October 30, 2022.
Due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic we will gather together remotely for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday October 30, 2022 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm. Please join us in person on Zoom, or in spirit, as we encourage Inter-faith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East, especially in the Holy Land, and an end to the war in the Ukraine.
As we continue to reflect on this 20 year anniversary of the re-visioning of the original Badaliya in our time and place, today we have an opportunity to honor the 60th anniversary of the return to God of its founder, Louis Massignon on October 31, 1962. Perhaps that he died on the vigil of the Catholic feast of All Saints Day gives us a glimpse of the spirituality that informed every aspect of his very full and complex life, for it was that vast communion of saints that nurtured it. Attempting to understand and describe the inevitably complex experience of the life of any other human being is challenging to say the least even for a biographer of a much longer work than this short letter will allow. Over these past 20 years we have attempted to reflect on many of the major themes that permeated his own writings and lectures and indeed his experience of the Divine, while introducing corresponding themes from the Islamic faith tradition that was so much a part of his experience of his Catholic Christian conversion and identity.
In the introduction to his recently published biography, Manoël Pénicaud states “Alternately, a professor at the Collège de France, Islamist, sociologist, historian, linguist, adventurer, soldier, diplomatic expert, third order Franciscan, friend of popes, Melkite priest, president of committees, apostle of non-violence, organizer of pilgrimages, pioneer of interreligious dialogue.[Massignon’s] life offers a spacious and out-of-the-ordinary amplitude, difficult, even impossible, to grasp in one reading.” Yet there is a ground on which Massignon stood that informed every other dimension of his existence once he experienced the God of Abraham “breaking into his life” at the young age of 25. The litany of talents and interests and later accomplishments only touches the surface of a young man, plagued with the confusion of his own desires and driven to know and understand the experience of others, especially that of Muslim believers. The fire of Divine Love that pierced his heart in that moment in 1908 set him on the path to becoming both a renowned scholar and a passionate mystic.
Well before that he could not have known at the age of 17 when he visited the well-known writer J.K.Huysmans that the seeds were planted within him for the foundation many years later for the substitutionary prayer he named Badaliya. The young Massignon spent six hours with Huysmans and presumably heard about the 52 year old novelist’s conversion experience to Catholic Christianity as well as his current work on the life of an obscure 14th century Dutch saint, Lydwine of Schiedam. She was one of the many medieval saints who were said to have healed others by taking onto themselves their painful sufferings. “Huysmans envisions a law of equilibrium, a balance of good and evil, that he calls mysterious. Like the needle of a compass, when it inclines too much to the side of evil God allows epidemics to be unchained, earthquakes, famines and wars but his mercy is such that God then excites the devotion of his saints that his wrath may be appeased and equilibrium be restored. He suggests that because there are now so few called to religious life to take on this necessary role of substitution, God turns to those of us who are not saints to learn to experience our suffering as a mysterious offering of ourselves for the sake of others.”
The two cornerstones of Massignon’s spiritual life that became more clearly visible over time were Badaliya and Hospitality. The story of Abram, who became the patriarch of all three Abrahamic faith traditions, offering hospitality to the three stranger/angels at his tent at Mamre is an image filled with meaning for each of these traditions. The one resulting in the promise made to Abraham that he would be the father of many nations, the other an image of the relational nature of the Divine that Christians call the Trinity. Beyond these there is the generosity of the One Massignon called the “Stranger” inviting us into the fullness of Life in Divine Love as the Host to us, and the Guest that we in turn welcome into our hearts. In French the word Hôte is the same for the English words Host and Guest.
The intense nature of Massignon’s spiritual offering of his life to Christ and to others, and his willingness to die as a martyr for his faith if called to it, was instead a calling to devote his life to peace with justice in the world. He saw in his 50 years of research on the life and legacy of the 10th century Sufi saint of Islam, al-Hallaj, a manifestation of all three of these spiritual cornerstones: Badaliya, substitution, for the sake of the Muslim community that led to Martyrdom, and Hospitality, the mystic steeped in being loved and loving the Divine. That Living Flame of Love, to quote St. John of the Cross, that pierced Massignon’s heart caused others to experience that fire burning within him that led him to advocate for the least among us; the displaced, refugees and the Muslim Algerian workers who were incarcerated in Paris during the Algerian fight for independence from colonial France. His status as a diplomat, and a renowned Professor connected to the highest levels of the State and the Church gave emphasis to his lectures and publications advocating for social justice.
As we enter into celebrating All Saints Day, followed by All Souls Day in the church, let us remember all those named and unnamed saints who continue to be inspired by Divine Love to offer their lives for the sake of the well-being of others including al-Hallaj and Louis Massignon. May this short tribute to the life and legacy of one of the most gifted and unusual scholars and mystical guides of the last century remind us of the roots of our faith-sharing gatherings and inspire us to work more diligently for peace with justice in our world.
Peace to you,
Pénicaud, Manoël, Louis Massignon: Le « catholique musulman », Bayard Éditions, 2020. Montrouge Cedex(France) Quotation: p.16
Buck. Dialogues with Saints and Mystics: In the Spirit of Louis Massignon, chapter One: "The Search for Spiritual Truths: Joris Karl Huysmans and Saint Lydwine of Schiedam" KNP Publications, London, NY 2002. Quotation: pp, 38-39.
See www.dcbuck.com for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute