October 25, 2015.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday, October 25, 2015 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm at St. Paul 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.

At the request of one of our members at our last gathering, we are invited to reflect on the meaning and practice of the rich tradition known as Sufism in Islam and to learn from our Muslim members of their understanding or experience of it. At the same time, our Christian members are invited to share in their understanding and experience of the equally rich tradition known as Christian Mysticism as it is lived and practiced by individuals and communities today. Both traditions have vast histories that are beyond the scope of this introductory letter. It is our hope that we can plant a seed that will stimulate our desire for further study and reflection and ultimately enhance our experience of praying together for peace and reconciliation among all faiths and religious traditions throughout the world.

A young Louis Massignon, at the age of 24 in 1907, was introduced to the following words attributed to the 10th century Persian Sufi saint commonly known as al-Hallaj. “Two moments of adoration suffice in love, but the preliminary ablution must be made in blood”. The meaning of these words may seem obscure to us but for Massignon they were an awakening to the meaning of human sinfulness and the extent of the self-sacrifice that would be required in his sudden desire for purity of spirit and healing of soul. This seed of spiritual awakening was the invitation that led him to make Hallaj the subject of his doctoral thesis at the Sorbonne and to fifty more years of research into the life and writings of the Sufi saint. It was the spark, in part, for the meaning of substitutionary prayer and the choice of the Arabic word, Badaliya for the prayer movement that Massignon and Mary Kahil established in Cairo, Egypt in 1934. It is in the spirit of the deeper meaning of the original Badaliya that inspired the establishment of the Badaliya USA in 2002 and led us to join with our Muslim brothers and sisters in interfaith sharing.

It is clear when we begin to learn about the Sufi traditions that “Sufism cannot be reduced to the writings that it has inspired, and that what the disciple may experience in one lone instant he or she will not find by reading a thousand books”. (preface by Michel Chodkiewisz in “Le Soufisme al-tasawwuf et la spiritualité islamique” by Christian Bonaud, Maisonneuve et Larose, 2002)

Sufism is an Islamic spiritual path. It requires initiation into a doctrine according to which reality includes an apparent exterior aspect and a hidden interior aspect. Under the guidance of a spiritual Master the disciple aspires to realize states of more and more interior awareness until the extinction of his own self-consciousness into God. It is an integration of the sacred into all of existence.

From the beginning of Islam the universal human desire for the Absolute was evident in the schools of Sufi practice established by adepts and their disciples and nourished by the five pillars of Islam and meditation on the Qur’anic verses and the teachings of the Prophet. In Konya in present day Turkey one can see the remains of the rigorous school for disciples of Rumi who often refers in his poems and writings to the earlier poems of al-Hallaj, who is now well known throughout the Islamic world as the quintessential lover of Allah, a “love mystic”.

Christian mystical traditions also suggest a spiritual guide, or director for the individual spiritual seeker. Perhaps the closest spiritual guide to the Sufi path comes from the Spanish Carmelite Saint and Doctor of the Church, John of the Cross. It was the writings of John of the Cross that first attracted Louis Massignon to Christian mysticism and the form of contemplative prayer called the “via negativa”. Similar to the Sufi initiate this spiritual path leads the seeker to ever deepening stages of interior contemplation until the seeker is empty and open to the “nothingness” – the “no thing” that is God.

Since these traditions simultaneously include our daily experiences along with an openness to the infinite and the inexpressible, it is clear that every definition of the Sufi path or the Christian mystical path will inevitably exclude some aspect of it. The experience of al-Hallaj, John of the Cross and so many others led them to attempt to capture it in poetic verse resulting in some of the most sublime poetry the world has ever known. Today the poetry of John of the Cross is included in many courses on Spanish literature.

Hear a saying by a Sufi Master, Abu Sa’id:

They asked the Master, “Who is the Sufi?” He replied: “The Sufi is the one who, in everything he does, acts for the pleasure of God; and consequently everything that God does pleases him.” (p.294)
The Master said, “ The veil between God and his creature is neither heaven nor earth, it is an illusion of your ‘self ’ and it is your ‘me’ that constitutes this veil. Lift this veil and you will arrive at God.” (p.291)
(From Étapes mystique du Sayh Abu Sa’id, de Muhammad Ibn al-Munawwar, traduit par M. Achéna quoted on p. 10 in Bonard)

Hallaj wrote:
“And where is Your face? Must my sight look for it in the intimacy of my heart, or in the pupil of my eye?”
“I have become the One who I love, and the One I love has become me! We are two spirits merged into one body! To see me is to see Him and to see Him is to see Us.”
“He is closer than consciousness is for the imagination, and more intimate than the sparks of inspiration.” ( Husayn ibn Ibn Mansur al Hallaj)

St. Thérèse de Lisieux declared that her vocation in life was to be Love. “She understood that striving for unity with God is far more than a personal desire. It is the recognition that the more I experience of God the more I will be able to sincerely love those around me.” ( See chapter Three in Dialogues with Saints and Mystics, D. Buck 2002)

Perhaps we are left with many questions that we are invited to explore together in this gathering.

Peace to you.

(See all past Badaliya USA letters posted at www.dcbuck.com)