Tag Archive - Struggle

Bless My Enemies, O Lord


It seems that, as recently as the 1950’s, the tiny island of Guam was home to a number of native birds who were to be found nowhere else in the world. Today, most of these species are extinct. Why?

Guam became an important stop for trading ships plying the Pacific. Some of these ships came from Australia and New Guinea. Hidden inside their holds was a dangerous predator. The brown tree snake. He was offloaded with some of the cargo. With no natural predators, the snake thrived on this unsuspecting island. His principle source of nourishment?

Eggs.

These birds were not victims of a malicious attack. They fell prey to ignorance. A villain that was unseen could not be thwarted.

I am very like these ships. Inside me lurk villains, capable of hurting those I love. Anger, bitterness, regret. I am unaware of them. Until I’m injured. Then, they come festering to the surface. And must be dealt with.

In his remarkable book, Giver of Life, Father John Oliver says I should be thankful for people who bump up against me. Who hurt me. And provoke me. Because they help the toxic sludge find a way out. And I can be made right. If I am willing.

He’s right, of course. But I have really struggled with this over the last couple of days. So I return to this prayer. I am ashamed to admit how often I need it. It is not who I am. But, it is who I would be. Perhaps, if you find yourself in a similar place, it will be helpful to you…

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Enemies have driven me into Thy embrace more than friends have.
Friends have bound me to earth, enemies have loosed me from earth and have demolished all my aspirations in the world.
Enemies have made me a stranger in worldly realms and an extraneous inhabitant of the world.

Just as a hunted animal finds safer shelter than an unhunted animal does, so have I, persecuted by enemies, found the safest sanctuary, having ensconced myself beneath Thy tabernacle, where neither friends nor enemies can slay my soul.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

They, rather than I, have confessed my sins before the world.
They have punished me, whenever I have hesitated to punish myself.
They have tormented me, whenever I have tried to flee torments.
They have scolded me, whenever I have flattered myself
They have spat upon me, whenever I have filled myself with arrogance.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Whenever I have made myself wise, they have called me foolish.
Whenever I have made myself mighty, they have mocked me as though I were a dwarf.
Whenever I have wanted to lead people, they have shoved me into the background.
Whenever I have rushed to enrich myself, they have prevented me with an iron hand.
Whenever I thought that I would sleep peacefully, they have wakened me from sleep.
Whenever I have tried to build a home for a long and tranquil life, they have demolished it and driven me out.

Truly, enemies have cut me loose from the world and have stretched out my hands to the hem of Thy garment.

 Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Bless them and multiply them; multiply them and make them even more bitterly against me:
so that my fleeing to Thee may have no return
;
so that all hope in men may be scattered like cobwebs;
so that absolute serenity may begin to reign in my soul;
so that my heart may become the grave of my two evil twins: arrogance and anger
;
so that I might amass all my treasure in heaven;
ah,
so that I may for once be freed from self deception, which has entangled me in the dreadful web of illusory life.

Enemies have taught me to know what hardly anyone knows, that a person has no enemies in the world except himself.

One hates his enemies only when he fails to realize that they are not enemies, but cruel friends.
It is truly difficult for me to say who has done me more good and who has done me more evil in the world: friends or enemies.

Therefore bless, O Lord, both my friends and my enemies.

A slave curses enemies, for he does not understand.
But a son blesses them, for he understands.
For a son knows that his enemies cannot touch his life. Therefore he freely steps among them and prays to God for them.

Bless my enemies, O Lord. Even I bless them and do not curse them.

Amen

~St. Nicolai of Zica

 

*The story at the top of the post is also excerpted (and abbreviated) from Father John Oliver’s book, Giver of Life. I highly commend it to you.

**The beautiful bird in the photo is the Mariana fruit-dove, one of the species who no longer breathes upon this earth. Lord, may Your Kingdom come. Make all things right. Amen.

Lord, Make Me Humble. But Not Yet.

The Holy Fathers say that, unless we humble ourselves, the Lord will not stop humbling us…Until you have suffered much in your heart, you cannot learn humility.

I read these lines. I even underlined them. I talked about them with my friends. Then, promptly forgot them.

The line I remembered is this:

Our holy Father Symeon says that a person who has attained humility of the mind cannot be hurt by anything in the world.

Yes, please.

Both quotes are from Our Thoughts Determine our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica. It is a rather prickly book. The sort that gets all up in your business. Provoking, inspiring, humbling

I sit in Starbucks on Sunday afternoon with three lovely friends who are also reading the book. I say to them…out loud…that I want this. I want this humility that renders me invincible.

Then, on Monday, God obliges with a generous dose of humiliation…of suffering in my heart. How convenient! And I thank Him. Oh yes, I do! First I thank Him by being hurt. Grieved. Sad. The grief festers into bitterness. Indignity that wrongs committed years ago still cast a shadow across my life, despite the fact that I have repented and am striving to live honorably. I don’t deserve this! (See what I mean.) But the bitterness is short lived. It dissolves into despair. I will never move past this. No matter what I do. And this cloud hovers over everything. And nothing looks right. Nothing tastes right. My stomach hurts. And I cry myself to sleep…

Lord, make me humble.

But not yet.

The phrase is St. Augustine’s, though he prayed to be made chaste. Perhaps he and I both missed the point. To acquire either takes a great deal of practice. And the practice is very like the training runs I am currently doing for an ultra marathon. Painful. Dirty. Smelly. Exhausting. And, did I mention, painful. Very. Painful.

But, just like in marathon training, there is pain, then recovery. A chance to catch one’s breath before plunging back in. And, also like training, when the wounds have healed, I hopefully emerge stronger than before. A little bit closer to the goal.

One of the most valuable lessons I have learned from running is that you don’t quit just because something is really hard, or because it hurts. And sometimes it hurts like hell. So, I’m not quitting. Even though I have such a very long way to go. And sometimes it seems impossible. And I get angry at myself for not being better at this.

Lord, make me humble. But not

Lord, make me humble. But

Lord, make me humble.

 

*Bolds in the quotes mine.

So That You Will Hear Me

I give her Neruda with her milk. I read him aloud for both of us. Sometimes she stops sucking and listens. And I wonder what she hears. She is three months old. I know she does not understand all the words. But there is something. Something in the way they shape my voice. Stories under the words. My stories. The way he calls them forth with his incantations. Already she knows.

And I realize that much of what she will hear me say over our lives will not be words. It will be the story inside. The way it quickens my breath. Or clouds my eyes. That barely perceptible change in cadence. And she will hear something I did not mean to say. Some part of me that I would have hidden, laid bare. And perhaps it is better.

So That You Will Hear Me

So that you will hear me
my words
sometimes grow thin
as the tracks of the gulls on the beaches.

Necklace, drunken bell
for your hands smooth as grapes.

And I watch my words from a long way off.
They are more yours than mine.
They climb on my old suffering like ivy.

It climbs the same way on damp walls.
You are to blame for this cruel sport.
They are fleeing from my dark lair.
You fill everything, you fill everything.

Before you they peopled the solitude that you occupy,
and they are more used to my sadness than you are.

Now I want them to say what I want to say to you
to make you hear as I want you to hear me.

The wind of anguish still hauls on them as usual.
Sometimes hurricanes of dreams still knock them over.
You listen to other voices in my painful voice.

Lament of old mouths, blood of old supplications.
Love me, companion. Don’t forsake me. Follow me.
Follow me, companion, on this wave of anguish.

But my words become stained with your love.
You occupy everything, you occupy everything.

I am making them into an endless necklace
for your white hands, smooth as grapes.

~Pablo Neruda

Empty….

In each of these pots I planted……1 blue ageratum, 1 dark purple petunia, 1 variegated sweet potato vine, and 1 lavender lantana.  Tiny little things when I bought them. They have outdone themselves. Really. They are out of control. Beautiful, yes. But also needy. I am watering them EVERY day. One gallon each. If I am late in delivering their water…ie. after noon….they pout. Leaves shrivel and hang all pitiful. Blooms nod like they will drop right off. Sometimes they do. If you look closely you can see brown leaves that have not forgiven me. Their jubilant show has been costly. To both of us.

Yesterday I looked very like them. Leaves hanging all limp and lifeless. Begging for….something.

Empty

Life moves in seasons, I suppose. In some seasons we receive, and in some we give. Over a lifetime they sort themselves out and arrive at some equilibrium.

I guess.

Maybe.

I am reminded that I have a responsibility for caring for myself. I can only give that which I have. If I allow myself to be depleted…used up…I have no more to offer. The irony is that the closer I get to empty, the more I choose that which harms rather than that which satisfies.

Why is that?

I wanted to run away. To just tell my family they were on their own. To escape somewhere…anywhere….where no one would know me. Where no one would ask anything of me. It seemed like oasis. Like rest.

I avoided talking to God. Crazy, I know. I did not want His input. I did not want Him to tell me this was for my good. And, quite frankly, I was afraid He would give me another assignment. I was DONE! DONE, I tell you! Spread so thin I had become transparent. Invisible. Easy to step on. To trounce on the way to the next thing… So long as I had the laundry washed and folded, the dishes washed, everything running so smoothly no one knows where it comes from. And no one cares….

Throwing myself a pity party. With balloons. Talking out loud in my car. To NO ONE! To every one. Everyone that asked anything of me. Letting them know just how much it cost me……

Today, I begin again.

With the same people. The same expectations.

How can today be different? What will keep me on the rails?

This morning, I will begin with God. I will pray the morning prayers. I will give Him myself. I will ask Him to pray Himself in me. All day. No guarantees that anything will be easier today. Only one thing will be different. I will ask Him in. I will not hide. That’s all.

And if  He comes to pour water upon me, I will not make of my leaves spouts that deflect. I will receive. Even if the water costs me something. For I am empty.

Empty

Empty….

Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed,
Because His compassions fail not.
They are new every morning
Lamentations 3:22-23

Fringe Benefits…

July in Tennessee. 95 degrees in the shade. 127% humidity. Air like gravy. You could scoop it with a spoon. Put it on your biscuits. We walk around in it. Breathe it. Wear it on our skin.

And so….we crazy types who like to run (or bike, or hike, etc…) find ourselves setting the alarm earlier and earlier to catch those couple of hours when the temp will plummet to 84* and there will be pinpricks of night in the air, and the dark will create an illusion of cool, and maybe, just maybe, we can breathe. I’m not always happy about it, to be honest. But I do it. Because it makes me strong. And healthy. Because the running teaches me so much about life. About doing what is hard. About pain. About persistence.

And here is the other thing I know. That every time I go out there…every time I do the hard thing…there will be something I didn’t expect. A fringe benefit. A gift I could not have thought to ask for. For instance….

Saturday morning…fog lies heavy, like a blanket, on the cornfields. Slanting rays of sunlight refract through the trees making spectacular displays of light. Prisms. Colors sorting themselves into groups. I. Am. Dazzled. And I am only getting started…

I know the Natchez Trace Bridge. I watched it being built. I have biked over it. Sat on the edge of it. Seen it in sunshine and snow. But I have never seen it like this….

I become part of it. Part of the cloud. Part of the unknowing. The mystery. My heart is pounding. I am laughing. Out loud.

I could be in bed right now.
I could be missing
this….

And…

I could have missed the barred owl. Keeping late hours. Exchanging love songs with a distant sweetheart. He was so close I could feel the tremolo of his voice in my chest…

I could have missed the long, black ribbon, lazily threading its way across my path. Stopping occasionally to scent the air with his tongue. Majestic. Elegant. Beautiful. Black snake…

Wildflowers. Chipmunks. Squirrels. Rabbits. Birds…….

It’s not only in the running, though.

When Mike and I chose to do the hard work of rebuilding a marriage, we could not imagine all the ancillary gifts that would surprise us. They surprise us still…a little at a time.

My friends who have walked…are walking…the sometimes harrowing road of adoption…uncertain, costly, emotional…tell of unexpected graces…gifts they could never have anticipated.

My run was not without cost. One of those gorgeous slanting rays of sunlight blinded me long enough for me to miss a tree root. I stumbled and opened a nice gash in my knee. I had a few bloody miles ahead of me. There will always be a price. But it is a price well worth paying.

What is the hard thing you are afraid of? So afraid that you are paralyzed to move forward? I wonder what might be unleashed in the universe if you were to make the hard choice to plunge in.

“When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible…” ~Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

“Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.” ~Goethe

The Tree of Life

In everyday English, the word mystery implies a puzzle to be solved, a conundrum to be unraveled…In the east, on the other hand, a mystery is an area where the human mind cannot go, where the heart alone makes sense–not by knowing, but by being.  The Greek word mysterion leads you into a sense of “not knowing” or “not understanding” and leaves you there.  Having arrived, all you can do is gaze and wonder; there is nothing to solve.

~Archimandrite Meletios Webber in Bread and Water, Wine and Oil

The Tree of Life, a new film by Terrence Malick, is mysterion on steroids. It is a wrestling, a fascination, a dialogue with God….with truth…with meaning.

It is a film with vast open spaces. Open spaces in the story where the mind works furiously to interpret…to understand. Open spaces in the film itself…breathtaking images of volcanic eruptions, rushing water, cosmic clouds perfumed with dazzling light….and underneath these: silence. A guided contemplation of sorts. With only occasional whispers. Questions. The ones we speak against the night. Are you out there? Do you see me? Do you care? Where were you when….?

Jack (Sean Penn) asks God when it was that He began to speak to him… We see a baby all in white. Curtains billow in the breeze. Shafts of sunlight play on the wooden floor. And tiny, bare feet dance against the air. We look up through the branches of a great climbing tree with silvered leaves rustling in the wind. A butterfly. All the clean joy of a world brand new. A romance has begun.

This world of little boy joy is punctuated with dark, hard places. A brother dies. A father (Brad Pitt) is too often ruled by anger. In his misguided attempts at making his boys strong….and making himself a “great man”…he is sometimes harsh, brutal, unkind. Difficult to reconcile with the man who carries them on his shoulders…the man whose hands coax beautiful music from the keys of their piano and the church organ…the man who piously kneels before God and prays. Fear and love are inextricably linked in the minds of his sons. How do you learn to trust when you never quite feel safe?

Still, in and out of these places of pain are woven shivering grasses along the edge of a lake, ripple of water over stones, a heart throbbing the rhythm of life, hot red lava spilling over the edge of a crater as billows of gray and blue rise skyward, tiny sperm spirals seeking out an egg to begin life anew, water thundering over the edge of a precipice to pound against the pool below. Difficult to reconcile this grandeur with one who lets brothers die…who allows fathers to beat their children. Is it possible to hold onto wonder…always?

The Tree of Life is unlike any film I have ever seen. It is troubling and sacred. Difficult and glorious. An invitation to enter into mystery. To be saturated in it. I encourage you to plunge in.

The film is showing in limited release at present. If you live in Nashville you can catch it at the Belcourt Cinema. If not, click HERE to find a location near you.

The Teflon Woman

It’s not her real name, you understand. Just a little pet name I’ve given her. Though The Great Divorce is filled with memorable characters, she is my favorite. Perhaps because she is so unlike me. Perhaps because I so long to be her.

I have spent most of my adult life asking people to tell me I’m ok. I have gone to great lengths to make this happen. I have volunteered, worked hard, given and given, trying to prove myself. I have also compromised my integrity, made disastrous decisions, and become someone I loathe. I gather up my self-worth in a little bundle and hand it to others and allow them to do with it as they will.

This is a crippling, desperate way to live.

This week I have seen family members and friends living out the agonizing results of doing this in their own lives. My heart breaks for them. My dream for them and for me is to be free of this bondage. Hence, I find myself thinking again about Sarah Smith.

Sarah is in love. IN love. Love of the Father has so saturated her that she knows exactly who she is. She does not need the accolades of others. Nor, does she fear their criticism. Both slip off her, unable to penetrate. (Teflon!) She is free to be, and to love out of abundance, not need. She characterizes it to her husband in this way,

“What we called love…was mostly the craving to be loved. In the main, I loved you for my own sake; because I needed you.”

Her husband is horrified by the thought that she does not need him. She goes on to explain,

“What needs could I have now that I have all? I am full now, not empty. I am in Love Himself, not lonely. Strong, not weak. You shall be the same. Come and see. We shall have no need for each other now; we can begin to love truly.”

Tragically, her husband will reject the love his wife offers him. He needs to be necessary. She will mourn for him, but can no longer be manipulated by him. She is free.

I close with one last passage about this remarkable woman. In my book it is marked up with notes all around it. I have spent a lot of time here. My prayer for you, for me, for those we love, is that we will come to be this. That we will walk in freedom.

“The Happy Trinity is her home: nothing can trouble her joy.
She is the bird that evades every net: the wild deer that leaps every pitfall.
Like the mother bird to its chickens or a shield to the armed knight: so is the Lord to her mind, in His unchanging lucidity.
Bogies will not scare her in the dark: bullets will not frighten her in the day.
Falsehoods tricked out as truths assail her in vain: she sees through the lie as if it were glass.
The invisible germ will not harm her: nor yet the glittering sunstroke.
A thousand fail to solve the problem, ten thousand choose the wrong turning: but she passes safely through.
He details immortal gods to attend her: upon every road where she must travel.
They take her hand at hard places: she will not stub her toes in the dark.
She may walk among lions and rattlesnakes: among dinosaurs and nurseries of lionettes.
He fills her brim full with immensity of life: he leads her to see the world’s desire.”

May it be so.

Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me

Home is not just a place; it’s a knowing in the soul, a vague premonition of a far-off country that we know exists but haven’t seen yet. Home is where we start and, whether we like it or not, our life is a race against time to come to terms with what it was or wasn’t.

Here begins one of the most riveting stories I have read in a long time. In fact, I read it twice. Ian Morgan Cron is a marvelous storyteller. He could weave the most mundane happening into an engaging narrative. But as it turns out, his life has been anything but mundane.

It seems too fantastic to be real. Movie stars, heads of state, life among the social elite and privileged, mysterious silences and questions that were not permitted, and the terrifying uncertainty of life with an alcoholic father. Cron whisked me into this world so unlike my own, and I found myself identifying with his longings, his hurts and needs, and his fugitive moments of transcendence.

Wounds formed early in our tender hearts by fathers who are absent to us send out tendrils that wrap themselves around everything that follows in life. Nothing is untainted. Unspoiled. Most of us can relate at some level. Questions about our worth. Am I loved? Do I deserve to be loved?

A boy needs a father to show him how to be in the world. He needs to be given swagger, taught how to read a map so that he can recognize the roads that lead to life and the paths that lead to death, how to know what love requires, and where to find steel in the heart when life makes demands on us that are greater than we think we can endure.

Ian’s life is laced with luminous moments. Eucharist. A sacred encounter with a young fawn in the wild. Even a university professor whose reveries over certain pieces of literature are “better than church.”

I never told anyone how fascinated I was by the Eucharist…the harmonic frequency that rings at the center of the heart of God made something vibrate in mine while all this was going on…He placed the Host on my tongue…and I fell into God.

He says that with his First Communion a tether was tied around his waist. Although he would test it sorely, it would never let him be completely lost. After years of being angry at a God who he had once loved purely, but who had done nothing to mitigate the tragic circumstances of his life, he finds himself back at the communion table again. And a lifetime of radiant moments are woven together into a glorious crescendo that leaves me sobbing.

I didn’t want to parse God–I wanted to be swept up in His glory. I didn’t want to understand the Holy One; I wanted to be consumed in his oceanic love.

The road from here will not be easy. So many broken places need healing. Cron is vulnerable and honest about just how much this costs.

My favorite chapter in the whole book is the next to last where he talks about his children. I have had the joy of meeting Cailey, Maddie, and Aidan, and they are wonderful. I have seen their father ruffle their hair and hug them long. I have seen the easy laughter and camaraderie between Anne, Ian, and their children. I had no idea how miraculous that was.

How can I give something to a son that I myself never received? I want my son to know how to be in the world; how to love himself; how not to settle for too little; how to walk with God with humility, compassion, and an inclusive heart; how to never hide his true self because he’s afraid.

In one magical story we see this coming into being. We learn the difference between falling and jumping. And we see the astonishing sweep of redemption…just how far it can go. I must confess, this chapter had me laughing hysterically. Just wait til you read it. You’ll see. 🙂 But as Ian poured his heart for his son onto the page and I saw a whole family who is FOR one another, I was undone. The beauty of what God has wrought is astonishing. Astonishing!

You probably already know Ian from his novel, Chasing Francis: a Pilgrim’s Tale. Official release date for Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir…of Sorts is June 7th. But you can get it now from Amazon. I cannot recommend it highly enough. An engaging story. Artful articulation. A miracle of healing and restoration.

Knowing When…to Say When

DNF

Did Not Finish

Three letters…three words…that make the stomach of any endurance athlete hurt.

I am told it is a character builder. I am told that anyone who attempts the improbable should expect a DNF at some point. Inevitable, they say………

When I began running, I couldn’t get my head around the idea of a half-marathon, much less a marathon. There was no hook to hang it on. No point of reference. I could as easily imagine flying to the moon. But, as I began piling mile upon mile, 13.1 suddenly seemed less… impossible.

Attempting outlandish things teaches one a great deal about life. It teaches you that when you think you have nothing left, there may be a strength inside you you have never yet found. It teaches you that the most overwhelming task can be taken on one mile, or one minute, at a time. And, it gives you the opportunity to feel the smile of God. To look at your feet in wonder as they keep on moving, even after you have gone further than you have ever gone before.

Not surprising that some of us become addicted.

Four half marathons, including one straight up Pikes Peak. Five full marathons. And now, the ultra. It seems like the logical next step. A new challenge.

So I choose an ultra that will give me time. A 50 miler that allows me 24 hours, in the glorious Grand Tetons. Even with altitude and 10,000 feet in vertical gain, 24 hours is a long time. Except, that this year they make changes. This year, there will be no 100 miler which means that they can’t be so liberal about time limits. Twenty-four hours becomes sixteen (or seventeen–the jury is still out on that). And suddenly I know that a 50 miler will be an inevitable DNF.

I could own the DNF right up front; sign up for the 50 miler knowing I won’t finish and just go as far as I can. I think about this for a long time. Finally, though, I decide a 50k with altitude and several thousand feet of vertical gain just might be challenge enough for now.

In the beginning it feels cowardly. Like giving up. I am embarrassed to tell anyone. But, as the days go by, I come to revel in it. I will have more time with my family this summer. I will have enough juice left to join my son in his first running event, The Franklin Classic, two days later. And, I will have time to inhale the vistas, take photographs, and drink deeply of the experience. It is the right choice for now.

And if, in the end, I still come away with a DNF, I will trust God to use it to grow me.

Grand Teton 5ok. September 3rd, 2011. Training has begun….

Few of us know what we are capable of doing…we have never pushed ourselves hard enough to find out.

~Alfred A. Montapert

Of Gods and Men

I said, “You are gods, And all of you are children of the Most High. But you shall die like men… ~Psalm 82: 6,7

It is a film made with an elegant reserve fitted to its subject. An abstract art that invites the viewer to participate in its creation. Wordless scenes. Gesture. Movement. Long, meaningful gazes. Men who have so long lived together that these are enough. A reprieve from our habitually unrestrained verbosity.

We hear the scuff of shoes against wood floors. Crunch of snow. Soft patter of rain. Bleat of sheep. Lap of lake. Earthy scrape of fork against soil. Unburdened with the din of voices. We see the slow work of filling jars with honey. Placing candles in stands. Driving sheep. Dropping seeds in earth.

Still, words have knit them together. And these words will become refuge. Psalms the brothers sing together will be peace and rest and courage when times grow excruciatingly perilous…

Eight Cistercian monks from France dwell in the mountains of Algeria. They and their Muslim neighbors live in and out of one another. Sharing bread, celebrating together, serving one another. Honor, respect, and love have grown up among them over years. When militant Muslim extremists begin a reign of terror, both are horrified. It is suggested, nearly demanded, by the authorities that the monks flee. It is not their war after all.

Or is it?

What does it mean to give your life away? Is it not enough to have given up family, position, possessions? How far is one called to go? Is it reckless to put oneself in harm’s way for another?

As each man, in community and alone, wrestles with these questions, their agony is my agony. Visible. Visceral. Violent.

They ponder the question with the village elders. “We are like birds on a branch. We don’t know if we’ll leave.” One Muslim woman answers, “We are the birds. You are the branch. If you go, we lose our footing.” And this is where, in the end, they will find their answer. They have been called to this place. To this people. You do not leave the people you love because loving them has become difficult.

It will be a costly decision.

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.

~Penned, in the film, by Christian, leader of the community

This is a remarkable film. I was completely undone by it. It is based on the tragic Tibhirine massacre that took place in Algeria in 1996. It is an heroic story, the sort of which we know far too few. I recommend it for all persons of faith and goodwill everywhere. If you live in Nashville, you can see it through Sunday at the Belcourt. It releases on DVD in July.

*Winner of the Grand Prix, Cannes Film Festival, 2010

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