Believe It or Not!

Some things just need to be believed in order to be seen!

I chuckled in disbelief. Are we so blind? Are our cultural filters so thick and our beliefs so constricted that we cannot see what just happened?

Yet, it went virtually unreported in the American media. No one I heard or read – with only one obscure exception – even alluded to the significance of what just happened.

Is this the sort of incredulity Mary Magdalene felt as she ran from the tomb to tell the frightened disciples whom she had just encountered? Is this the uncontainable impulse that transformed those gathered in the Upper Room into bold messengers?

What did you see or hear about the Prayer for Peace at the Vatican 48 hours ago on Pentecost Sunday? CNN World reported it as “Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres pray with Pope Francis for Mideast peace” [link]. American media did a typically adequate job covering the historic gathering. But it was predictable in content and routine in style, almost tired edging toward trite.

Watch the video for yourself! What do you see? Here is the [link] again. CNN World is as good and representative as any. Even the Catholic News Service was equally narrow in its perspective — perhaps that can be presumed, though not excused, given its “Roman” self interests.

Do you notice Patriarch Bartholomew? He appears three times in the video coverage but remains unmentioned, seemingly as incidental as the musical interlude. Wait a minute! Does anyone recognize how monumentally significant his presence is?

It was within my own lifetime (1964) that the Bishop of Rome and the Patriarch of Constantinople lifted their 900 year-long excommunication of each other. Today they are partners in ministry and referring to each other as “brothers”. What we saw on Sunday at the Vatican was virtually inconceivable on the day most of us reading this blog were born.

Media seems oblivious to the shift in tectonic plates we just saw. Yet, that shift portends great hope for the future of Christian unity and how Christians understand ourselves as “church”. Partisan obstinacies and political intransigence are not the sole preserve of nation-states! On a practical level, think of the potential this “united front” holds for the protection of the struggling Christian minority in the Middle East.

Watch the video again. Listen and look even more carefully this time [link]. It took an obscure secondary reference on Twitter for me to learn something totally missed by American media — For the first time in history, Islamic prayers were offered and readings from the Quran were proclaimed at the Vatican! It took a staff writer from Al Arabyia News – Middle East to bring that to my awareness [link].  That in itself is a huge step forward toward world peace.  This in itself transforms all future Inter-Faith dialogue.  Imagine its potential for improving relations between peoples of differing faiths.

Yes, some things need to be believed to be seen. But they are true! The world is changing – too often the pace is excruciatingly slow and the evidence imperceptible. But God is persistent, patient and insistent.

We have reason to believe!

Intolerable Cost of Ignorance

I don’t know what I was thinking – apparently, I wasn’t. It just never occurred to me! Objectively speaking I am fortunate to have been given a pretty decent education.  Call it blinders or tunnel-vision, the fact is my perspective on world cultures, other religions or the great wisdom traditions is dismally shallow. My knowledge is narrow and sectarian.

This weekend is a case in point… Isn’t Pentecost the day the Holy Spirit descended upon the apostles and thus the founding of the church? Well, yes. But it’s really so much more! It’s never occurred to me before that the apostles weren’t just sitting around together because they were afraid, waiting for the Holy Spirit to show up.

Pentecost is not a Christian invention. The disciples were gathered together in fidelity to the Jewish feast of Shavu’ot, the Festival of Weeks! It is the second of the three major Jewish pilgrimage festivals, the others being Passover and Sukkoth (commemorating the wandering in the desert).

Although it also is the time when first fruits were brought to the Temple, Shavu’ot celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. Jews count from the second day of Passover to the day before Shavu’ot, 49 days to celebrate the vital connection between Passover and Shavu’ot. The festival is also known as Pentecost, because it falls on the 50th day.

The period from Passover to Shavu’ot is marked by great anticipation! Passover freed God’s chosen people physically from bondage. The giving of the Torah on Shavu’ot redeems them “spiritually” by establishing the terms of their covenant relationship with God.

I wish I had known this earlier! Overlays with Christianity are so obvious and rich. Ignorance has resulted in too much suffering and missed opportunities! Really too bad — my loss!

It is significant that Shavu’ot is called the time of the giving of the Torah, rather than the time of the receiving of the Torah. Rabbis point out that Jews are constantly in the process of receiving the Torah, it is to be received every day. Isn’t this true for all of us?

We can start fresh by fostering a climate of genuine curiosity and committing ourselves to become better listeners. Let’s also foster the even nobler human impulse – typically “maternal” – to instinctively seek reconciliation in a family and gather all the children together as one.

What better place to begin than in the spirit of the prayer for peace at the Vatican. It begins on Pentecost at 12 noon in Minneapolis, 7 p.m. in Rome. The inspiring text of the service has been released and is available [here]. 

At our home we will be lighting a candle as described in my [post] last Wednesday. Despite the marvelous prayers available in the “official” program given on the link above, I am drawn to the simple Prayer to the Holy Spirit I learned as a kid:

Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of Your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth Your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth. O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise and ever enjoy Your consolations, Through Christ Our Lord, Amen.

Pope Francis, Patriarch Bartholomew and Presidents Abbas and Peres will plant an olive tree in the Vatican Gardens at the conclusion of their prayer service. We have been planning to replace a wild rose bush in our garden along the street. We will do that on Pentecost with more intentionality, dedicating it to peace in Jerusalem and among the three great religions that make up the family of Abraham.

The cost of our ignorance is intolerable. The price of sectarian narrowness and tunnel-vision is death. We must get over it!

O, God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit we may be truly wise.

___________

This year Shavu’ot was commemorated from Tuesday evening, June 3 through Thursday evening, June 5.

 

Pray — Now, Often and Hard

It’s time to pray. Start now. Pray often. Pray hard!

This Sunday – Pentecost — Presidents Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres will arrive at the home of Pope Francis in the Vatican. Francis explained that their meeting is not a diplomatic initiative or mediation, but only a prayer for peace.

It was officially confirmed yesterday that Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew II will be joining them.   The presence of the Successor of the Apostle Andrew next to the Successor of the Apostle Peter is a poignant sign of a deep and abiding commitment for peace in the Holy Land.

Such unity-in-practice between the Roman and Orthodox churches is already a major breakthrough and bodes well for what the Spirit has in mind for the gathering on Sunday.

Yes, we all should join in the spirit and energy of this prayer. Start now. Pray often. Pray hard.

Here’s a practical suggestion – light a candle. Let it be a tangible sign of the “tongues of fire” we hope will descend on the patriarch, pontiff and presidents this Pentecost – indeed, on all people of good will.

Most supermarkets carry 24-hour memorial candles. I found mine in the section of the store that also offers Sabbath supplies. Mine is the familiar Manischewitz brand. What if we all lit such a candle this Sunday asking for a fresh out-pouring of God’s empowering presence?

Whatever our expressions of prayer may take, let’s pray remembering that we not only need to change the hearts of world leaders.  Many human hearts need to be transformed, beginning with our own.

Here is one prayer for peace adapted from the inter-faith Week of Prayer for World Peace website:

Lead us from death to life,
from falsehood to truth.
Lead us from despair to hope,
from fear to trust.
Lead us from hate to love,
from war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe.

In our prayer let us pray with the first Pentecost in mind:

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.  Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. (Acts 2:1-6)

Yes, may it be so. Let it be. Let it be.