October 18, 2009

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya Prayer on Sunday October 18, 2009 at 3pm 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.

In the letters that Louis Massignon wrote to members of the Badaliya from 1947 until his death in 1962, he spoke vehemently and often about the political and moral injustices committed by his native France as well as in the larger world. Throughout his letters he refers to the vocational calling of the members of the Badaliya in relation to these conflictual situations. He writes:

"Our "vocation" as "substitutes" for our Muslim brothers places us, wretches that we are, at the very heart of the problem". (Apr, 5, 1957 )

Massignon experienced the Badaliya as a "vocation", calling its members to approach every life situation from the perspective of substitutionary prayer. Although the conflicts for France and the world at the time involved colonialism in North Africa and the cold war, we need only replace those names with the conflicts in our time, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, or North Korea and Iran and his words remain as poignant and relevant as ever. For Massignon there is no compromise for a Christian who takes the Gospel message to heart; our only response to conflict must be non-violent.

On October 7, 1955 he wrote, "The Badaliya is founded on substitution for the Guest, even if he is the enemy, since the Guest is the guest of God. We need, through prayer, fasting and self-sacrifice, to overcome the racial fanaticism that confronts violence with violence in North Africa. Let us serve God first".

On Feb, 1, 1957 he wrote, "In these times of extreme tension when our country is shaken under the dual temptation of gold and blood at the service of racist revenge, we must remain inflexible in the area of non-violence, applying the "arma Christi" of penance, prayer, and compassionate suffering for the poor. We must, as Gandhi said, incur the worst by our refusal of all demoralizing violence".

It is only when we allow God's Word to penetrate to the very core of our being, where we can be transformed into God's image and likeness, that we can even begin to see others, even our "enemies", as God sees them. Both Gandhi and Massignon understood our need for prayer, penance and fasting because it is hardly natural for human beings not to seek revenge or become angry when we are hurt. Only God can heal and transform our hatred into love. For Massignon "substitution" is standing before God, and human beings, in the place of the oppressed or condemned and even taking his place if necessary. That is what Gandhi meant by "Incurring the worst".

"Our non-violence position is a basic principal for us. Prayer, fasting, sacrifice are not capitulations but rather spiritual weapons, not to "temper" but to overcome the excesses of the two opposing terrorisms. If our position substitutes us firstly for all the Algerian Muslims, it is because we have made them "incarcerated" everywhere, in the intolerable prison of our scorn, hatred, private revenge, so much so that their worst acts of cruelty, in torturing our brothers for their race and their faith, are "hateful reflexes" of "captives" who have no other recourse against a biased State, forgetful of its word most solemnly given...."(May 3, 1957).

Massingon understood how France itself had driven an oppressed or imprisoned and tortured people to violence, and stood before God in prayer and penance for both.

Seeing every human being as equally valuable and every religion and their holy days as meant for the well being of the world, he joined their prayers and fasting and called the members of the Badaliya to do the same, for Ramadan as well as Yom Kippur.

"Our friend, Dr. Martin Buber wrote us that the Jewish Kippur falls on October 5th this year. Several of us will fast on that day so that Israel (as well as our own country) may at last recover the awareness of its holy vocation, and also pray for a serene peace". (September 6, 1957).

Let us also continue Massignon's prayer "that Israel (as well as our own country) may at last recover the awareness of its holy vocation, and also pray for a serene peace".

Peace to you.