March 15, 2015.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday, March 15,2015 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 Interfaith relations and pray together for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land.

For forty days, beginning with the ritual of receiving ashes on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday Christians are reminded of our finiteness. We are as fragile as a speck of dust and forever tempted to turn away from the God whose infinite mercy and love has created us. Beyond the significance of the number forty in biblical literature and exegesis let us turn today to the meaning of the Lenten fast that is not only a saving and healing practice, but an essential means of personal and communal transformation of the human soul. It is our invitation to expand our own limited versions of forgiveness and love to the realization of the unimaginable extent of God's Mercy and Love in and towards each of us.

Let us turn to the experience of the great saints and mystics in our religous traditions to help us as we move ever more intensely from the darkness of sin and death to the mysterious miracle of eternal life and Easter Resurrection.

First to Abraham, the Patraich of all three monotheistic faith traditions. In his book "les trois prières d'Abraham" ("The Three Prayers of Abraham"), Louis Massignon explored the Patriach's dialogue with "God", found in the biblical book of Genesis, in order to save the infamous city of Sodom. Abraham reasons that the God of Mercy would not destroy a whole city if there were as many as 50 innocent people there and then negotiates his way down in his dialogue with the Holy One from 50 to 10 righteous souls. Although God agrees to Abraham's reasoning, ten righteous souls are not to be found and the city is destroyed. Massignon's conclusion: we must become those ten righteous souls for the salvation of our sinful and suffering world as followers of Jesus, the One given by God for the salvation of us all.

On May 18, 2011 from Rome, Pope Emeritus, Benedict XVI reminds us of Massignon's careful reading of the text because Abraham is not asking God to save only the innocent but to pardon the culpable as well. "In acting thus, he puts in play a new idea of justice: not what is limited to punishing the guilty, as human beings do, but a different justice, divine, that searches for the good and that creates it through forgiveness, which transforms the sinner, converts him and saves him..... God's desire is always to pardon, to save, to give life, to transform evil into good...."

Massignon points out that the site of Abraham's solemn prayer has been identified as nine kilometres from modern day Hebron, a city in continuous tension due to the Israeli and Paletinian conflict. Since the 17th century, the village identified as the site of Abraham's prayer has been called "Beni-Naim". This village is grouped around an ancient Byzantine church that was dedicated to Saint Lot, subsequently becoming a Mosque named, Nabi Lot, and rebuilt again in 966 CE. Today a third of the population in Beni-Naim is made up of Palestinian refugees displaced from the region of Ramlé in 1948. Our prayers for peace with justice and an end to violent solutions to conflict in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land are needed more than ever.

We are called to fast from our own complaining and selfishness, from greed and judgments of others, from gossip and our instincts to retaliate when we are hurt or feel betrayed. Lent is our time to go out into the desert of our interior being and acknowledge all that requires our "fasting." Then may these words of Blessed Charles de Foucauld console our spirits:

"It was at the moment when Jacob was on his way, poor and alone after a long journey on foot, and laying down to sleep nude on the desert sand, in the midst of this painful situation as a traveller, isolated, without lodging, on a long journey in the wilderness of a foreign land that he found himself overwhelmed with God's favor. God appeared to him in a magnificent vision."

In turning back to God from the many ways that we stray hear the 10th century Sufi mystic and saint al-Hallaj:

Your place in my heart is all of my heart
No place for a creature in Your place
You have placed my soul between my skin and bones
How would I be if I lost You?

Peace to you.