By John Philip Newell, 8/13/11 08:03 AM ET
I do not know how many Christians have read the Quran. And I do not know how many Muslims have read the Christian Scriptures. But I do know that until we come back into relationship, until we begin to learn the wisdom at the heart of one another’s traditions, we will be less likely to work for peace. And without peace in the household of Abraham and Sarah and Hagar there will not be peace among us as nations today.
“Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace” is a resource book in the Praying for Peace Initiative, designed especially to nurture relationship between Christianity, Islam and Judaism as a way of making peace in our world. Each morning and evening in a seve- day cycle we use words from the Quran, the Hebrew Scriptures and the teachings of Jesus to pray for peace. We know the shadow side of our religious inheritance, the way it is used to fuel hatred and division between us as peoples and as nations. But do we also know the prophetic power for peacemaking at the heart of our three faiths? We need to do the hard work of confronting the falseness within us and between us while at the same time accessing the vision and the hope for healing.
“Whichever way you turn, there is the face of God.” How many of us would have guessed that these words, which invite us to look for the Sacred in everything, come from the Quran? (The Cow 2:115) We have been too ready to believe the lie that it is only in certain faces, certain races, certain places, that we will glimpse the Holy. How can we help one another remember the true heart of Islam, the true heart of Christianity, the true heart of Judaism — all of which cherish a vision for the sacredness of every life?
Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face in the light of eyes we love in the salt of tears we have tasted in weathered countenances east and west in the soft skin glow of the child everywhere. Whichever way we turn, O God, there is your face there is your face among us. (from “Praying with the Earth: A Prayerbook for Peace,” 2011)
This is not to say that in religious extremists committed to tearing our world apart we will readily see anything other than the violence of their countenance. But it is relationship, relationship and relationship that can strengthen us to see more deeply. And it is relationship across the boundaries of religion and nationhood that can change the way we see and relate as nations.
A number of years ago my wife and I went on pilgrimage to the burial place of St. John in Turkey. He is remembered as the one who leaned against Jesus at the Last Supper. In the Celtic world it was said of him that he therefore heard the heartbeat of God. He became a symbol of the practice of listening for the beat of the Sacred deep within everything that has being.
Not for the first time in our lives my wife and I got entirely lost. We were in Selcuk close to the tomb of John but could not find it. By “mistake” we wandered into the garden courtyard of a mosque. There we were greeted by the Muslim imam. He welcomed us to Turkey and asked after our visit. When he learned that I was a priest, he bowed to me and said, “You are a minister of Jesus, peace be upon him.” He then invited us into the mosque where we exchanged blessings. It was the imam who then showed us the way to John’s tomb, just up the hill from the mosque.
As I climbed the hill I could not stop thinking of the humility of this man, bowing and using the ultimate term of respect to refer to Jesus. I realized he was in no sense being untrue to his own tradition. He was being deeply true. And more challengingly he was inviting me to be true to the heart of my tradition, true to the way of strong humility, of not raising ourselves up over one another, whether as individuals, nations or species.
Jesus says, “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be a servant among you” (Matthew 20:26). It is in learning to bow to the sacred in one another and in one another’s traditions, no matter how ugly the false expressions are, that we will find the way forward together.
May we know that we are of You may we know that we are in You may we know that we are one with You together one. Guide us as nations to what is deepest open us as peoples to what is first lead us as a world to what is dearest that we may know the holiness of wholeness that we may learn the strength of humility that together we may live close to the earth and grow in grounded glory. (from “Praying with the Earth: A Prayer Book for Peace,” 2011)