March 5, 2023.

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 March 5, 2023 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm. Please join us on Zoom, or in spirit, as we encourage Inter-faith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East, especially in Israel and Palestine, due to the escalating violence there, and for an end to the war in the Ukraine.

On February 6th three devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria has thus far killed 50,000 men, women and children and left many more injured, homeless or orphaned. We wish to stand in solidarity with our Turkish and Syrian friends and their families and dedicate this gathering to every effort being made by organizations all over the world and our own Peace Islands community to save lives and provide for the needs of so many victims.

As we enter into this second week in the liturgical season of Lent the many challenges we face in our world today highlight our need to take a step back and enter fully into the 6 week's "desert" experience of fasting, spiritual reading, reflection and alms-giving. On March 22nd our Muslim friends will join us as they enter into the month-long Ramadan fast as well. Far more than a spiritual exercise of self-control and personal spiritual growth, these rituals are an invitation to listen to where we are being led faced with the exhaustion we may feel when we pay attention to the news each day. After 3 years of a world-wide pandemic, political polarization, out-of-control gun violence and racism, the on-going war in the Ukraine, escalating violence in the land we call Holy as well as the increasing numbers of displaced families, refugees from war, crime and poverty pouring into neighboring countries seeking safety we may well be tempted to stop listening. Yet, this Lenten and Ramadan season is asking us to pay attention and listen carefully.

In our first reading from the Book of Genesis today Abram, who became the patriarch of all three Abrahamic faith traditions, heard the Lord say," Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk and from your father's house to a land that I will show you --- and Abram went as the Lord directed him". (Genesis 12:1-4) Setting out into the desert for an unknown destination is the Lenten and Ramadan journey. At this stage of our journey the destination is unknown and we will take all of the challenges facing our world with us into our desert experience. Metaphorically, the "land" we are being led to is both deeply within each one of us and ahead of us on this journey.

Just as in the ancient Hebrew Book of Kings, the prophet Elijah went up to the mountain to hear the whispering voice of God, Jesus takes the disciples, Peter, James and John "up a high mountain by themselves in the Gospel reading today. (Matthew 17:1-9) This event on Mt. Tabor is where "Jesus was transfigured before them; his face shone like the sun and his clothes became white as light, and behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, conversing with him". When the disciple Peter began to talk "a bright cloud cast a shadow over them, then from the cloud came a voice that said, 'This is my beloved son with whom I am well pleased, listen to him.' "

Our Muslim friends may be reminded of Surah Al-Isra 17 in the Qur'an that speaks of the Isra, and Mir'aj, the two parts of the prophet Muhammad's Night Journey. This physical and spiritual journey as described in the hadith took him from the Sacred Mosque in Mecca to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem where he led other prophets in prayer and from there to the heavens where he spoke to earlier prophets including Abraham, Moses, John the Baptist and Jesus. Listening to the Qur'anic verses and reflecting on the hadith during the month of Ramadan is surely like listening to a voice coming out of a bright cloud saying, "Listen".

In the midst of the many conflicts and conflicting messages we are hearing in our very modern and technologically advanced world today, perhaps we are being reminded to pay attention to whom we listen. In the letter to the Hebrews 12:1-4 one line jumps off the page that quite possibly got the attention of those early Jesus followers who first heard it as it does for us: "In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding blood."

In 1907, "Louis Massignon was struck by one phrase by al-Hallaj found in Attar's Memorial of the Saints: "To lie prostrate twice [before God] is enough for the prayer of desire; but the ablution [cleansing] that validates them must be made in blood". "Five times a day faithful Muslims lie prostrate before God in their desire to submit themselves to the will of Allah. But Hallaj writes, that although prayer is enough to demonstrate our desire to be authentically cleansed of all the sins that keep us from God, a price must be paid in blood. It took the words of Hallaj speaking to Muslims for Massignon to understand the sacrifice of the Christian Jesus."

That resistance to "sin" that is very much a part of the Lenten and Ramadan journey has been modeled for us by Jesus and many more of the world's non-violent witnesses from Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther King Jr. and al-Hallaj when faced with extreme aggression and oppression that kills with impunity, perhaps the greatest "sin" of all. We are witnesses of killing with impunity in the Occupied West Bank today and in the on-going slaughter of innocent victims in the war in the Ukraine. We are witnesses to the loss of too many of our black young men and women to police brutality and of our children and teachers to gun violence in our schools.

In our prayer, our fasting and our listening during this time of Lent and Ramadan let us journey together to a safer, saner and healthier world that values life over death and destruction, reconciliation and non-violence when faced with conflict. May our hearts be opened to listening to the movement of the spirit of Divine Love that is leading us to that "land" we call Easter and the celebration of Eid-el Fitr. Let our prayer be guided by those brave witnesses of Divine Love who have made that ablution in blood for all of us and those who continue to do so.

Blessed Lent and Ramadan.

Peace to you,

Buck. Dialogues with Saints and Mystics: In the Spirit of Louis Massignon, chapter Two: "The Call of the Divine: Louis Massignon and Charles de Foucauld." KNP Publications, London, NY 2002. p. 79.

See for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands