Of Gods, Men and Music
A disturbing condemnation of religious tolerance comes in the latest French newsletter from the Benedictine abbey of Sainte-Madeleine at Le Barroux, France which talks of "the double threat posed in the world today... the menacing invasion of atheism and Islam". The writer is a monk at the abbey and to make his point he misappropriates the passionately open minded and deeply moving film Of Gods and Men which provides my header image. Yesterday Decca's CD Voices - Chant from Avignon, recorded by the nuns of Notre-Dame de l'Annonciation which is the sister house of l'Abbaye Sainte Madeleine, was nominated for the Album of the Year in the 2011 Classical Brit Awards. More on that album and gods, women and music here.
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You are quite right, I suspect that I will return to Le Barroux at some point. It is a very special place, and there are too few special places in the world today.
But if and when I return, I will be a little older and, I hope, a little wiser as a result of following the path that I have shared with readers.
The villagers say to the monks that they should stay in the village, that they are the "tree" whilst the villagers themselves are only the "birds" on it. All very flattering to the monks, no doubt. The monastery has been there since the beginning of the village (we are told). But the old men can't even remember the name of the last abbot there!
And In the final analysis, the Muslims aren't really important in this film-it's really about how the monks find *their* own true faith in suffering, hope, duty. Which is, of course, admirable. But one can't help feel throughout the film that Muslims are children of a lesser God.
And, if we forget about the labels given to the protagonists and the views of F. Louis-Marie at Le Barroux, it is a remarkable affirmation of what is known in mystical Islam as Baraka and in the Catholic Church as Grace, the transient beneficent force that flows through the physical and spiritual spheres.
My recent readings in Sufism (a knowledge tradition which has attracted musicians from Keith Jarrett to John Tavener) have revealed fascinating similarities between Sufis and Christian heretics such as the Cathars, particularly in the concept of the 'Perfect' - someone who has found unity with God. It seems there is a shared narrative which the Catholic Church has repeatedly tried to suppress (Albigensian Crusade etc), and the latest tract from Le Barroux perpetuates that attempt at suppression.
But as Joe says, there is always light and shadow. My site logs show many readers following the link to the Guardian review of Of Gods and Men, indicating that the film is not widely known. Readers who have not seen the film are urged to seek it out in the cinema or on DVD, and thanks incidentally go to Billoo, for suggesting we see it -
What you say about baraka reminds me of 19:31 (M.Asad's translation is the one I like best).
And of course you are right: there are many shared narratives. Those who look for divisions will find them!