Tuesday, April 19, 2011

No Greater Love --- A Movie Review

No Greater Love is an award (many awards, actually)-winning DVD about the Discalced Order of Carmelites who lead a cloistered life at the monastery of the Most Holy Trinity, in London’s Notting Hill. Their day is spent in silence. The video is one hour and forty-five minutes, and as I began watching it this afternoon I was fully prepared to be bored.

I did two things at the start of the video which greatly enhanced the viewing, I’d highly recommend. I put the volume up very high, so you can hear and appreciate the silence (I know that sounds stupid, but trust me, you will understand it, and see how the sudden frighteningly-loud bong of the bell fits into the silence and helps you really understand what is being presented). In addition to hearing the soft shuffling sounds, you need to turn on the closed captioning feature, to hear (or read) each word of soft prayers, or of quiet hymns being sung. I expected to be bored, but you will find, as I did, that you are very quickly absorbed into the beauty of the whole picture of these wonderful nun’s lives.

A large portion of the DVD is set during Holy Week, and so today was a most fortuitous viewing date for me. After seeing and hearing these nuns in their daily routines, and how their lives are lived for each other (and for us), watching them wash each other’s feet on Holy Thursday gave that ritual a whole new meaning for me. My recent meditations on whether I pray enough, especially in those ordinary yet sometimes critical times of my day, were cast into a new light, as the nuns expressed concerns that sometimes they wonder if their prayers matter, since they see so few indicators of results. When I worry that I am not praying at critical times, they are praying for me! Perhaps I should write them to say how much their prayers are appreciated.

You see the sisters caring for each other in so many loving ways in their daily activities. The young feed a few of the disabled elderly, and one confides that getting along with her sisters is sometimes as hard as when she grew up with her brothers, but they are family and she loves them all. You see the sisters out gardening, cooking, and even making communion wafers (I always wondered about that). And you see them singing and praying, at all hours of the day.

One of the sisters spoke about the dark night of the soul, as St. John of the Cross described it. “You see nothing happening; for all your prayers, there is silence. You are looking for something to change, but the Carmelite traditions help you to realize that the changes you were looking for were external, but inner work needs be done. You concepts of God change, making your relationship more personal, a deeper relationship.” She said she distracted herself with the external work of the convent while her prayer life seemed dry, while she was really, as she discovered, hiding from God. For her, this went on for 18 years, but she views them as years well spent, for she truly discovered herself, and Him.

You feel all of the sisters’ joy with them at Easter morn, as they joyfully and full of laughter greet each other with hugs and wish each other a happy Easter. And then suddenly you see death. One of the elderly sisters has gone home to God, and you see her plain wooden box laid into the ground near their garden, a unique juxtaposition of timing for the Easter season, where we usually think of death and then life, but here is presented life then death. Then you hear the sister’s softly singing “And may God’s angels come to greet you.” And then they pray.

“Do you think about death?” one is asked. She replies, “I see death as just a continuation of knowing and loving God.”

I thought the video was ending as I watched the sisters end their day, nodding good night to Jesus, praying their Night Prayers, singing a litany to Mary. But then the scene switched to the garden again, only now in full bloom. You see the sisters trimming overgrowing shrubs and trees. And you see them singing, dancing, and laughing during their recreation period. And then you see a new sister, professing her final vows. And the sisters are softly singing: “Your love and Your grace, that is all I need.”

And they, all of them, are happy, so very happy.

I strongly recommend this video to you my friends, and if you can get out today to buy it, it is great for viewing during Holy Week, but truly any time at all would be good. This one I shall watch again, including all of the trailers.

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