April 18, 2021.
Due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic we will gather together remotely for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday April 18, 2021 from 3:00 pm to 4:30 pm. 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, especially in the Holy Land, and for an end to the pandemic with recovery of health for the world.
Just as our Muslim friends are beginning the annual month of Ramadan dedicated to prayer, fasting and almsgiving, we Christians are in the midst of the Easter Season, following the Resurrection of Christ on Easter Sunday April 4th. During these fifty days, Jesus' disciples struggled to fully understand that he had truly been raised from the dead, even appearing to many of them. The reading today is referring to the two disciples who were voicing their disappointment at the crucifixion of their beloved teacher as they walked on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. A stranger appeared to them and explained that "everything that was written about Jesus in the law of Moses and in the prophets and psalms must be fulfilled", but they did not recognize who was speaking to them until he broke and blessed the bread in the meal they shared. In the Gospel, according to Luke 24:35-48 today, Christ once again appears to all the disciples gathered in a room in Jerusalem and repeats his explanation of who he is. We join these early Jesus followers in reflecting on what exactly happened during those emotionally intense days of Holy Week both then, and now.
Although we have gone through our six weeks of Lenten fast, we can consider these fifty days as a continuing pilgrimage on our return to God, joining our Muslim friends in their Ramadan pilgrimage of return to Allah. We often refer to this journey through life as a pilgrimage, an extension, perhaps, of the pilgrimages many religious believers make to sacred sites and shrines dedicated to revered saints. Two months after the end of Ramadan this year, immunized Muslim pilgrims will be permitted to attend the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, one of the five pillars of Islam, suggested once in a lifetime for those who can afford the journey.
An important aspect of the spirituality of Badaliya and of Louis Massignon's own spiritual life, was his great devotion to saints, or holy witnesses to the Divine, in many faith traditions. He prayed at shrines all over the world in his personal relationship to what the Church calls, the Communion of Saints. One very meaningful pilgrimage for him, and for us, is called Maryam Ana Evi located near the ruins of Ephesus in modern day Turkey. In 1891, many years after an invalid mystic in Germany had a vision of this site in 1812 that is found in her writings, two French priests followed Anna Katherina Emmerich's (1774-1820) detailed description. This has come to be known as a shared pilgrimage site and a welcoming destination for both Christians and Muslims. Known in English as the House of Mary, tradition has identified Maryam Ana Evi as the home where the Virgin Mary lived the remaining years of her life being taken there by the missionary known as the Apostle, Saint John. In Selcuk, the city where the early citizens of Ephesus relocated once the ancient harbor became filled with silt, is found the ruins of St. John's Basilica built in the 6th century by the Roman Emperor Justinian replacing the 4th century church built over the tomb of the Saint.
Between 1892 and 1894 the history of the site of Anna Katherina Emmerich's vision was documented and archeologists found the remains of a cistern and part of the foundations of a house dating to the first century. The remains of a house constructed there at the time of the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century was reconstructed. This house and the surroundings has survived through the secularization of Turkey in 1926 and two world wars. In the 1950's Mother Mary's House (a translation of the Turkish), became very popular for local Muslims as a place of healing, much like the many shrines dedicated to the Virgin, such as Lourdes, in France. The need for physical, emotional and spiritual healing is a universal need of human life that calls many to turn to Mary, who is revered in both traditions. Much of our experience of Lent and Ramadan is about healing and wholeness in our relationship with the Divine.
Shrines dedicated to the Virgin Mary are very often found at the site of natural springs, sources of fresh, flowing water. Life-giving water is an element in nature that has become the foundation and symbol of cleansing, purification, blessing and healing in all three Abrahamic faith traditions. From the House of Mary, a sloping path leads to four fountains sourced by two natural springs in a terraced glade in the woods. There pilgrims perform the rituals common to their own faith traditions, reminding us of a story found in 2 Kings 5 in the Hebrew scriptures. Naaman, the commander of King Aran's army, is sent to the King of Israel to be healed of leprosy. Told by the prophet, Elisha to dip himself in the Jordan river seven times, he emerges healed.
In 1951, in his ongoing search for the sources for the legends of saints and especially those that can bring Christian and Muslim believers closer together, Massignon visited Ephesus. Initially his interest was in the legend known as the Seven Sleepers that is found in the XVIII Surah of the Qur'an and in the Eastern Orthodox Christian traditions as well. It is a story of Resurrection. The cave he was looking for is located not far from Maryam Ana Evi. What he discovered there was the remnants of a church, dedicated to Mary Magdalene above the entrance to the cave that marks the seven empty graves of the resurrected Christians. He was told that a sarcophagus at the entrance to the cave is known as the tomb of Mary Magdalene, the first to witness the Resurrection of Christ, the woman we call, the apostle to the Apostles. The significance and connection between Maryam Ana Evi and el Kaf, the cave narrative in the Qur'an, became a significant part of Massignon's legacy of Muslim and Christian engagement. His spiritual journey, and scholarly research, continued from Ephesus to Brittany, France that will be the subject of our next gathering.
From the seven church communities founded by Saint Paul in Asia Minor to the ruins of the Basilica of Saint John to the House of Mary and the Cave of the Seven Sleepers, pilgrims experience sacred ground. Our journey through Lent to Easter Resurrection, through Ramadan to Laylat-el Kadr, the ten days known as the Night of Destiny and Eid el-Fitr, the final festival of the Breaking the Fast, nourish our pilgrimages through life and our relationship to the Divine.
May this sacred ground of shared Muslim and Christian devotion help us to heal the populist movements fueling division, racism and xenophobia throughout the world today. May this sacred ground help us to find common ground.
Peace to you,
See the history of the shrine in an Article by Amelia Gallagher, Ph.D. DePaul University Librairies. Web site: via.library.depaul.edu
(See www.dcbuck.com for all past letters to the Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute)