October 1, 2023.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together remotely for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday October 1, 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. Our prayers are on-going for all the victims of the three devastating earthquakes in Turkey and Syria, the recent earthquake victims in Morocco and the devastating floods in Libya.

Each year we schedule our first Badaliya and Peace Island faith-sharing gatherings after the summer break to correspond with the beginning of the academic year. In keeping with this tradition, perhaps it is a reminder that we too are life-long students, growing together in our appreciation for our diverse religious traditions and faith experiences. One of the saints whose feast day is celebrated this month by the Roman Catholic church on October 4th is Saint Francis of Assisi. Francis is probably one of the most well-known and iconic in the vast lexicon of canonized saints. For us, his story includes the foundations of what has become known as Interfaith Dialogue in our culture today. Francis' visit to the Muslim Sultan, Malik el-Kamil in the midst of the 5th Crusade by Rome in the 13th century, has been the subject of many books and articles. The outcome of that dangerous undertaking led to a friendship between Francis and the famous Sultan and inspired Louis Massignon to become a Third Order Franciscan in 1931. When he made his final vows in 1932 he took the name Abraham as he saw in the Patriarch of Judaism, Christianity and Islam the link that binds them to one another. The Jesuit disciple of Massignon, F. Paolo Dall'Oglio, wrote:

"It is necessary to go back to what establishes the base of the three great monotheistic religions. The point is not to reduce these religions to what unites them but rather to try to understand the place of Abraham, the friend of God, in Islam and in what way this relation of "soul to soul" between God and the Patriarch is able to offer a door to comprehending what the mystery of Islam represents for Christians." (Dall'Oglio p.69)

The Franciscan spirit and Francis' vision of Muslims that transcended the culture of his time led to the establishment of the Badaliya in 1934. Massignon and Mary Kahil made their first vows to offer their lives for the well-being of the Muslim community in a small Franciscan chapel in Damietta, Egypt, the place where Saint Francis crossed no-man's land between warring armies to meet the Sultan. From the beginning of the Badaliya prayer movement to our own time many have been inspired to "cross over to the other" as Massignon would say, and engage with believers of many diverse faith traditions, some at the expense of their own lives. In the spirit of Massignon and Charles de Foucauld, the Jesuit priest, Paolo Dall-Oglio dedicated himself to sharing life with the Muslim community, expanding the spirit of Badaliya through his own years of engagement and spiritual reflection. He wrote:

"There remains the necessity of finding a name for a community that gathers the disciples of Jesus living in a Muslim context, sent or born there, into which they want to root themselves and with whom they wish to integrate with the vision of the establishment of the Kingdom of God."
: "---It is a question of falling in love with the other, here Muslim, interacting in order to participate in the joy and glory of his accomplishment and growth."--- " It is a mission to which I am consecrated." (ibid.p.51)

"We are not going toward reciprocal assimilations nor toward an equivocal mixture but toward a shared horizon on which is cast the capacity for a synthesis of pluralism in communion." ( ibid. p. 68)

In today's Gospel-reading according to Matthew (11:28-32) Jesus teaches using a parable as he does in many of the Gospel accounts. In this one he speaks of a man who tells his two sons to go out into the vineyard to work. The first says " I will not" but then, changes his mind and does as he was told. The second replies, "Yes, sir. But did not go. Which of the two did his father's will?" Jesus asks. Of course they answer correctly but Jesus reminds them, and us, of how often we resist listening to the prophetic voices among us. That illusive phrase of knowing God's will for us is challenging for most of us and yet the witness of Paolo, who describes his experience so well, tells us to listen carefully to the inner voice within us; the indwelling spirit that Hallaj called "le point vierge", the virginal heart of Divine Love, inviolable and lifegiving.

Being called to "go out and work in the vineyard" is perhaps a call to go out into our divisive and complex world and heal those wounds that divide us from one another. Massignon and Mary Kahil answered that call in establishing the Badaliya prayer movement, Paolo answered that call by refurbishing an ancient 6th century monastery in the Syrian desert and establishing an ecumenical community as witnesses to unity in Divine Love, inspiring Muslims and Christians alike.

The Qur'an also uses parables as teaching tools:

"And strike for them a parable of the worldly life: it is like the water which we send down from the sky, and then the plants of the earth mingle with it. But then they become dry and broken and are scattered by the winds. And God is capable of all things." Qur'an verse 18:45

"The parable of those who take protectors other than God is that of a spider spinning a shelter. And the flimsiest of all shelters is certainly that of a spider, if only they knew." Qur'an 29:41

Many of the Sufi mystic's poetic verses can also be heard as parables. Let us close with this beautiful parable by Ibn Arabi (12th-13th century)

"My heart can take on any form: a meadow for gazelles, a cloister for monks, A temple for idols, the Ka'ba for pilgrims, the tablets of the Torah, the leaves of the Qur'an. I believe in the religion of love: whichever way its caravan turns; Love is my religion and my faith."

May these reflections and parables inspire our faith sharing today and our willingness to go out into our world to help all victims of natural and human made disasters. Let us pray together for the healing of all people suffering under occupation, all victims of war and violence in the Ukraine and elsewhere and for an end to all forms of violence as a means to resolving conflict in our world.

Peace to you,

  1. Buck. Dialogues with Saints and Mystics: In the Spirit of Louis Massignon, Chapter Four: "The Witness of a Saint: Saint Francis and the journey to Islam" p. 113; KNP Publications, London, NY; 2002
  2. Paolo Dall'Oglio in collaboration with Églantine Gabaix-Hialé Amoureux de l'Islam, croyant en Jésus Les Éditions de l'Atelier/Éditions Ouvrières, Paris 2009 p.49, p.69. (my translation)
  3. Ibn'Arabi (1165-1240) was a Muslim philosopher and mystic considered the greatest Sufi master from his time. He influenced the on-going perception of Sufism as both a mystical and intellectual tradition. Quotation from January 19th Devotions: Wisdom from the Cradle of Civilization collected and introduced by Danielle and Olivier Föaut;llmi. Abrams Books, NY 2008

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