February 19, 2012.

Dear Friends,

We will gather together for our Badaliya Prayer on Sunday, February 19, 2012 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.

On Ash Wednesday, February 22nd we will begin the 40 day period of Lenten Fasting and Prayer according to the Latin Rite. Louis Massignon took this time of fasting and prayer very seriously as one means for Christians to enter more deeply into solidarity with both Muslims and Jews. Every year he fasted during the month of Ramadan with his Muslim friends, following the prescriptions understood by all practicing Muslims for this time of prayer and fasting, that include almsgiving, reconciliation and hospitiality to the stranger. He fasted and prayed with the Friends of Gandhi and with the Jews on Yom Kippur. In his Annual Letters to members of the Badaliya he used the five pillars of Islam as headings in his description of the activities of the Badaliya throughout that year. He called this summary of activites and reflections "Our Life of Subsitution". The five pillars of Islam are, The Profession of Faith or Testimony, Prayer, (five times a day), Almsgiving, Fasting (for the month of Ramadan daily from sunrise to sunset), and Pilgrimage (once in a lifetime to Mecca, called the Hajj). With this outline he described the year of living the Badaliya, including pilgrimages made to many places including Jerusalem, and fasting for a "Serene Peace between Muslims and Christians" on the day of the monthly gatherings of Badaliya members.

This is an invitation therefore, to join in the spirit of the original members of the Badaliya in keeping the five pillars of Islam and the Fasting of our Jewish brothers and sisters in mind as we enter into our own forty days of fasting and prayer. On our journey through the Passion to the Resurrection and to our own renewal of faith and love Massignon offers the following reflection:

"It is said that prayer is a lifting up of the soul towards God. But there is no infinite straight line imaginable today, and in the present state of our theories of physical mathematics, the most rectilinear "rising of prayer" has to undergo Einstein's curve....It is, mostly, an attempt at escaping sin, an expatriation, a path out of the stranglehold of anxiety where the soul feels its intimate vocation strangled by its communal destiny, to which it must consent by the offering of a total sacrifice, exhaled towards heaven ....The mental perspective of our prayer undergoes a "Copernican reversal"; its highest ecstasy is prostration. The "heavenly" apparitions which seem to fly over our earthly prison, these "Marian assumptions", corresponding to the descent of the Judge on the Last Day, "land" spiritually in the center of our hearts, allowing the Savior to emerge." (Teilhard de Chardin's "Omega Point")

The Qur'an Surah 183 states: "O you who believe! Prescribed for you is the Fast, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may deserve God's protection ( against the temptations of your carnal soul) and attain piety." (Qur'an Part 2, Surah 2, 183 - 187)

In the Qur'an Fasting and Ramadan are described in some detail. For example, although the Ramadan Fast is the best way, those who can no longer manage to fast are asked to feed a destitute person every day of the Ramadan fast as a kind of penance. Surah 185 states that even for those who have difficulty fasting, God will ease the burden, not willing hardship, "so that the people will give thanks to God."

As our final reflection, Massignon wrote:
"In order to understand Fasting, let us go back to Dostoievsky's meditation on Christ's fast of forty days on the mountain and his three temptations; on bread that must be earned by work; on the miracle that must be earned by suffering; on the glory that is not acquired by making a pact with brutal Force." (Annual Letter # 13 begun in Damiette Egypt on Dec. 19, 1059 completed in Paris on Mar. 26, 1969 (Hallaj's Birthday) p. 252-253 in Louis Massignon Badaliya: au nom de l'autre (1947-1962) présenté et annoté par Maurice Borrmans et Françoise Jacquin. Cerf 2011.)

Here is an invitation to reflect deeply on the three temptations of Christ beginning with our own reality. How must we work to earn the bread of life? How is our own suffering and that of all those who suffer leading us to transformation, salvation and ultimately to the miracle of resurrection? And finally how do we resist "making a pact with brutal force" that is so infused into our militaristic culture, evident in the violence in our homes and on the streets, and imbedded in religious divisions and ethnic and national rivalries, that we miss the glory of God shining in the faces of everyone?

Peace to you.