Outside the City is the result of a year spent with the community of Mount Saint Bernard’s Cistercian Abbey in Leicestershire, England. The monks speak about the monastic vocation which some of them have followed for half a century and more. We witness the decision-making process that resulted in the first English Trappist Beer, Tynt Meadow, being perfected, brewed and brought to sale, with the help of a Dutch beer consultant. He reiterated what I was told in a small brewery in Amsterdam: the brewing is the fun bit; cleaning, cleaning, cleaning is 95% of the task, and indispensable.
The brewery will be the main source of income for the community, but there are other forms of work, such as pottery, welcoming guests, housework, and care of the elderly and infirm monks. The main work of the monks – the Opus Dei, God’s work – is prayer: the Eucharist, the Divine Office, and personal prayer.
There were two parallel streams: the presence of God and the presence to oneself: monks spoke of God as unknowable, not within human understanding, but certainly knowing and loving each one of us; therefore there is a mission to pray on behalf those of those of us who do not have time for prayer, or even time for God at all.
Death was spoken of in a very matter-of-fact manner, a presence in the lives of older monks at least, and we witness the last rites of two of them. ‘My friends are all here in the monastery’, one of them had said, but the crowd that gathered for his funeral witnessed otherwise. The monastery may be outside the city, but the city makes its way there.
Near another city, Bamenda, on another continent, Africa, Mount Saint Bernard’s has a daughter house, built to the design of one of the Leicestershire monks. We follow Abbot Erik there on his official visitation. Here the dairy farm is thriving and we witness the birth of a heifer calf, an occasion of rejoicing. As at Mount St Bernard’s, the community is self-supporting.
The film ends at the Easter Vigil. A tug at the throat to see the congregation receiving the chalice, and not a mask in sight! Let’s pray that we’ll see the return of the former and the discarding of the latter before this year is too old. In the meantime, with all these evenings when we cannot go to the cinema or anywhere else, follow the link above to buy the dvd or rent the film on-line.