Halfway through the film “Of Gods And Men” a conversation takes place between three of the monks of Tibhirine and their village neighbours, in which Brother Amedee suggests the possibility that the monks may flee.

Amedee: We may be leaving.

Algerian Villager: Why are you leaving?

Celestin: We’re like birds on a branch. We don’t know if we’ll leave.

Algerian Villager: We’re the birds. You’re the branch. If you go, we lose our footing.

It is a curious idea. For the impoverished Allgerian villagers whose lives are torn by the internecine conflict wracking their community, somehow the powerless monks of Tibhirine are a source of stability and security.

Could it be that these Algerian villagers perceive in their monastic neighbours a quality of faith and trust that helps them feel a measure of security and hope in the face of the uncertainty and danger they share?

Another famous Trappist monk, Thomas Merton wrote in his autobiographical Seven Story Mountain, about his first encounter with monastic life when he visited the Abbey of our Lady of Gethsemani in Kentucky. Merton described his feelings entering the Abbey for the first time:

I felt the deep, deep silence of the night, and of peace, and of holiness enfold me like love, like safety.

The embrace of it, the silence! I had entered into a solitude that was an impregnable fortress. 321

This was 1941. The world was embroiled in one of the most agonizing convulsions of violence and bloodshed ever known in human history. And yet, in solitude and silence, Merton experienced a safety and security that enabled him to introduce future generations to an inner reality that made possible a more peaceful way of living in the uncertainty and pain of the world.

The monks of Tibhirine had built into their lives the rhythms of silence and solitude. So, their neighbours saw in them the possibility of a deep inner strength that they perceived had the power to bring stability into the uncertainty of their lives.

Christmas is not primarily about external events. The events of the nativity are intended to point us to the reality that, in the midst of poverty, uncertainty, and powerlessness, it is possible to find a security and strength that no military might can ever provide.

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