September 19, 2021.

Dear Friends,

Due to the on-going Covid-19 pandemic we will gather together remotely for our Badaliya and Peace Islands Institute faith sharing on Sunday September 19, 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, an end to the pandemic, and recovery of health for the world.

We begin this academic year cautiously optimistic, faced with the on-going spread of another variant of the world-wide Coronavirus pandemic, and the difficult ending of 20 years of war in Afghanistan that is flooding our daily news. The readings today in the Catholic Christian liturgy focus our attention on endings and new beginnings and what Jesus means when he states," If anyone wishes to be first he shall be the last of all and the servant of all... Placing a child in their midst, he said to them, ' Whoever receives a child such as this in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives not me but the One who sent me.'' This follows Jesus having told his disciples that he will be betrayed and handed over to those who would kill him and that three days after his death "the son of man will rise." (Mark 9:30-37) Although in the text, the disciples fail to understand what he means, we might also wonder why at that moment he chooses to speak of those who wish to be first being the last and servant of all, using the example of a little child. It may be easy for we Christians, who know the end of the story and know what it means to "receive the One who sent me", to slide past what we are being told about who we are. The metaphor is a child, the least among we sophisticated adults. Receiving others, welcoming those of other cultures, ethnic identities and faith traditions, recognizing in others, men women and children, the sacred presence of Divine Love and being of service to them, is not always easy. Offering ourselves for the well-being of others requires putting ourselves aside in order to truly be present to them. We might say it requires a kind-of dying to oneself that can lead to our rising to new life at the same time that we offer new life to another.

This is very much what inspired Louis Massignon to invite an Egyptian woman of the Christian Melkite tradition named Mary Kahil to establish the Badaliya prayer movement in 1934. The prayer of Badaliya, substitution, began in a small Franciscan chapel in Damietta, Egypt. Mary Kahil had been working closely with Egyptian Muslim women's organizations for equal rights to education and the right to vote. Much to her surprise, Massignon invited her to make a vow of love for her Muslim friends and the Muslim community. "Make a vow, one that gives your life for them". This they did together. For Mary, this was a transforming experience as she bemoaned the fact that so many of her Christian friends and family were leaving Egypt with the rise of Islamic political power there at the time. There were two sources of inspiration for the Badaliya in what became the foundation for Massignon's own spiritual journey: his mentor, the one he called an "older brother", the hermit Priest who served the Touareg people in the Sahara Desert, Brother Charles de Foucauld, and the 10th century Sufi Mystic, Hussein Mansour al-Hallaj known throughout the Muslim world.

In the original letters written to members of the Badaliya, Massignon suggested reflecting on readings of Brother Charles' writings and others. Al-Hallaj became a 50-year research study for the sources of this inspiring life story and legacy. He translated the mystical poetry of the Sufi saint into French. Here is one of them:

"I am the One that I love and the One that I love is me,
We are two spirits in one lone body
If you see me, you see Him
And if you see Him, you see us."

Perhaps we can see in this beautiful poem a correspondence with our reading above,"Whoever receives a child such as this in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives not me but the One who sent me.'' May this inspire our further reflections for this gathering.

Massignon's letters are filled with his requests for prayers for the many difficult historical events of his time. So today let us pray for the well- being of the Afghan people, for the country of Afghanistan and for those who are welcoming the many refugees seeking safety. May this ending of a 20-year war be the beginning of new life for as many as possible. As always let us pray for Peace with Justice throughout the Middle East and for Palestinian and Israeli reconciliation in the land all three Abrahamic faith traditions call Holy.

Peace to you,

See my "Dialogues with Saints and Mystics: In the Spirit of Louis Massignon", chapter 5, for a complete description of the foundation of the Badaliya prayer movement and chapters 3 and 4 for more about Foucauld and al-Hallaj.

Poémes Mystique, Hallaj, traduits et présenté par Sami-Ali. Edition Albin Michel, Paris 1998. p.115 (my translation into English)

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