January 21, 2018.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday, January 21, 2018 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 our last gathering Christians were experiencing the last week of Advent, anticipating the birth of Jesus the Christ-child and the Christmas season that came to a close on January 7th with a Feast Day we call "the Epiphany of the Lord". We are told in the Gospel of Matthew that three magi, wise men or astrologers from the East, are following a star, a light, that is leading them to the manger in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Even in our common English language we use the word 'epiphany' to indicate a realization or recognition of something important in our lives. Those wise men were on a journey, a spiritual quest for the Divine, just as we are as both Christians and Muslims.

Today, Christians are invited to continue entering into the lived experiences of Jesus with him as he begins his ministry declaring, "This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand". He then invites the fishermen called Simon, Andrew, and James and his brother John to leave their nets and follow him promising that he will make them "fishers of men". Jesus calls unsophisticated, ordinary working class folks to become his devoted disciples. We wonder at these stories of people who can so easily stop everything they are doing to answer the call of the Divine. We remember that Jesus reaches out to the poor, uneducated and disenfranchised over and over again throughout his ministry. The spiritual journey leads us to what the Church calls, works of mercy, the care of others and especially those most in need, but the spiritual journey also leads us to recognize our own poverty, our own need for God in our lives. In both Islam and Christianity, there are these two forms of poverty, material and spiritual. Spiritual poverty is a cornerstone of both traditions. The word poverty, faqr, is found in many Qur'anic verses, the hadiths, or the sayings of the Prophet, and in mystical literature.

"He brought you forth from the earth and has asked you to improve it, therefore ask forgiveness of Him; surely my Lord is near, answering." (Qur'an 11:61)

When we are struggling to survive materially we have more difficulty focusing on spiritual growth. The prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying, "Had not the mercy of God embraced the poor of my nation, poverty would have led to disbelief." (Mohammad Baqir Majlesi, Bihar al-Anwar , Vol. 69 Beirut: al-Wafa, 1983 p.48)

Spiritual poverty, on the other hand, is our own spiritual state in relation to the Divine. Acknowledging our own weaknesses and failures allows us to see just how much we are loved by a compassionate and merciful God. When we recognize God's magnanimity in relation to us and see the grandeur of God and the vastness of God's creation we are humbled into realizing just how small we are.

"O ye men! It is ye that have need of God: But God is the One Free of all wants, worthy of all praise." (Qur'an 35:15)

The spirituality of substitutionary prayer that lies at the heart of the Badaliya prayer movement is a form of spiritual poverty in that it invites us to put ourselves entirely aside in order to enter fully into the reality of another, of God or another person.

Massignon understood that to truly understand another person's religious experience, or a text of the Qur'an or a mystical writing we need to put ourselves in the place of "the other." He wrote:

"Al-Hallaj said that to comprehend something else does not mean to annex it, but rather to be transferred, through decentralization of ourselves, into the very center of the thing in question." (Giulio Basetti-Sani, Louis Massignon: Christian Ecumenist. Franciscan Herald Press. 1974 p. 148.)

Substitutionary prayer became the very core of Massignon's spiritual life and led him to express his affection and love of Islam and his Muslim friends by offering himself for them. It led him to extreme examples of social justice on behalf of the peace with justice that he prayed for at every Badaliya gathering.

"Greater love has no man than this, than that a man lay down his life for his friends." (John 15:13)

There are many examples of those who have literally offered their lives for others, some of them disciples of Massignon such as the Cistercian monk, Christian de Chergé. Although he and six of his brothers, the Monks of Tibhirine were killed in Algeria, in his writings he tells of his earlier experience of a Muslim father of many children who stood up for his Christian friend when faced with a militant gang and was later killed for it. Then there are the many Christians who helped the Jews in Europe to escape from the Nazis who also lost their lives for perfect strangers.

May we deepen our spiritual lives in reflecting on the meaning of spiritual poverty and see in it the truth of our common humanity in our prayers for peace with justice in our world.

Peace to you,

(See www.dcbuck.com for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute)