September 15, 2019.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday, September 15, 2019 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.

This Sunday, as we resume our faith sharing gatherings after the summer break, we are invited to reflect together with our Muslim friends on the images of God that are presented in the many parables of Jesus in the Gospels. From the shepherd who leaves his ninety-nine sheep to search for the one who is lost until he finds it, to the Prodigal Son whose father welcomes him home with joy or the woman who sweeps the house in search of one precious lost coin, we see images of rejoicing, of welcoming with open arms and the enormity of a loving God who states, "everything I have is yours". (Luke 15:1-32) These are only some of the many metaphors in the Gospels, and Hebrew Scriptures as well, that allow us to experience God as both male and female, forgiving and merciful, self-giving and infinitely compassionate toward all of creation.

Christians celebrated the Exaltation of the Cross in Saturday's liturgy which reminds us of the extent of self-sacrificing love to which God is willing to go in conquering sin and death that we might have eternal life. Catholic Christians bless themselves and others with the sign of the Cross in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that is another image of God, called the Trinity, that stretches our imagination into the Mystery of life in God to which we are all called.

Many of these images are also understood in Islam as the ninety-nine names of Allah including Creator, Inventor and Fashioner along with Merciful and the All and Oft-Forgiving. Because the oneness of God is the very first Pillar of Islamic belief, the Christian image of the Trinity, particularly since we describe the Trinity as "God in Three Persons", is difficult to understand and therefore invites us to reflect on this key difference in our two faith traditions. Perhaps the two perspectives of language and experience and how they are each used and interpreted can help us. The early Christians searched for words to express their experience of Jesus' life, death and resurrection and relationship with God. They sought to preserve the unity of God, or oneness of God, while also acknowledging the personhood of God that their experience of Jesus' life and death and his teachings made so evident.

There is a distinction between the word "person", and the word "individual". The word "person" implies connection with others. To develop as a person, we must be born in, through and for another person and into the relationships that shape our human development. On the other hand, "individualism" implies that there is no need for another to define one's worth, dignity and value. Christianity has a person-centered foundation that identifies its image of God as the relationship of three persons intimately connected to one another and immersed in the unity of Love itself. There is only One God who has a very personal loving relationship within God's self, with each of us, and all of creation. This is an understanding of God that the Church calls a Mystery. When Jesus promises to send the Spirit, he is inviting us into the mystery of Love itself. One very human way of expressing this is to imagine God the Creator as a never-ending outpouring of love, like a mother who gives birth to a child out of loving relationship with another. In the end, language is always metaphoric and symbolic and acts to stimulate our imagination as we attempt to express our experiences to one another.

It is in the spirit of Louis Massignon, the founder of the Badaliya prayer movement, who was a linguist who spoke and wrote in many languages and found the study of linguistics spiritually enlightening, that we offer the reflections above. Beyond this he wrote the following:

"It is insane to excommunicate the Abrahamic monotheism of the Muslims in the name of a static affirmation of the dogma of the Trinity. The Trinity is not an arithmetic tri-theism but the divine deepening of the mysterious and transcendental Unity, the Pure Act in the inner life, uniting the Beloved with the Lover in Love, like the three powers of the soul -- memory reduced to hope, intelligence reduced to faith and will reduced to Desire for God -- that are but one in the depth of our soul". (Louis Massignon: Pioneer of Interfaith Dialogue, The Badaliya Prayer Movement. Blue Dome Press 2016. p.253)

Let us pray for all those recent victims of violence and their families who are left to mourn so many losses here in the United States and around the world.

Peace to you,

(See for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute)