September 20, 2020.

Dear Friends,

Due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic we will gather together remotely for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday September 20, 2020 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm. 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 and for a recovery of health for the world.

We are beginning this new academic year of praying and reflecting together with many prayers that the Fall will not bring an increase to the Covid cases throughout the world and that new treatments and a vaccine will allow us to come together at St. Paul Parish soon again.

In the Gospel parables of Jesus there are many references to sowing seeds and working in vineyards. Serving as metaphors for the power of faith or for the mercy, compassion and generosity of God, they can remind us that the beauty of the natural world that not only feeds us physically, but also spiritually, is a creation of God. Both Christians and Jews have reflected throughout biblical time on the meaning of the Creation story in Genesis and the Garden of Eden. Many have imagined this garden as a time when human beings were created in the innocence of a newborn child, free from human toil and overwhelming responsibilities. The afterlife too is often imagined as a return to this idyllic existence and what heaven will be like. We plant our gardens around our homes, if we can, or visit the parks in our cities to marvel at the blossoming of springtime after the barrenness of winter, a sign of new life and resurrection.

Saint Augustine wrote: "In the Lord's garden are to be found not only the roses of his martyrs. In it there are also the lilies of the virgins, the ivy of wedded couples and the violets of the widows."

In Islam, Allah's creation is understood as an on-going and long- time process with Allah's power behind it. The Qur'an states that Allah created the heavens and the earth in six days and " made from water every living thing". (Qur'an 21:30) Life developed in stages but human beings "are a special act of creation, a unique life form with a soul and conscience, knowledge and free will that began with the creation of a male and female. Adam and a female who is not named in the Qur'an but is traditionally called Hawwa (Eve)." In the Qur'an, the Gardens of Eden, jannät-adni, are the destination of the righteous, a place of "perpetual residence" where there is one tree of Eden mentioned, the tree of immortality that was forbidden to Adam and Eve. But gardens in Islam are also sacred spaces.

In 1939, Louis Massignon wrote three beautiful chapters later published in 1963 called, En Islam, Jardins et Mosquées (In Islam, Gardens and Mosques". He wrote that there are two places we must visit first if we wish to "enter into the atmosphere of the Muslim culture through the door of the African and Arab desert. Let us first visit the two Oasis that this desert contains; the repose of one's eyes and peace in the soul, a garden and a Mosque". No matter in what part of the Muslim and Arab world we find them, "we are struck by their consistency as a place of reverie that carries us beyond the world". He describes how these gardens contrast with our classical English or French gardens that began with the Roman Empire. In these "the goal is to dominate the world with a central point of view: a grand perspective leading to the horizon, of large basins of water reflecting the distance, framed by impeccably sculptured trees guiding the eyes little by little to the conquest of the surrounding country. Instead, the first thing that matters in the Muslim garden is the enclosure isolated from the outside, and instead of one's interest being focused on the periphery, it is focused toward the center. This garden is made by taking a piece of earth, giving life to a corner of desert where water is brought inside of a very high and enclosed wall where we find a staggered arrangement of trees and flowers that become more and more crowded to the degree that one goes from the periphery to the center. And in the center, next to a bubbling fountain one finds a kiosk. As opposed to the classical gardens or the Japanese garden, here one obtains a reflective relaxation, withdrawing into oneself".

Perhaps at this moment in time, when so little is certain and the future unknown, we can turn to these images of gardens and share a reflective and peaceful moment to refresh our spirits. Let us listen to the words of a wise poet as we pray together for all who have risked their lives to care for all of us during this pandemic and for peace with justice in our world.

"Whoever has a soul; catches the scent of the rose garden of the soul; whoever has that, realizes that we are all that." Rumi (1207-1273)

Peace to you,

Louis Massignon, En Islam Jardins et Mosquées , Le Nouveau Commerce, Paris 1981.

Rumi (1207-1273) Persian Mystic poet and founder of the Maulawi Sufi Order. His poetry and Ideas are embedded in Islam but he enjoyed the company of Jews and Christians.

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