February 4, 2024.
We will gather together remotely for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday, February 4, 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; for an end to the violence in the West Bank, the war in Gaza and an end to the war in the Ukraine. Our prayers are on-going for all the victims of the many devastating earthquakes throughout the world and for the many humanitarian groups offering much-needed aid.
This Sunday is the 5th Sunday in a time between the Christmas Season and the Season of Lent and Easter that the Church calls "Ordinary Time". The first reading for today's liturgy is from the ancient Hebrew Book of Job. The iconic figure of Job, inflicted with unimaginable losses of family, physical ailments, the accusations of his friends and his heartbreaking lament to the God who seems to be testing his faith, has been a subject of countless interpretations for centuries.
"My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, they come to an end without hope. Remember that my life is like the wind, I shall not see happiness again", he complains. It is the feeling in this short passage from the longer story of hopelessness that surely resonates with so many suffering tragedies in our world today. In the end, Job clings to his faith in Divine Love despite himself and that is perhaps a message for us too. Thus we turn for inspiration to the foundations of the Badaliya prayer movement.
Anyone who has ever travelled to the Middle East has experienced Hospitality in the Middle East as a cultural norm infused with the spirituality of both Muslims and Christian believers. In light of the trauma of the un-ending war and destruction in Gaza and the trauma being inflicted on all three Abrahamic faith traditions in Israel, East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank right now, I am returning to the source of our re-envisioning of the Badaliya prayer movement for our time, to the writings of Louis Massignon in 1952. He wrote:
"The hospitality of Abraham is a warning sign of the final accomplishment of the gathering of all nations, blessed in Abraham, into this Holy Land that must not be monopolized by anyone. And, as much in his nocturnal Ascension as in his first orientation of canonical prayer toward Jerusalem, Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam, claimed Islam's part of Abrahamic blessing, part of the possession of the Holy Land promised to all sons of Abraham; sons according to birth or according to adoption into the faith, While degenerated Christianity only glimpsed Abraham as an incoherent folkloric silhouette, the entire Muslim world believes in its father Abraham, solemnly and communally invoking him, the God of Abraham, for the salvation of each one, and the salvation of everyone, at the annual celebration of Sacrifices, Id al-Qurban, at the end of Five daily prayers, and at Engagements and at funerals.
Forty years of traveling in Islamic lands has even led me in this experiential conviction, that if Islam has survived its territorial, economic and technical losses, it is in order to keep for the world, in the heart of simple and naive Muslims, villagers and nomads, (where the villages have not been decimated), a massive reserve, infinitely precious, of faith in the Divine promises, faith which translates into the welcoming of all foreign visitors as the Guest, the image of God, the angels sent to Abraham at Mamre, who must one day make us retrieve the eschatological significance for the salvation of humanity of Sacred Hospitality, the Right of Sanctuary.
Abraham is predestined to receive every nation in his breast, in the heart of the Holy City. And it is Islam, among all three monotheistic religions who has in the most pure fashion conserved this definition of the role of Abraham, this "friend of God", Khalil Allah, giving hospitality to the Three Angels, in the name of God at Mamre. The Qur'an recalls this text from Genesis 18:1-33 three times. (XI:72, XV:51,and LI:24)"
For example, the third of these says "Has the story reached you of the honored guests of Abraham?" Qur'an (51:24)
The annual letter this year from our friends at the Monastery in Nebek, Syria describes a living out of sacred hospitality in the spirit of Massignon's Badaliya in this message from Brother Jihad, superior of the monastery:
"At Deir Mar Musa, we are not the only ones offering something good to our guests and enriching them with what we have; they too bless us, teach us and enrich us with their experiences and talents. With hospitality, which we consider a sacred virtue and which we call ‘Abrahamic’ – in honor of the father of believers, the Friend of God, Abraham – God becomes our guest through our guests; we welcome Him in them. Indeed, it is He who welcomes our guests through us, the guests of the Merciful One. In this way, He becomes a two-fold guest: the One who receives and the One who is received. And so, as the Apostle Paul said: God becomes all in all. (1 Cor 15:28)
The heart of the message of the Bible is the oneness of God, that is, monotheism. The Arabic word for monotheism is tawhīd, an Islamic word that is not used by Arabic-speaking Christians precisely because it is Islamic. However, in the East, the sign of the cross, “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit”', always ends with “one God. Amen”. The point is always that of keeping the first commandment of the Decalogue, which sums up the whole of the Law and the Prophets, together with the second commandment, which is to love our neighbor, as Jesus taught us. The fact that we are monotheists creates a huge space for dialogue with Islam.
Therefore, we should follow in the footsteps of the Master and host God in our prayers, and become His guests. Prayer is not the repetition of words or the practice of rituals, but rather a patient gaze of love that does not grow weary or bored, a silent gaze. It is a listening, calm and contemplative in the presence of the Beloved. From prayer, we learn hospitality and our hospitality becomes prayer. Every time God welcomes us into His love, He strengthens our faith and makes our hearts more and more unified. Thus, to host God is to profess His oneness; it is an act of monotheism. With this in mind, hosting one’s neighbor becomes praise to God. I believe that man has become increasingly lonely, closed in on himself everywhere, even in our Eastern societies, and this exacerbates our problems. Therefore, I believe that living together can save the world. God knows this and became our guest in the Child of the manger to live with us and let us live in Him and with Him, the Emmanuel."
Both Massignon's and Brother Jihad's reflections are coming to us out of the midst of conflict, on-going in Israel and Palestine and the civil war in Syria. Yet, the hope for a better world, for "peace with justice", as Massignon prayed at the end of every Badaliya convocation letter, is heartfelt. It is the lived experience at Deir Mar Musa and of all who recognize the power of Divine Love at work in Interfaith gatherings and inter- cultural efforts throughout the world. May we remember that the God of Abraham is "All in all."
Peace to you and in our world in 2024.
See www.dcbuck.com for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands