December 18, 2011.
We will gather together for our Badaliya Prayer on Sunday, December 18, 2011 from 3 pm to 4:30 pm at St. Pauls Church in Cambridge, in the small chapel located in the Parish Center. Please join us in person or in spirit as we pray for peace and reconciliation in the Middle East and especially in the Holy Land.
As the season of Advent comes closer to its fruition with the great feast of Christ's birth into our hearts, and through us into our world, it seems quite appropriate to focus our Badaliya prayer on Louis Massignon's personal vision of the Virgin Mary as the bridge to reconciliation between all three Abrahamic faith traditions. Despite our best hope the divisions among these three traditions seem ever widening throughout the world, but especially in the Middle East and unfortunately, even here in the United States. We do well, therefore, to turn toward the spiritual understanding that was, and is meant to enlighten, unburden and free us from our narrow and biased perceptions of those we call the "others" among us.
Massignon wrote that the ideal of an archetypal Eternal Feminine "is the only miracle that humanity longs for, and he identifies her as a sense of inviolable virginity begetting us into life,,," For Massignon this image of God is the core of Christian faith and belief and he saw it as a deeply human reality shared by all people. Therefore it is this image that has the greatest portential to being the link for all three Abrahamic faith traditions.
It is the young Jewish virgin, Mary whose resounding "Yes" to God stands forever as a witness for us of complete trust in God and a willingness to abandon oneself, often against all reason, to the angels who bring God's Word into our awareness. We know the few stories of her appearances in the Gospels well and the centuries of devotions, shrines, and art work, along with our own prayers cause us to feel that we know Mary and her Son, Jesus well. However, Massignon invites us to enhance our vision by experiencing Mary, or Maryam and her Son, Jesus, or Issa, as they are understood by our Muslim brothers and sisters.
In Islam, Maryam is so revered that the stories and images of her in the Qur'an inspired Massignon to see a powerful link between Christianity and Islam. For Muslims the Annunciation took place before the dawn of creation. Before the world was born there was a resounding response of "Yes" to God.
In Surah 3:36 we see the story of Mary's birth and how she and her offspring were offered by Mary's mother to God for protection against the pride of Satan. Mary was raised in the Temple under the guardianship of the Priest and Prophet, Zechariah. Surah 19 in the Qur'an is named Maryam. It begins with a prayer of the Prophet Zechariah for someone to succeed him in his Temple duties of preaching God's Message and as the guardian of the child Mary. He was asking the Lord for a son because he remained childless in his advanced age. And so the Prophet John was born and described in the Qur'an.
It is in the seclusion of the Temple that the Annunciation takes place and when Maryam gives birth she is alone under a Palm Tree, crying out when a voice calls her not to grieve and provides water for her to drink and ripe dates when she shakes the Palm Tree. On that day she vowed not to speak and when she brings her offspring to her kinfolk they are amazed. Because of her vow of silence she points to her son that he might explain the miracle to them. This was Jesus, the son of Mary proclaiming himself as a servant and Prophet of God, miraculouly speaking from the cradle.
The verses in the Qur'an have Allah speaking to Jesus of all that Allah has done in his Wisdom and Might by sending the Holy Spirit to strengthen him as an infant that he might speak, and how Allah taught Jesus the Scripture, the Torah and the Gospel. It was by Allah's Permission that the miracles of Jesus were performed.
For Massignon the Jewish Mary stood alone in her "Yes" to God. In a letter to Mary Kahil he wrote:
"There is no maternal grief in the world comparable to the vow, the "fiat" of the Jewish Mary when she sacrificed the hope of her race into which the Messiah was born, to serve God alone. Her fiat was to abandon herself totally to God in order to bring the Savior among us."
She became an object of suspicion and ultimately an outcast in her own community, thus she joins a litany of biblical women whose apparent "sins" were in fact avenues of God's grace in the world such as Tamar, Rahab, Esther, and Ruth. The secret of the mystery of the Annunciation is the inheritance of both Muslims and Christians revealed in the Virgin heart of Mary, whose "Yes" to God was offered for the salvation of all of humanity.
In reflecting on these verses in the Qur'an and on our own Gospel stories of Jesus and Mary may we give birth to a new faith and a renewed spirit of Badaliya by opening our hearts to the rich and life giving traditions of our Muslim and Jewish brethren.
Peace to you for these Holy Days and always.
(For further reflection on Mary and the Virgin Heart in the three Abrahamic traditions see Buck, D.C. 2002. Dialogues with Saints and Mystics: In the Spirit of Louis Massignon. Khaniqahi Nimatullahi Publications, London, New York. Ch. 7)