January 18, 2009.
We will gather together for our Badaliya Prayer on Sunday January 18, 2009 from 3pm to 4:30 pm at St. Paul's Church in Cambridge in the small chapel located in the 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.
The world's attention is turned once again to the Holy Land, not due to the Christmas Season, but rather to the end of a cease fire in Gaza leading to an escalation of military action by Israel and rockets firing into southern Israel by Hamas. Israeli ground troups have entered Gaza after days of bombardment and the inevitable loss of civilian lives is mounting despite the increasing awareness of the futility of military solutions to political and social injustices.We are reminded of Louis Massignon's letters to members of the Badaliya in the 1940's and until his death in 1962, and the many articles, lectures and commentaries addressing the issue of the Palestinian Muslims and Christians and the then fledgling state of Israel. Unfortunately his messages are as relevant today as they were when they were written or given in lectures. His admiration for Gandhi's non-violent revolution in India was absorbed into the spirit of the Badaliya and we are called to reflect again with him on the place of prayer and devotion to God as the ground for all social action.
The foundation for Massignon's understanding of the difficulties in the Middle East were a part of his experience of World War I, the colonial positions at the time and his engagement with the Muslim faith and Arab culture throughout his life beginning in the early 1900's, as well as World War II and its aftermath. In a book of his collected minor works called the Opéra Minora we find lectures on the "Arab Problem"(sic) going back to 1922. In 1948 he wrote "Palestine and Peace and Justice", "What the Holy Land Represents for the Human Community which demands Justice", and "Jerusalem City of Peace". In 1949 he wrote about Nazareth and refugees and then about refugees again in 1951. In 1952 he wrote "Respect for the Human Person in Islam, and the Priority of the Right of Asylum on the Duty of Just War".
We get a glimpse of his own images of God though his passion for peace and justice and for hospitality and compassion for all human beings. Refugees are the Guest, and the right of asylum is a sacred duty. He wrote:
"...in this Holy Land which must not be an object distributed between the privilged, but the tunic without seams of world reconciliation, a place of intimate mixing of everyone, and to begin, among those who have, all the same, more reasons to be united than to hate each other, semites, Jews and Arabs, sons of Abraham, and Christians, spiritual semites, who should have all renounced idol worship because these idols are those of perfectly useless crimes: what does an assassin achieve after all, as Gandhi said, since the soul is immortal?"
Massignon met Gandhi in Paris in 1931 and was deeply influenced by Gandhi's non-violent call to fasting and prayer as the ground of social and political change. These became an integral part of the Badaliya movement and Massignon's personal spirituality. He thought that it was necessary to help people to understand what he called "spiritual power, the strength of the soul". Responding to a small book describing what Massignon calls "the quintessentials of the soul of Gandhi", he wrote:
"We must closely study his words. They tell us the social value of meditation and contemplation: this is what Gandhi proved'. Massignon then asked if a professor Kripalani knew what moment Gandhi reserved habitually for meditation? The answer was " He meditated while acting". "Truly? He meditated while accomplishing each action? I understand that Gandhi's meditation was always oriented towards social action and that was his immediate goal. We must understand that social action is impossible without a kind of vow ... the resolution to accept all the consequences, good or bad ... of this action".
"One day in front of me they asked Gandhi; 'Why are religions so weak during crisis and wars where they put themselves in service of the least innocent governments'? And Gandhi responded that it is because they have not held firmly enough to their vows, to asceticism, to sacrifices...".
If we try to remain true to Massignon's vision of the Badaliya and his understanding of Gandhi then we must begin to respond to the current crisis in the Holy Land by renewing our vow, our acceptance that it is God's own strength that is available to us through our prayer and it is that strength that will guide our social actions.
Let us pray for a change in minds and hearts in the Holy Land, for a fair resolution for Palestinian Muslims and Christians and true reconciliation for the three Abrahamic faiths. May they find the means to live together in this land where our Savior walked on earth.
We remember our Muslim brothers and sisters everywhere who celebrate their feast of Ashura this month.
Peace to you.