high priestly prayer (John 17) when he prays “that they may be one.” Unity is more than having a common confession. These actors reflect on how the daily practice of singing the liturgy helped shape them into a community. Worship services can elevate us – taking us out of our private concerns and setting our minds on Christ, his kingdom and his way. Worship has transforming power to shape our lives by the gospel of Christ. And it is not just the worship service that has this effect. I have seen mission trips where working, eating and doing devotions together transforms lives. Many of our process in church re-focusing and visioning have the same affect. We come together to listen to what Christ, our Lord, is inviting us to be and do. In other words, our life together lived with deep attention to the “breathing together the Breath of Life” elevates us and in Christ unites us.
“We became brothers” say the actors. Jesus prays that we may be one. This unity is never just a matter of agreeing with each other. We need an elevation that lifts us to throne of Jesus Christ. The question is what practices do we embrace that help us lift up our hearts to the Lord? How do we breathe together the Breath of Life? What practices help us move from selfishness to selflessness in Christ so that Christ will be all in all?