April 29, 2007.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya Prayer on Sunday, April 29th from 1:30 pm-3:00 pm in the small chapel in St. Paul's Parish Center. Please join us in person or in spirit as we pray for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land, in Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan.

In the midst of the many conflicts in our world especially in the Middle East and the Holy Land we are invited to hold out our hope for reconciliation and non-violent solutions by our call to the Badaliya Prayer.

I have been asked to re-visit our prayer of Badaliya, or Substitution, as Louis Massignon referred to it, for our prayer this month. As we struggle with the reality of so much violence and suffering around us it is surely appropriate to plumb the depths of our Badaliya prayer and discover in it our own response to the pain and suffering that often seems so needless. I am particularly mindful of the recent violent shooting at Virginia Tech this month and our need to mourn with so many grieving families and friends. And of course the daily reports of continuing violence in Iraq and around the world that can leave us feeling helpless and overwhelmed. All of this is part of our Badaliya call to prayer that calls us to suffer with those who are suffering, and of our call as Christians to compassionate prayer even for those who are "enemies" or persecute us.

Louis Massignon was first introduced to substitutionary prayer when he visited the well-known novelist J.-K. Huysmans when he was just 17 years old. Huysmans wrote much about human pain and suffering and came to know it intimately in the context of his own life. When he wrote about suffering he knew that he was touching the experience of all of humanity. He also knew that our need to imagine God as Goodness and Benevolent Kindness does not allow us to find meaning in our own pain and suffering. We need to find God in it or we will struggle in vain against it, creating even more pain. He put his reflections in the context of a need for a mysterious balance of good and evil in the world. He wrote:

"All through the ages there have been found saints willing to pay, by their sufferings, the ransom for the sins and faults of others, and even now this generosity is hard to understand.... God allows epidemics to be unchained, earthquakes and famines, and wars, but His mercy is such that He excites the devotion of His saints,,,, that His wrath be appeased and equilibrium re-established".

At the time of Massignon's visit Huysmans was writing the biography of an obscure 14th century Dutch saint called St. Liduina of Schiedam. It was her sayings that influenced his own reflections. She wrote:

"If pain is not an exact synonym of love, it is in all cases the means and sign of it. The sole proof of affection that one can give to anyone is to suffer, when possible, in his place, for caresses are easy and prove nothing... The ones who love the Lord therefore wish to suffer for God".

These and other of Huysmans'reflections were the seeds that influenced Massignon to later see, in the teachings and martyrdom of the 10th century Sufi al-Hallaj, an example of Huysmans' mystical substitution. Through the words of Hallaj speaking to Muslims Massignon came to understand the sacrifice of the Christian Savior, Jesus as he shed his blood and suffered death on the cross for the sin of humanity. He understood Christ as the first substitute in a long line of saints and mystics who followed.This was reinforced by his relationship with Blessed Charles de Foucald who wrote to him: "Our Lord sheds his blood, thus showing that it is through blood, through suffering offered to God, that one saves souls". For Foucauld and Massignon mystical substitution was the inevitable result of understanding the life of Jesus. The Badaliya prayer was born out of this kind of reflection. In a letter to members of the Badaliya in 1956 Massignon wrote:

"Meditate on the meaning and scope of our commitment, because if 'substitution' is before everything a thought, a vow of our souls, it is truly only accomplished if we take into our lives and our hearts of flesh the pain of others, their bleeding wounds, in nonviolence, through compasssion and their interior tears..".

Seen in this light our prayer for the well being of others becomes an intense experience of allowing ourselves to feel their pain or difficulty as if it were our own. If we sincerely enter into this meditation we will inevitably be led to an extraordinary conclusion: by being able to cross over to another person's experience, we have the capacity to understand rather than dismiss, to forgive rather than condemn, and to make peace rather than wars in our broken world. We would find ourselves meditating deeply on the meaning of compassion. (Dialogues with Saints and Mystics.p.82-83)

May these few words help us to reflect more deeply together as we offer our heartfelt prayers for our suffering brothers and sisters in Virginia and around the world.

Peace be with you.