May 15, 2016.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday, May 15, 2016 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm at St. Paul Church in Cambridge, in the small chapel located in the Parish Center. Please join us in person or in spirit as we encourage Inter-faith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land.

On this day Christians celebrate the events that are described in the Scripture readings from the Acts of the Apostles that gave birth to the Church in Jerusalem. A small band of followers of Christ were inspired to become enthusiastic preachers of the Gospel message, spreading the Word throughout the known world at the time. Something new happened to these Apostles that is described in poetic language as “a driving wind and tongues of fire that parted and came down to rest on each one of them.”  And they were filled with the Holy Spirit and went out to the people who were gathered from many different countries for the Jewish Feast of Pentecost. Everyone miraculously heard the disciples of Jesus speaking in their own language. This was the action of the Spirit of God that Jesus had promised to send to them, and to us. We also call this feast day Pentecost.

In Islam the Holy Spirit (Ruh al-Qudus) is also know as Gabriel (Jibra’il) and is mentioned many times in the Qur’an. This Holy Spirit is understood as the same Holy Spirit that is referred to in the Old and New Testaments in the Bible. Al-Qudus, translated as the Holy or Exalted One, is one of the 99 names of God in Islam and has the same root as the Arabic word for Jerusalem, al-Quds.

We must not be fearful of the poetic language found in either the Gospel or the Qur’an, but rather remain open to the experience of the burning power of God’s love for each one of us that sets our hearts on fire, often leading us to unknown places that we cannot now even imagine. We call the coming of the Holy Spirit a gift from God but it is not a gift for the faint hearted for this gift is an invitation to abandon ourselves to the Spirit of God, trusting that the strength, or courage or the right words will be given to us if we let the Spirit be our guide. Unexpected, unplanned and unforeseen experiences and opportunities will present themselves to us and we too will surely be called to feed the hungry, heal the broken and wounded ones, clothe the naked and release “prisoners” of their need for control and security that is fed by their fear and anxiety, and much, much more. We are called to love one another as God has loved us and that is an overwhelming command.

Abandonment to the will of Allah is as familiar to Muslim believers as it is to Christians. Muslim believers are reminded five times a day to worship Allah in prayer, called salat, as one of the five pillars of the Islamic faith.  In countries where the resounding call to prayer reminds Muslim believers throughout their busy day to be mindful of their total dependence on Allah, the creator and sustainer life itself, and to stop what they are doing in order to pray, this is an invitation to acknowledge a broader perspective of life that includes death, the last judgment and the afterlife.  Reciting verses from the Qur’an and giving glory and praise to God through movement five times a day is humbling and reflects a deep sense of submission to the will of God.

In Christianity, Roman Catholic believers can relate very well to this Pillar of Islam. In Monasteries throughout the world bells will ring four or five times a day to call the community together to pray the Hours. The Psalms that are sung or recited, and the readings that are proclaimed are also apt reminders of the central place of God in our lives. Those of us who live outside these communities have always been encouraged by the church to join with our monastic brothers and sisters in this Christian tradition.

In Islam it is understood that Prophet Muhammad was given the instruction to pray five times a day by Allah during a miraculous Night Journey. Sura 17 in the Qur’an called Sura al-Isra and another called An-Naim make reference to this journey known as Isra and Miraj.  The angel Gabriel (Jibra’il) came to Muhammad and brought a steed called Buraq to carry him from Mecca to the al-Agsa, the farthest mosque, in Jerusalem.  This part of the journey is called Isra. On the Temple Mount, or the Haram al-Sharif, Muhammad prayed and was tested by Jibra’il. The Mi’raj, or ladder in Arabic, is the second part of the journey where Buraq takes Muhammad to the seven stages of heaven, where he spoke with the prophets, Abraham (Ibrahim), Moses (Musa), John the Baptist (Yahya ibn Zakariya) and Jesus (Isa). At a holy tree in the seventh heaven God instructed Muhammad to pray five times a day. (Wikipedia)

Christians are reminded of the feast we call the Transfiguration, where Jesus takes his disciples Peter, James and John to a mountain where they miraculously see him speaking to the Old Testament Prophets, Moses and Elijah. What are we 21st century believers to make of these miraculous events passed down to Christians and Muslims for centuries? It is indeed poetic language, and yet it is meant to guide us by speaking to the human heart. Only there can the Holy Spirit lead us to the will of God in our lives, and through us, to our world.

Peace to you,

(See for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute)