A Christmas Letter from Muslim Leaders in Minneapolis

This letter was published yesterday in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. I share it in its entirety, along with the names of the signatories of the letter. May its dissemination be a cause of increased Christian-Muslim dialogue and understanding.

To our Christian brothers and sisters:

Out of our shared love for the Messiah, Jesus, Son of Mary, Peace Be Upon Him, we greet you with peace and joy during your celebration of his life.

The Bible refers to him as the Messiah and describes the annunciation, his miraculous birth and his numerous miracles.

The Qur’an refers to him as the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary. It teaches about his miraculous birth and how his mother Mary was honored above all the worlds. Muslims are instructed to invoke peace upon him whenever his name is mentioned.

The Qur’an narrates the story of the angel who visited Mary, saying “O Mary, indeed God has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of all the worlds.” (Qur’an 3:42)

The angel said, “O Mary, indeed God gives you good news of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, son of Mary. He will be honored in this world and the Hereafter and he will be among those closest to God. He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and he will be of the righteous.” (Qur’an 3:44-45)

She said, “My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?” The angel said, “Such is God; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, ‘Be,’ and it is.” (3:47)

The Qur’an describes how the baby Jesus, immediately upon birth, looked up to his mother and comforted her: “Do not be sad; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream. And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates. So eat and drink and be contented.” (Qur’an 19:24-26)

The Qur’an describes many instances in the life of Jesus: how he preached the worship of God and compassion to people, how he healed the leper, how he healed the blind, and even how he brought the dead back to life.

Our two religions, Christianity and Islam, which both profess love and reverence for Jesus as a central figure in each of our religions, constitute over half of the population of the world.

Mercy and compassion, charity and love are the divine attributes that the Christmas season evokes among Christians. A mother’s devotion, a child’s love, and the promise of God’s mercy and grace in the coming of Jesus to us are sentiments that Muslims can share and appreciate. Continue reading

Lord’s Prayer for Justice

I just finished facilitating a book discussion series at Our Lady of Lourdes on Ron Rolheiser’s The Holy Longing, a classic of Christian spirituality. The participants and I had a great series of discussions over our sessions together.

In the fourth part of the book, Rolheiser describes several “key spiritualities within a [Christian] spirituality. One of those is a spirituality of Justice and Peacemaking. The chapter ends with “A Lord’s Prayer for Justice,” which some of you may already be familiar with. Given the contrast between the way of the world (survival of the fittest) and the rule of God – where God always stands on the side of the weak, Rolheiser suggests we might occasionally pray the Lord’s Prayer in this way.

Our Father … who always stands with the weak, the powerless, the poor, the abandoned, the sick, the aged, the very young, the unborn, and those who, by victim of circumstance, bear the heat of the day.

Who art in heaven … where everything will be reversed, where the first will be last and the last will be first, but where all will be well and every manner of being will be well.

Hallowed by thy name … may we always acknowledge your holiness, respecting that your ways are not our ways, your standards are not our standards. May the reverence we give your name pull us out of the narcissism, selfishness, and paranoia that prevents us from seeing the pain of our neighbour.

Your kingdom come … help us to create a world where, beyond our own needs and hurts, we will do justice, love tenderly, and walk humbly with you and each other.

Your will be done … open our freedom to let you in so that the complete mutuality that characterizes your life might flow through our veins and thus the life that we help generate may radiate your equal love for all and your special love for the poor.

On earth as in heaven … may the work of our hands, the temples and structures we build in this world, reflect the temple and the structure of your glory so that the joy, graciousness, tenderness, and justice of heaven will show forth within all of our structures on earth.

Give … life and love to us and help us to see always everything as gift. Help us to know that nothing comes to us by right and that we must give because we have been given to. Help us realize that we must give to the poor, not because they need it, but because our own health depends upon our giving to them.

Us … the truly plural us. Give not just to our own but to everyone, including those who are very different than the narrow us. Give your gifts to all of us equally.

This day … not tomorrow. Do not let us push things off into some indefinite future so that we can continue to live justified lives in the face of injustice because we can use present philosophical, political, economic, logistic, and practical difficulties as an excuse for inactivity.

Our daily bread … so that each person in the world my have enough food, enough clean water, enough clean air, adequate health care, and sufficient access to education so as to have the sustenance for a healthy life. Teach us to give from our sustenance and not just from our surplus.

And forgive us our trespasses … forgive us our blindness towards our neighbour, our obsessive self-preoccupation, our racism, our sexism, and our incurable propensity to worry only about ourselves and our own. Forgive us our capacity to watch the evening news and do nothing about it.

As we forgive those who trespass against us … help us to forgive those who victimize us. Help us to mellow out in spirit, to not grow bitter with age, to forgive the imperfect parents and systems that wounded, cursed, and ignored us.

And do not put us to the test … do not judge us only by whether we have fed the hungry, given clothing to the naked, visited the sick, or tried to mend the systems that victimized the poor. Spare us this test for none of us can stand before this gospel scrutiny. Give us, instead, more days to mend our ways, our selfishness, and our systems.

But deliver us from evil … that is, from the blindness that lets us continue to participate in anonymous systems within which we need not see who gets less as we get more.

Amen.

Rather than recite the entire prayer in one sitting, it would be worthwhile to take one line each day and let that be the focus of our prayer and the intention for our day.

Praying for Peace While Waging War

Today is Memorial Day, a day of remembrance for those who have died in military service.  It is also a day on which we pray for peace, for an end to all armed conflict.

My friends at ReligiousLeftLaw ask an uncomfortable question: “is it possible to honestly pray for peace while our country is far and away number one in the world in waging war, military presence, military spending and the sale of weapons around the world?”  The statistics they cite are sobering and the post is worth reading in its entirety.

I do not minimize the value of praying for peace.  I think we should pray and pray hard.

But perhaps we also need to do more – to lift our voices as people of peace to criticize the actions of our government in allowing the United States to become (in Martin Luther King’s words in 1967) “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today.”

I also do not minimizing the sacrifice and heroism of so many members of the United States armed forces.  But we ought to be troubled by the fact that “US military spending is about the same as the total of military spending by the next eight largest countries combined, that is more than China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, UK, India and Germany combined” and that more than half of our national discretionary spending goes to the US military.

Pray for peace; I do so every day.  But let’s also think about our government’s policies and the extent to which they do or don’t make peace a realistic possibility.

Rendered Speechless

The other day, my daughter looked up from reading the newspaper and expressed sadness and something approaching bewilderment at all that is going on in the world. This morning, Diane Roth, a Lutheran pastor in the Twin Cities posted this on Facebook. It seems a fitting prayer for Elena and all of us.

Sometimes I am rendered
speechless
at the world.
just at the time
when I think the world
demands a word.
Tonight I am not in Ferguson, Missouri.
I am not fleeing persecution in Iraq.
I am not at the border where children wait.
I am not in Gaza, not in Israel, not in Syria.
I do not know the deep darkness of depression
from the inside out.
Lord, give me ears to hear
in humility
the stories of those who are there,
who live injustice,
who carry fear,
who long for life.
Help me bear witness
when the world demands
a word
and I am speechless.
Lord, make me an instrument
of your peace.

Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Today’s Gospel from St. Matthew is the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount: the Beatitudes. Following up on the prayer for peace at the Vatican yesterday that included Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartolomeo I of Constantinople, and Presidents Shimon Peres of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine, I want to focus on “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “It is not enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” Robert Fulghum once said, “Peace is not something you wish for. It’s something you make, something you do, something you are, and something you give away.”

We are called by Christ to be people of peace. That means more than praying for peace in the world (although that, too, is a good thing). Equally important is what can we do, not just wish for and end to war, but to answer the call to be peacemaker in our everyday lives. That is, each of us must recognize that in each moment we have the ability to bring unity or strife, to bring peace or its absence. To stir love or hatred.

It is so easy to act in ways antithetical to peace. To harbor negative thoughts about others that color how I behave toward them. To gossip…to stir up trouble or disagreement. To feel the need to retaliate, at least in words, when someone hurts me.

The reality is that we can, by our individual actions, make a difference. Each of us can contribute to peace and justice in the world. Ordinary people, making ordinary decisions can make real contributions to building a better society, to transforming the world.

In this context, we might reflect on the Vow of Nonviolence of Pax Christi, the international Catholic peace movement:

Recognizing the violence in my own heart, yet trusting in the goodness and mercy of God, I vow for one year to practice the nonviolence of Jesus who taught us in the Sermon on the Mount: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons and daughters of God…You have learned how it was said, “You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy: but I say to you, “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way, you will be daughters and sons of your Creator in heaven.”

Before God the Creator and the Sanctifying Spirit, I vow to carry out in my life the love and example of Jesus
• By striving for peace within myself and seeking to be a peacemaker in my daily life;
• By accepting suffering rather than inflicting it;
• By refusing to retaliate in the face of provocation and violence;
• By persevering in nonviolence of tongue and heart;
• By living conscientiously and simply so that I do not deprive others of the means to live;
• By actively resisting evil and working nonviolently to abolish war and the causes of war from my own heart and from the face of the earth.

God, I trust in Your sustaining love and believe that just as You gave me the grace and desire to offer this, so You will also bestow abundant grace to fulfill it.

Prayers for Peace on Pentecost

As most people have already read or otherwise heard, today at 7:00 p.m. Rome Time (noon here in Minneapolis) Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartolomeo I of Constantinople will gather in the Vatican Gardens with Presidents Shimon Peres of Israel and Mahmoud Abbas of Palestine to pray for peace in the Holy Land.

The prayer will consist of three parts, each of which (as described by the Vatican) “will be devoted to an invocation by one of the three religious communities, in chronological order: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.” The Vatican further explained: “Each part will itself unfold in three moments. The first moment will consist of an expression of praise to God for his gift of creation, and for his having created us as members of the human family. In the second moment, we will ask pardon from God for the times we have failed to act as brothers and sisters, and for our sins against him and against our fellow men and women. In the third moment, we will ask God to grant the gift of peace to the Holy Land and to enable us to be peacemakers.”

After the three parts of the prayer, each of Pope Francis and the two presidents will give a speech invoking peace, after which, the Pope, the presidents, and Patriarch Bartolomeo I, will exchange a sign of peace. Finally, Pope Francis and the two presidents will plant an olive tree together as a symbol of peace.

This is a momentous occasion and we might all think of ways to honor and participate in it. My friend Richard Burbach shared on his blog the other day a suggestion of prayer and candle lighting. I plan to spend time in prayer at the time the prayer begins in Rome. Others will gather communally.

What will you do?

Not As the World Gives

Following up on my post of yesterday, in today’s Gospel from John, Jesus says to his disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you.”

“Peace,” says Jesus, so often to his disciples. Peace is always Jesus’ gift. And at each Mass we we repeat “peace be with you, offering each other the peace of Christ.

But we need to also remember that the peace Jesus offers and promises is not the same as the peace the world gives.

Jesus’ peace is not a peace that comes from everything being all hunky dory in our lives; we may, in fact, face real suffering. Jesus’ promise is not an absence of strife but a peace that comes from recognizing the presence of Christ in the midst of that strife.

And that is what we pray for and wish to each other (to everyone) – not that all will go well in a worldly sense, but that they be filled with Christ, with the peace that allows their hearts to not be troubled or afraid no matter what the world gives.

Peace To People of Good Will?

Sometimes I guess I am a bit slow on the uptake. The Catholic Church been using the new translation of the Mass since Advent of 2011 and there is one change I didn’t really notice until Mass yesterday morning. (Maybe everyone else talked about this at the time, and I just missed it.)

In the setting of the Gloria we sang at my daughter’s Church in Appleton, the refrain went:

Glory to God, glory to God, glory to God in the highest.
And on earth, peace on earth, peace to people of good will.

It took until the second time through for me to realize the line was bothering me. It was the last phrase that twisted my gut: peace to people of good will.

When we got home later in the day, I checked and found that the song words are consistent with the new translation of the Mass, which reads “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.” In the old translation we prayed, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to his people on earth.”

Apparently I’ve been praying the new words for over two years without hearing the difference. But the sung version of it highlighted the difference in a way I could not ignore.

Why in the world would be only pray for peace to people of good will? Don’t people lacking in good will need our prayer for peace as much as – or even more so – than those of good will? Jesus, after all, said “those who are health do not need a physician, but the sick do…that he came to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”

It is hard to imagine a good justification for limiting those for whom we pray in this prayer. I understand the line is meant to call to mind Luke’s account of the proclamation of the angels at the birth of Jesus. But that seems scant justification. In various translations of the Bible, that line reads “peace, good will toward men,” “peace to those oh whom his favor rests.” Neither of those is quite so limiting and, even if it were, Luke’s birth story is not intended as a historically accurate account.

If Jesus came to call not the righteous, but the sinners, it seems to me we give greater glory to God by praying for peace for all people, not just those of good will.

A Double-Header (and Then Some)

Yesterday I attended the first day of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize Forum, whose theme this year is Crossing Boundaries to Create Common Ground. The keynote speakers for the day were two of my heroes: His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and Sr. Helen Prejean. I went with great excitement, as I knew I would be part of a small group who would get to personally meet the Dalai Lama after his public address.

Almost the first person I saw after getting through security was Sr. Helen, who I had the good fortune to sit next to for the Dalai Lama’s morning keynote. She and I had time to converse before the program began; as interested as I was in talking about her work, she seemed equally interested in hearing my own story. Talking with her about our ministries was a great way to start the day.

The Dalai Lama’s address was, as always, powerful. Although I could write an entire post just on what he said, let me share only one of his opening remarks. He said that when he was young, he thought of himself as first Tibetan, then Buddhist, then Dalai Lama, but that now, he sees himself first as a human being. His earlier way of thinking was one that emphasized difference, and created an attitude that leads to anxiety and pretension. The more we emphasize difference, the more we create a we/they mentality that excludes and makes universal compassion more difficult. Seeing oneself first as a human being – as one of seven billion other human beings – reminds us that we are, first and foremost, related to each other. And that was his emphasis in his talk – our interdependence and relatedness, and our need to approach each other that way.

It was a powerful experience to get to meet the Dalai Lama after his talk. During my years as a Buddhist, when I ordained as a Buddhist nun, it was he who ordained me. I felt privileged to be able to give him a copy of my book adapting Tibetan Buddhist meditations for Christians (Growing in Love and Wisdom) and to share some words with him about it and my journey.

In between the two keynotes were two break-out sessions. It says something about the strength of the program that I waffled in indecision about which ones to attend – it was an embarrassment of riches. In the end, I settled on a program on forgiveness for the first session and one titled Religious Communities: Bending the Moral Arc of the Universe Toward Justice for the second. Both were worthwhile and offered me much I will reflect on in the coming days.

As good as the were, the break-outs were warm-ups for a woman who inspires me each time I hear her speak. Starting with the observation that “waking up is everything,” Sr. Helen described her own journey to “awakening” – from her realization that charity alone (without justice) is not enough to her determination to tell the story of the death penalty and those on death row. She was eloquent and powerful in her condemnation of a system that fails to respect human dignity, one that is detrimental to all who participate in it.

A powerful day. As I think back on my last three weekends: the Seattle Search for Meaning Book Festival two weekend ago, the weekend retreat on the Beatitudes I gave last weekend, and yesterday’s event, I am filled with gratitude.

Praying for Peace

“Violence never leads to peace, war leads to war, violence leads to violence.” So said Pope Francis, who has asked that today be a day or prayer and fasting to end the violence in Syria. My parish here in the Twin Cities and many others in this archdiocese and others will hold special Masses for peace this morning or afternoon.

Will my fasting today make it less likely President Obama will order a strike on Syria? Will my prayer for peace make any difference? If instead of prayer and fasting I go hiking today and eat a big fancy dinner will I jeopardize the prospects for peace?

Perhaps not. In fact, assuredly my individual efforts alone mean nothing.

But I believe Pope Francis is right that “the world needs to see gestures of peace and hear words of hope and of peace.” And so I will be accepting the pope’s invitation today, extended to “each person, including our fellow Christians, followers of other religions and all men of good will” to participate in today’s day of fasting and prayer.”

I hope you, too, will add your voice in “invoking God’s great gift of peace upon the beloved nation of Syria and upon each situation of conflict and violence around the world.”