February 19, 2017.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday, February 19, 2017 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.

In light of the increasingly insecure and unpredictable conditions that we are experiencing both here in the United States and throughout the world it seems appropriate to turn to the subject of friendship for our reflections today. Friendship is an ancient mythic theme found in the oldest pre-biblical stories such as the ancient story of Gilgamesh, a story of friendship and loss and the search for eternal life. Herbert Mason noted that for Louis Massignon in his research into both Christianity and Islam, friendship was "many layered" and both "a way of life and a world view." We might agree that in times that are fraught with wars and civil unrest the effort to reach out to others of differing religions and ethnicity in friendship and sincere interest is an essential Christian value and a Muslim one as well. One of the Massignon legacies that survives to this day is the Christian and Muslim pilgrimage in Vieux-Marché, Brittany every July where Christians and Muslims come together in spiritual friendship to pray together and meet one another. The essence, or meaning, of all pilgrimages is a seeking of deeper communion with God, which is the source of all communion with others in friendship.

This pilgrimage to a small Christian chapel dedicated to the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus, as Massignon discovered in his research, was a connection to the story found in the 18th Sura of the Qur'an and to the spiritual brotherhood of Muslim believers called to submit (Islam) themselves to an all Merciful and Compassionate God thus overcoming the all too human idol worship of oneself. Massignon invites us to experience both the primordial mythic stories of love and friendship and the story of the Seven Sleepers found in the Qur'an and in other ancient texts, as manifestations of true friendship with God.

St. Teresa of Avila called God a "Friend" and at the heart of the mystical love poetry that Massignon was so drawn to in his study of the Sufi saint, al-Hallaj is the relationship of the lover of God to the Beloved Friend. In Hallaj's poetry the theme of friendship is given its most enduring and deepest expression and meaning. This realization led Massignon to a much deeper understanding of Jesus the Christ as the "intimate and self-abnegating friend of all humankind." Only in "crossing over to the other" as Massignon would say, and by joining together with those of other traditions and faith experiences can we come to these kinds of realizations. Massignon's example continues to inspire us and enhance our friendships with God and one another.

Peace to you,

(Quotations are taken from Herbert Mason, Memoir of a Friend: Louis Massignon. U. of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame Indiana, 1988.)

(See www.dcbuck.com for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute)