January 7, 2024.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together remotely for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday January 7, 2024 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 in the West Bank and war in Gaza, 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 and the recent earthquake victims in Morocco and Afghanistan, Nepal and Japan.

Today the Church celebrates the close of the Christmas liturgical Season calling it Epiphany, the manifestation, or recognition of the mystery of Divine Love born into our world. An epiphany is a turning point, a dramatic moment of clarity or revelation, inspired by an event or an encounter with a person. The iconic story, found in the Gospel according to Matthew 2:2, is of Magi, or Kings, visitors from the East who follow the appearance of a star on a long journey, arriving in Jerusalem, just 5 miles from Bethlehem. They were asking "where is the newborn King of the Jews? We saw a star at its rising and have come to do him homage." King Herod was greatly troubled hearing this and asked them where this Christ was to be born. They answered," In Bethlehem of Judah, for thus it has been written through the prophet: And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, since from you shall come a ruler, who is to shepherd my people Israel."

The details in this narrative are ripe for further reflection on deeper meaning as are so many of the scriptural passages. Today, remembering that the authors of the Gospels were writing many years after Jesus' life, death and resurrection, and intended to reflect the experience of a particular community of early Jesus followers, we choose to focus on the moment when these visitors say they are looking for the King of the Jews and the immediate response by Herod that this one must be the Christ; the long awaited Messiah of the ancient Israelites who would transform their world, restore their kingdom, saving them from the oppression of foreign Empires and bring peace with justice to the land. Putting aside Herod's fear of some threat to his own position as a King under the rule of Rome, it is the identification of this child, who is born in the small hamlet of Bethlehem, with the Christ that is the epiphany, and soon these seekers of Divine Wisdom will encounter a tiny person destined to transform individual lives and the world history of nations.

We might also suggest that in Islam it is in the moments that Muhammad, a merchant from Mecca, came in solitude to a mountain cave to pray that his encounters with an angel were an epiphany. The words that were revealed inspired the recognition of one God, Allah and transformed a divided tribal culture into a unified community of believers dedicated to the teachings ultimately recorded in the Qur'an; A turning point, a dramatic moment of clarity or revelation, inspired by an event or an encounter with an angel of God.

In the Arab Christian world, January 6th is the holy day that celebrates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River and the appearance of the Holy Spirit, once again identifying Jesus as the Christ. Our theme in these celebrations is an experience of encounter with the person of the infant Jesus, that reveals the Christ as well as a baptism of repentance of the adult Jesus that again identifies who this person is. "On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him: 'You are my beloved son, with you I am well pleased'" These words are a quotation from the ancient Hebrew prophet Isaiah ( 42:1-4,6-7) the spokesperson for the Lord that reveal: "Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit. He shall bring forth justice to the nations ----I formed you and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations to open the eyes of the blind, to bring the prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon those who live in darkness."

The Epiphany and the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord transport us to that Holy Land in our hearts and imagination; to Bethlehem shrouded in silence this year in solidarity with the suffering of Christian and Muslim Palestinians in Gaza. We are reminded of the testimony of the Little Sisters of Jesus, members of the community "founded in 1939 by Little Sister Magdeleine who set out in the footsteps of Brother Charles de Foucauld drawing inspiration from his life rather than the rules he had written. The motherhouse for this inspired community is in Tre Fontana their home in Rome. In a small chapel they house the belongings of Saint Charles de Foucauld, his hand-fashioned altar table, paten and chalice, his drawing on a bed sheet hanging behind the table altar of the Visitation of Mary and Elizabeth and much more retrieved from Brother Charles' hermitage in Tamanrasset, Algeria.

The community is dedicated to living Brother Charles' vision of the ordinary life of "Nazareth" settling at first among the Muslim people of the Algerian Sahara. Little Sister Magdalene's message: "I want to believe that there can be genuine friendship and deep love between people who are not of the same religion or the same race or the same social condition." Her intuition focused on God's self-emptying as a baby in the crib in Bethlehem. Spiritual childhood would be the touchstone of the vocation of a little sister."

Today the Little Sisters live among ordinary people of all religions and cultures, sharing life's challenges with them and being welcomed into the lives of many people in the most challenging life circumstances throughout the world. The sisters who were living in Aleppo in Syria experienced first- hand the devastating earthquake that struck both Syria and Turkey. The community closed but the sisters visit to maintain the friendships there. Little Sisters Diane, Maria and Carol wrote: "The best word that comes to us is silence - silence in the face of wounded people, silence before a city overwhelmed, a people crushed, in turmoil, haunted by fear, a people who feel lost, abandoned, forgotten by God and humanity." This, the sisters note, after several years of war, poverty and economic warfare partly due to sanctions. "The earthquake came to add to it all. "How do you restore persons, rebuild their inner selves? the sisters ask. "A priest was saying , "Why all of this? Enough, Enough ,Lord! And I hear him answering me," From Aleppo I will bring forth saints!"

One community was established ten years ago in Tyre, in southern Lebanon, in a Palestinian camp about a hundred kilometers from Beirut. The Little Sisters in Lebanon wrote: "We were looking for something in a place that would be very mixed and we found this insertion where Muslims (Shiite and Sunni) and Christians of all rites live side-by-side.... Lebanese, Palestinian, Syrian.... They wrote, "As we prepare to write this, war is raging in the Holy Land, as well as violence in so many lands. We have no words before the violence and suffering of so many. Let us continue to pray for peace and live our lives in witness to peace"

Little Sister Magdeleine once wrote, "Your treasure will be the Gospel. It is the Book of Life and contains the science of Love. Let it penetrate your mind and heart so that your life will preach the Gospel and you may become a Gospel in action"

As we begin the New Year faced with the ongoing challenges of earthquakes and unimaginable suffering of war in the Ukraine, the devastation in Gaza and the unimaginable loss of so many innocent lives, may we stay open to those dramatic moments of clarity or revelation, inspired by an event or an encounter with a person or the inspiring lives of ordinary human beings moved to risk everything to help, to stand in solidarity with those in need. That is Badaliya.

"Immerse yourself deeply among people by sharing their life, by friendship and by love. Give yourself to them completely, like Jesus who came to serve and not to be served; you too, become one with them. Then you will be like leaven which will lose itself in the dough to make it rise."(Little Sister Magdalene)

Peace to you and in our world in 2024.



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