February 17, 2013.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our shared Badaliya and Islands of Peace Institute Prayer on Sunday, February 17, 2013 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm at St. Pauls Church in Cambridge, in the small chapel located in the Parish Center. Please join us in person or in spirit as we encourage Inter-faith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land.

As Christians begin the season of the 40 days of Lent this week we have an opportunity to reflect together with our Muslim brothers and sisters on the deeper meanings of this season in the Christian liturgical calendar. We share with them the emphasis during Lent on fasting, prayer, almsgiving and reconciliation with our neighbors that remind us of the Muslim month of Ramadan yet there are also differences that we can explore that allow us to grow in our respect for one another's faith traditions.

Although as Christians we are called to ever greater conversion throughout our spiritual life journeys, every year during the Lenten 40 days there is an emphasis on what conversion of mind and heart truly means in our daily lives. Just before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday each year the church invites us to reflect on the celebrated conversion of Saint Paul who has become a model of the complete turning around, or "metanoia", to which our experience of God can lead us. Paul, born Saul, in Tarsus, Cilicia (present day Turkey), was educated in the Jewish Law by the famous scholar, Gamaliel, but also highly influenced by the language and culture of the Greek Hellinism of his time. He was even a Roman citizen which was unusual for a Jew.

The Book of Acts in the Christian scripture describes how he set out to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus Christ, "binding both men and women and delivering them to prison". It states:

"On that journey as I drew near to Damascus, about noon, a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? I replied," Who are you, sir?' And he said to me, ' I am Jesus the Nazorean whom you are persecuting.'. My companions saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who spoke to me. I asked, 'What shall I do, sir?' The Lord answered me,'Get up and go into Damascus, and there you will be told about everything appointed for you to do.'(Acts 22;3-16)

Saul became Paul of Tarsus, who established communities of Christian believers throughout the Greek speaking world and whose letters to these communities make up a large portion of the Christian scriptures. Not many of us can claim to hear the voice of God so clearly and our conversions are rarely so dramatic, yet we do "hear" God in the scripture passages and in the examples of the life and parables of Jesus, and are called to respond.

In 1908, at the age of 25 Louis Massignon also experienced a profound conversion which he described many years later as the "Stranger who visited me". It shook him to the core of his being. He wrote "By a reversal of values, He transformed my relative ease as a propertied man into the misery of a pauper". This experience took place in the midst of the Muslim world where he was studying Islam, Semitic languages and researching the life and writings of the 10th century Sufi saint, al -Hallaj. He was brought back with an unusual intensity of spirit to the Christian faith of his childhood, to the message of Jesus, the Christ. He describes the conversion experience in this way: "....to do as if God were all in all. What this involves is a mental shift of our center, one that is, so to speak, Copernican, to function in us, or rather, to be felt."
(Testimonies and Reflections: Essays of Louis Massignon, selected an Introduced by Herbert Mason, U. of Notre Dame Press 1989. p. 41)

For Massignon conversion meant a profound regret for all the trangressions of his youth and yet a simultaneous "felt" sense of having been forgiven. We call this "Grace" and find our hearts moved to tears with gratitude.

The Prophet Muhammad, (PBUH) came from the Hashim clan, which is one of the branches of the Quraysh tribe, and was born in Mecca in 570 C.E. He married a woman named Khadija who was fifteen years older than he and went to work for her in her trading business. From time to time he withdrew to a nearby cave to spend time in meditation. On one of these retreats in the year 610 C.E. when he was forty years old he received a message that simply proclaimed, "Recite". (Qur'an 91:1) This "Visitation" left him feeling confused and fearful and he shared his concern for his sanity with Khadija. It was only a year later that the message was confirmed when he heard. " Indeed your Lord is the one who best knows who has strayed from His path, who best knows who are guided." (Qur'an 68:7) Reassured he began to attentively listen and share the messages with a small group of followers. Today in the Muslim community his conversion experience, his first Revelation, is commemorated as the"Night of Power" on the 27th day of Ramadan every year.

There is a rich tradition of spiritual growth and spiritual guidance in all three Abrahmic faith traditions as well as highly significant numerology. The number 40 is the numerical value represented by the letter "mem" in Judaism. It represents a time of transition, transformation and change. There are many references to it in the Torah and Jewish teachings. In Islam there are also many references to the number 40. In the Qur'an, Surah 7:142 it states that Moses fasted for 40 days and nights before he went up to Mt Sinai.One tradition holds that God kneaded the clay of Adam for forty days, and there are other interpretations from the mystical tradition of both Islam and Judaism. After the Baptism by John the Baptist, Jesus went into the desert for 40 days and nights where he was tempted three times by Satan. Those three temptations are the subject for the Gospel readings for our liturgy today. They begin our 40 day journey of Lent with stark reminders of how easily we are tempted by the lure of worldly pleasures, self-sufficiency,wealth and power and finally we recognize as Christians that our Lenten journey must lead to the Cross on Good Friday and through it to the joy of Easter.

There is much rich tradition for us to share in this prayer gathering. May we continue to grow in our faith and our love for one another.

Peace to you.