Promoting Peace in the World: An Introduction to Living at Peace with the Other

Promoting Peace in the World: An Introduction to Living at Peace with the Other

This summer, 2019, Spring Hill College in Mobile, AL[1] offered its Summer Institute of Spirituality[2] classes and I participated in SPT571/471 Spirituality of Inter-Religious Dialogue, taught by Dr. Matthew Bagot. The required text was Finding Jesus among to Muslims: how loving Islam makes me a better Catholic, by Jordan Denari Duffner,[3] Liturgical Press, 2017. The class was modified for me to two credit hours which I need to complete my Certificate of Spiritual Direction (CSD) degree.[4] In preparation for this class I also read and/or referred to other books and articles listed in the Bibliography at the end of this essay.

Dr. Bagot and I agreed that for the additional one hour credit to make two total hours credit, I would write a three day retreat promoting inter-religious dialogue for Christians and Muslims using Finding Jesus among Muslims as the primary text, alluding to other recommended books I have read and refer to in the Bibliography. This research paper was to be ten to twelve pages, using Duffner’s thesis that “Interreligious dialogue allows us to grow closer to God in three ways: through the people we meet, through their religion, and through our own Christian faith.”[5]

I was attracted to this course particularly due to the linkage I recognized between Ignatian Spirituality, Duffner’s book, and Islamic thinking. This commonality of spiritual life is discussed by Duffner, “Noticing the strong faith community that my Muslim friends had, … I felt compelled to engage these aspects of my own faith tradition …Forms of prayer like the Daily Examen, devised by the founder of the Jesuit order of priests, St. Ignatius of Loyola, helped me to notice God more in my daily life.”[6] [7]

I set out to write an Ignatian style inter-religious retreat that both Muslims, Christians, and Jews could attend together in a common quest for Finding Peace in the World. I soon ran into a fork in the road, having exceeded my page limit and word limit, and I am now writing this document as an introduction to the retreat, Finding Peace in the World: An Interfaith Retreat for Muslims and Christians, which I will continue writing and post on my blog site[8] when it is finished. I plan to share the actual retreat with retreat houses and others who might like to find peace in the world through inter-religious dialog using a retreat format. In this introductory paper to that retreat I will expand on the spirituality of Duffner’s thesis and reexamine her thoughts in the lens of Ignatian Spirituality.

One of the features I appreciate about Jordan Denari Duffner’s writing style is the way she blends her life experience with her knowledge. This mix speaks to our common humanity and enlightens our soul as well as our mind. In Always Discerning, Joseph Tetlow, SJ quotes Richard of Chichester, “’O most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother, may I know Thee more clearly, love Thee more dearly, and follow Thee more nearly, day by day.’”[9] It is this combination of knowledge, of love, and human interaction that speaks to the spiritual meaning of Duffner’s three part book. Part I is Meeting God in Muslims; Part II is Encountering God in Islam; and Part III is Reembracing God in Christianity. This combination of knowledge, love, and human interaction is a day by day task that also speaks to us in an eternal voice if we believe Muslims will be a part of the Communion of Saints. Duffner’s book is her personal testimony to knowing God in the eyes of the “other,” following God in the eyes of the “other,” and loving God in the eyes of the “other.” If we continue thinking like this book seems to hint at, maybe one day we will find there is really no “other” and that we are already in communion with each other and the One Divine Mystery, if we can only imagine it.

We must address the meaning of Islam itself. “Islam is the act of giving one’s self over to God, and aligning one’s own will with God’s; a Muslim is a person who willingly undertakes this act of devotion, and experiences the peace that comes with it.”[10] The heart of true spirituality is the giving up of the self, Kenosis, or self-emptying. It is this submission and giving of the self that creates peace that is often thought of when the word Islam is used. “Submission to God’s will is the sole basis of any authentic religion.”[11] This is why when we speak of Islam and speak of authentic spirituality we must at the same time speak of peace. Hence, the title of this essay is Promoting Peace in the World: An Introduction to Living at Peace with the Other and the title of the retreat I am writing is Finding Peace in the World: An Interfaith Retreat for Muslims and Christians.

If we are going to discuss the threefold blessings[12] of interfaith dialogue, we may ask, “What is this type of dialogue? “The Catholic Church teaches that interreligious dialogue is part of our vocation as Christians.”[13] Duffner mentions Pope John Paul II’s encouragement for each person to engage in this type of dialogue to further the mission of the church. God is in dialogue with humanity, the one God we commonly believe in and as Catholics view as One Trinitarian being is Himself in a dialogue of love, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. “The goal of dialogue, like the rest of our life, is to grow closer to God.”[14] Half of this dialogue is to listen, and half is to speak. The job of a Spiritual Companion is very much to listen. To be a spiritual companion with Muslims, in dialogue with them in prayer, in action, in worship, in life experience, and in eternity, is to fulfill our mission in life of drawing closer to God and sharing His love. It is Duffner’s goal to focus on this dialogue with Muslims, because that is Duffner’s personal experience, but the principles we discuss are applicable to other faiths, particularly to Abrahamic faiths.

Beginning with Part I of Finding Jesus among Muslims is Meeting God in Muslims. Normally when we meet someone for the first time, our focus is find some common ground. “Where are you from?” “What do you do for a living?” Finding common ground is fundamental to our task of meeting God in the “other.” From a Spiritual perspective, Christians, (especially Catholics) have much in common with Muslims (especially Shia Muslims). Surah Maryam is one of the longest surah’s in the Qur’an. The respect Muslims show for Mary and their devotion to her is a wonderful beginning point for finding, as Catholics, commonality with Muslims. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is heavily laden with Marian prayer. When we think of Mary, perhaps in our Ignatian prayers of imagination, we might pick up the Qur’an and contemplate what Mohammad wrote about her. “The Qur’an speaks more of Jesus and Mary than of Muhammad, though less than of Abraham and Moses… He [Jesus] is called God’s word cast into Mary, and he is God’s spirit blown into her to effect Jesus’s fatherless conception.”[15]

Duffner also speaks of the commonality of good works, justice, and mercy that Christians and Muslims share. Mercy is crucial to Islam. When one meets a Muslim, one should meet Mercy. “In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful”[16] begins the surah of Maryam, and Mercy is mentioned at the beginning of every surah in the Quran but one.[17] From a spiritual point of view, what if when a Muslim meets a Christian, the Muslim should meet unconditional love? Would that this would happen in every case, then Mercy and Love would walk the face of the earth together.

1 In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. 2 Praise be to God, Lord of the worlds, 3 the Compassionate, the Merciful, 4 Master of the Day of Judgment. 5 Thee we worship and from Thee we seek help. 6 Guide us upon the straight path, 7 the path of those whom Thou hast blessed, not of those who incur wrath, nor of those who are astray.[18]

When one reads the Qur’an, one ought to remember that everything the Qur’an says and means is prefaced with the presupposition of the Mercy of God. Reading the Qur’an with spiritual eyes means reading the Qur’an with eyes of Mercy, Allah’s Mercy. Even the “sword verse,” Qur’an 9:5 ends in Mercy.

Then, when the sacred months have passed, slay the idolaters wheresoever you find them, capture them, besiege them, and lie in wait for them at every place of ambush. But if they repent, and perform the prayer and give the alms, then let them go their way. Truly God is Forgiving, Merciful.[19]

We Christians have our own difficult Scriptures and “sword” verses too which should be tempered in God’s final Love, Mercy, and Grace.

In the process of expanding more on the Spirituality of the threefold blessings of interfaith dialogue in growing closer to God though meeting God in Muslims, through their religion, and reembracing our own Faith in God,[20] Duffner gives us her viewpoint on meeting the Image of God in Muslims. Here is where we run into a little difficulty concerning God’s Image in Muslims. Duffner fully believes God’s Image is in Muslims, “I have encountered God’s image and spirit in Muslims countless times.”[21] I fully agree with her and for that matter, I believe God’s Image is in every human. Ignatian Spirituality asks us to find God in all things.[22]

Houser Divine Union cropped

[23]

The graphic above speaks to my personal view of the spirituality of God’s Image being in man. This is the Eastern view, but others, even in the Catholic Church have a viewpoint of God being absolutely transcendent, as do most Muslims, to my knowledge. “Naught is like unto Him (cf. 112:4) is among the most famous phrases of the Quran, as it provides a succinct and unequivocal assertion of God’s complete and utter transcendence (tanzīh). Like unto Him renders ka mithlihi, which literally reads “like His likeness.””[24] I confirmed my inclinations that Muslims would not agree that the image of God is in us, with one of my Muslim friends, yet he explained God as being Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent. I suggested that if God were omnipresent, He could be present in us too. The apostle Paul, speaking to the Greek intellectuals from whom some of our Western ideas about God come, stated, “From one ancestor [140] he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, 27 so that they would search for God [141] and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. 28 For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’”[25] He understood. For a more detailed viewpoint on this matter see Quran 50:16 “We did indeed create man, and We know what his soul whispers to him; and We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.”[26][27]

My friend, Mirza, may not agree about God’s Image being in mankind, but he did agree with me and would agree with Duffner about God’s Spirit being in mankind. See Qur’an 15:28:

And [remember] when thy Lord said unto the angels, “Behold! I am creating a human being from dried clay, made of molded mud; 29 so when I have proportioned him and breathed into him of My Spirit, fall down before him prostrating.”[28]

The Qur’an is full of references to the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a key area of commonality for experiencing the Spirituality of finding Jesus among Muslims.

We have viewed the Spiritual Blessings of interreligious dialogue with individual Muslims. This discussion has drawn us closer to God in many experiential ways. Examining Part II of Finding Jesus among Muslims, let us consider how we encounter God in the religion of Islam. Can the religion itself help us grow closer to God? When I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church I heard that the Catholic Church is the one and only true Church. Subconsciously I think I realized some problems with that way of thinking, and for matters of conscience regarding war and the Sabbath, I left the Catholic Church at about twenty years old for another one and only true Church that I felt I was being called to join. That is a little humorous, looking back at it now, but before too late I realized that God is at work in the whole world and in people of different religions. I did not know in 1969 that in 1965, Vatican II, in the fourth draft of Nostra Aetate addressed certain issues that are relevant to my concerns then and our discussion today.

The Church regards Muslims with esteem: they adore the one God, living and enduring, the all-powerful Creator of heaven and earth who has spoken to people; they strive to obey wholeheartedly His inscrutable decrees, just as Abraham did, to whose faith they happily link their own. Furthermore, as they worship God through prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, so they seek to make the moral life—be it that of the individual or that of the family and society—conform to His Will.[29]

Duffner mentions a similar passage on p. 57. Vatican II contains clear breaks from prior Catholic teachings that for many, such as myself, who returned to the Catholic Church after many years, find refreshing and Spirit led. Signs of this Spirit, signs of God, are called ayat in the Qur’an. Duffner quotes the Qur’an regarding these signs of God in nature, in the birds of the air, the rain, the cattle, crops, and in humans.[30] We have already mentioned how well this viewpoint of seeing God in all things fits into Ignatian Spirituality. In some mysterious way, God is everywhere, in all things, in all humans, and even in all religions! Duffner quotes Pope Francis, “’The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.’”[31] Pope Francis was finding his inspiration from a sixteenth century Muslim mystic, Ali al-Khawas.

What a breath of fresh air has overcome the sometimes stale winds which the Spirit needs sometimes to stir up in our own religion. The Spirituality of the “other,” the Spirituality of the other’s religion, can sometimes help overcome legalistic hurdles set into our minds. Thank God Pope Francis,[32] a Jesuit, schooled in Ignatian Spirituality, can accept these winds and speak like this. I have thought several times as I write to mention how some of this spirituality fits into the beliefs of St. Francis. Duffner mentions this association on pages 62 and 63, suggesting that some believe that St. Francis, while on a peace mission to sultan Malik al-Kamil in the thirteenth century, well before St. Ignatius, may have drawn inspiration for some of his prayers from Muslim sources.[33]

This brings up the concept of praying together. We all live on the same earth, breathe the same air, and eat the same food. Can we all pray together? I think a prerequisite for Spirituality is humility. I have most of my life been much too proud and conceited, and probably in my best state, I am still so. While taking the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius about five years ago or so, I latched on to the Ignatian Spirituality idea of giving up everything to live only in the love and grace of God and started to tell others about it. Before too long I ended up being wrung through the wringer, suffering a business bankruptcy, and getting relieved of some of that pride and conceit. Duffner’s chapter 4, The Width of a Hair, is now my spiritual view of what I know about things and what I believe all religions know about God. If all mankind, and all religions were run through a wringer, stirred up in a washtub, and spilt into the ocean, our knowledge, and all we are so proud of, is just a drop in the ocean to what God knows, how much God loves, and how Merciful God is. Duffner speaks to my idea under the heading “’The One and Merciful God.’”[34]

Duffner quotes Pope St. John Paul II’s 1985 address to Muslim youth in Morocco, “’We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection.’”[35] From a spiritual point of view, isn’t this and other quotes from Pope Francis[36] in a similar vein refreshing? What is so refreshing about it from a spiritual point of view is that if we believe these things, we relieve ourselves of our disordinate affections, giving up ourselves, emptying ourselves, of vanity, conceit and pride. St. Ignatius often warned of the evils of riches, honor, and pride. How much better off eternally would we be if we could rid ourselves of such evils?

We must now address the last section of Duffner’s book, and address how the spirituality of inter-religious dialogue has, or is going to help us reembrace our own Faith tradition. When I left the Catholic Church, I did not leave Christianity. Other Christians besides Catholics have God’s Holy Spirit too. The Spirit is an indelible sign of God’s Presence. It is a wind that blows where it will. Eventually with the election of Pope Francis, I began to reexamine my relationship to the Catholic Church. Here is a man who thinks like St. Francis, I thought. Pope Francis is a part of my reexamination, the 19th Annotation is another part, and the Holy Spirit is the elephant in the room concerning why I came back to the Catholic Church. I believe I needed to be set free to think like we are thinking right now. The world is a big place, the Catholic Church is a big place, and Islam is a big place. Nothing is always perfect, always right, always the one, true and only thing to consider, but spiritually, let us consider however big God is. God is GREAT!

Perhaps Jordan Denari Duffner and Finding Jesus among Muslims has brought you to reexamine your thinking about your own Faith. Perhaps just reading this essay has motivated you to reexamine some things you thought you believed. Maybe something spiritual has touched you. I hope so. This is the reason I have written this essay, to expand on the spirituality of Duffner’s book and view it through the lens of Ignatian Spirituality. Duffner explains how her interreligious dialog touched her inner being and brought her back to the Daily Examen,[37] an Ignatian form of prayer.[38] She says, “St. Ignatius of Loyola, helped me to notice God more in my daily life. I developed a deep personal friendship with Jesus, who became a companion to me…”[39]

Duffner looks back to over fifty years ago, to a crown jewel of her Catholicism, Vatican II. She quotes Lumen Gentium, “But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator, first among whom are the [Muslims]: they profess to hold the faith of Abraham, and together with us adore the one, merciful God…”[40] She also mentions the essential dogma of Lumen Gentium that one must live by one’s conscience. She mentions another Catholic term, the “communion of saints” and her heart’s desire is that heaven is full of Muslims.

Essential common ground we share with Muslims is the constant reexamination of our “self.” This is another spiritual aspect of our discussion. “Muslims share with Catholics the foundational, basic parts of the spiritual life, things like a constant returning to God through prayer, and an emphasis on trust in God.”[41] The emptying of toxic self is essential to giving up everything to live only in God’s love and grace. This surrender is the root, s-l-m in Islam and Muslim, the surrender of giving up the self and our own selfish will to the One, true God, to enter this Divine and Mystical union, to continue living in Eternity, in communion with Him, and one another. This surrender brings us peace. “’I am no longer legitimizing the violence that has been done toward the other group…I take on the responsibility of what has happened in the past from my own group, what my group has inflicted.’”[42] Therefore we return to the title of this essay, Promoting Peace in the World: An Introduction to Living at Peace with the Other. Will you join us in communion to experience the spirituality of our quest to enter dialogue and experience this peace with God and each other, in combination with the knowledge we now have about what we should be doing in this life and the next?

John Cooper

http://www.jcooperforpeace.org

Bibliography:

  • Finding Jesus among Muslims: how loving Islam makes me a better Catholic, by Jordan Denari Duffner, Liturgical Press, 2017. ISBN 9780814645925
  • American Islamophobia: understanding the roots and rise of fear, by Khaled A. Beydoun, University of California Press, 2018, ISBN 9780520970007
  • Islam and Christianity: theological themes in comparative perspective, by John Renard, University of California Press, 2011 ISBN 978-0-520-26678-0
  • Peace Primer, Quotes from Islamic & Christian Scripture & Tradition, edited by Ken Sehested and Rabia Terri Harris, co-published by Muslim Peace Fellwoship & Baptist Peace Fellowship, 2002 (pamphlet)
  • Common Ground: Islam, Christianity, and religious pluralism, by Paul Heck, Georgetown University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1-58901-507-4
  • Orientalism, by Edward W. Said, Penguin Classics, 2003, ISBN 978-0-141-18742-6
  • The Qur’an: a new translation, by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, Oxford University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-19-95395-8
  • The Go-Anywhere Thinline Bible Catholic Edition, Harper Collins Publisher, 2010
  • Several articles, Ignatius of Loyola: Apostle to the Muslims, by Damian Howard, SJ; What is the Koran?, by Roby Lester, Jesus in the Quran: Pious, Obedient, Favored Servant of God, by Francis X. Clooney, SJ; Islam and Ignatian Spirituality, by Renato Oliveros, PHD; ‘The Study Quran’ and the Battle against Ignorance, by Francis X Clooney, SJ; On Pluralism, Intolerance, and the Quran, by Ali S. Asani, How to Read the Qur’an, by Ingrid Mattson; and The Human in the Qur’an, by Renovatio.

[1] https://www.shc.edu/

[2] http://departments2.shc.edu/graduatetheology/summer-institute

[3] See Denari Explain book at: https://www.facebook.com/ReligionNewsSvc/videos/jordan-denari-duffner-on-finding-jesus-among-muslims/10155409024697799/

[4] http://departments2.shc.edu/graduatetheology/spiritualdirection

[5] Finding Jesus among Muslims: how loving Islam makes me a better Catholic, by Jordan Denari Duffner, Liturgical Press, 2017, ISBN 9780814645925, p. 7.

[6] Ibid., p. 88

[7] See Ignatius of Loyola: Apostle to the Muslims, by Damian Howard, SJ and Islam and Ignatian Spirituality, by Renato Oliveros, PHD referenced in the Bibliography for further development of the Ignatian and Islamic spiritual connections.

[8] http://www.jcooperforpeace.org

[9] Always Discerning: An Ignatian Spirituality for the New Millennium, Joseph A. Tetlow, SJ, Loyola Press, 2016, ISBN-13 978-0-08294-4456-8, p. 75

[10] Duffner, p. xi

[11]Islam and Ignatian Spirituality, by Renato Oliveros, PHD, p. 4

[12] One may also want to reexamine what one means by “blessing.” See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blessing

[13] Duffner, p. 3.

[14] Ibid, p. 4.

[15] Common Ground: Islam, Christianity, and religious pluralism, by Paul Heck, Georgetown University Press, 2009, ISBN 978-1-58901-507-4, p. 34

[16] Nasr, Seyyed Hossein. The Study Quran . HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

[17] See Duffner, p. 22.

[18] Study Qur’an and Duffner, p. 22

[19] Study Qur’an, 9:5

[20] Duffner, pp. vii, 3, 7.

[21] Ibid, p. 31.

[22] https://www.loyolapress.com/our-catholic-faith/ignatian-spirituality/finding-god-in-all-things

[23] Moving in the spirit, by Richard J. Hauser, S.J., Paulist Press, 1986, ISBN 0-8091-2790-3, p. 27.

[24] Study Qur’an, Location 69660 of 126722

[25] NRSV, Catholic Edition Bible, eBook . Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition. (Acts 17: 26-28)

[26] Ibid. 50:16.

[27] https://www.al-islam.org/excerpts-from-the-holy-quran-an-eternal-guidance-to-mankind/allah-swt

[28] Study Qur’an, 15:28-29

[29] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nostra_aetate#The_fourth_draft

[30] Duffner, p. 58, 59.

[31] Ibid, p. 60

[32] In the tradition of his namesake, Pope Francis urges new approaches to dialogue here: https://international.la-croix.com/news/in-major-speech-on-theology-pope-urges-new-approaches-in-dialogue/10386?fbclid=IwAR0f1FmBtcUiPW8uV-ByxTHq_mb-dEJwEpJIL-MXFnz6xIs-3xNw5wDQlak

[33] Ibid, p. 62, 63.

[34] Ibid, p. 70

[35] Ibid.

[36] Duffner presents video of Pope Francis and little Muslim boy who wants to know if his Muslim Father is in heaven here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j4mORSTC0QY

[37] https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen/

[38] Duffner, p. 88.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid., p. 92.

[41] Ibid., p. 98.

[42] Duffner quotes Nayla Tabbara, p. 106.

Alabama Dreamin

Alabama Dreamin

Somewhere in the news a week or so ago I glimpsed at a report that some DACA Dreamers[1] had come to the U.S. Congress and attempted to wash the feet of congressmen outside the congressional offices.

A week or so went by and a quiet urging came to my mind that this is a wonderful idea for the whole State of Alabama, a State that is viewed by some as solid red, and less than progressive in social causes.  What can be done?  I brought the idea to my church, the Roman Catholic Church in Tuscaloosa, and copied several people who work with the Hispanic communities and other immigrants on the idea of having a footwashing event for and by the Dreamers in our midst.  I emailed to a contact in the Mobile Archdiocese and a contact in the Birmingham Archdiocese who work with the Dreamers and copied the Fellowship of Reconciliation[2] which I am a member of and which has been involved in non-violent social causes such as the Civil Rights Movement for decades.

I am merely offering my voice and the idea that came to me for a non-violent footwashing event or events organized and conducted by what we in the United States call Dreamers.  As a little background, we who are Christians will soon be celebrating Easter and just before Easter, before the Passover, some unusual to some events are recorded to have taken place, like Footwashing.[3] Footwashing has an ancient tradition and is viewed by some as a Sacrament.  A type of this tradition is observed by Roman Catholics on Holy Thursday.[4]

Mary Magdalene is said to have said to have done it with tears of love and remorse.  Mary the sister of Martha and Lazarus is said to have done it too.[5]  Both women did it to Jesus and wiped His feet with their hair.  Jesus washed His disciples’ feet too.[6]  Jesus tells his disciples, if we consider ourselves to be disciples, to do it to, to one another.  Is this real?  Is it figurative? Is it both?  Footwashing does not have to be done in church, it can be done anywhere.  It can be done in our imagination too, which may be about as far as this idea goes at this time.

My vision, my dream for Alabama and I wish I could dream the whole world, is that we would want to wash each other’s feet all around the world, in North and South Korea, in Syria, In Yemen, Iran, and Qatar, Ethiopia, and everywhere.  I know this is all and grad idea that we should love one another and love our enemies, just like that, but forgive me, please, I am just Dreaming.

Let’s start little – just where we are…  All it takes is two pans, two towels, two gallons of water, a little Spirit, a little Love, to get the job done.  If a person cannot afford that, and some can’t in the world, take some tears with you and your hair, or your shirt off your back to dry another’s feet and just do it.  Do it to people you love and people you don’t love.  You ain’t gonna wash no feet if you got no Love. [Sic]

As for Alabama, I dream that this idea, this dream, would be seed for greater action beyond out State, and beyond politics and helpful to all immigrants.  I dream the Dreamers would take up this cause and offer to wash the feet of those in power, speaking to the powers,[7] and symbolically telling those powers, be they congress people, police, religious powers, educational powers, all powers, that we are here to serve you, that we love the United States, and all nations for that matter.  Let us serve you, pay our taxes, contribute to our society, support our families off the welfare system.  We want to work.  We want to love one another.  We believe America will be great again when America can love again.

Maybe, I am just Dreamin…

 

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DREAM_Act

[2] https://forusa.org/

[3] https://www.zionlutherannj.net/footwashing-in-the-old-and-new-testament-the-graeco-roman-world-the-early-church-and-the-liturgy-2/

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maundy_Thursday

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anointing_of_Jesus

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Foot_washing

[7] http://www.quaker.org/sttp.html

Enslaved to War: A Grace Solution

Enslaved to War:  A Grace Solution

Looking back upon the one thing that stands out most to me regarding the four books we are reading and studying so far this Spring semester, I am most impressed by Dr. Gerald G. May’s insight in his book, “Additions and Grace” that we are all addicted.   May states that “we all suffer from both repression and addiction (p 2).  He says “To be alive is to be addicted, and to be alive and addicted is to stand in need of grace.” (p. 11).  These addictions attack our desires and in effect keep us from our true desire for freedom and our infused desire for unity with God and our desire for God.  At first I partially dismissed the premise that we are all addicted but in view that as Ignation thinkers we are to be willing to give up everything to live only in the love and grace of God, I realized that is something to accept, in view of spiritual and or actual poverty, to realize I am still holding to some inordinate attachments myself.  I am a mixed bag of goods with my own attachments still clinging in some ways, and in some ways partially dispensed of.

Even with this self-realization, I am also conflicted with those sins and addictions of my society at large.  Due to this personal and societal complicacy I am not free to desire only God’s love and grace.  Even to explain it this way makes me realize I have not accepted my own responsibility for evil and if I am concerned so much, why don’t I just STOP IT, or at least stop my part of it?  For instance, take our society’s love of war, for our main example in this reflection.  What am I to do about it?  Originally I thought of entitling this reflection “War Junkie”, or “Addicted to War”, or War and Grace”.  However, these names have already been used by others who recognize the same problem that I have chosen to discuss.

I am complicit with our nation’s war mentality which some believe insures our freedom and creates peace.  The prior statement, ensuring peace by war, to maintain a nation, is exactly opposite of Jesus’ instructions to love our enemies and do good to those who despitefully use us in seeking the inner Peace and Kingdom He was really discussing.  Dr. May echoes rule 98 of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises when he states “detachment does just the opposite.  It seems liberation of desire, an enhancement of passion, the freedom to love with all one’s being, and the willingness to bear the pain such love can bring.” (p.15).  The Spex, rule 98 promotes the willingness to bear all wrongs.  It is this suffering love that brings detachment and personal freedom as it is greased by the wheels of grace.

See:

(098)

Eternal Lord of All Things

Eternal Lord of all things, in the presence of Thy infinite goodness, and of Thy glorious mother, and of all the saints of Thy heavenly court, this is the offering of myself which I make with Thy favor and help. I protest that it is my earnest desire and my deliberate choice, provided only it is for Thy greater service and praise, to imitate Thee in bearing all wrongs and all abuse and all poverty, both actual and spiritual, should Thy most holy majesty deign to choose and admit me to such a state and way of life (http://spex.ignatianspirituality.com/SpiritualExercises/Puhl#marker-p101)

True freedom is the freedom to love one another, including our enemy.  If we maintain our addictions to war and killing this is what May describes as a security addiction (p.31).  May states, “we can and should trust in God for our ultimate security” and he speaks of relaxing our grip about lessor sources of security.  So, why has religion, including Christianity as a whole, including the institutional Roman Catholic Church, which I attend, supported war in the past, even calling it “just” war?  Why do some Jesuit institutions of higher learning support ROTC programs on campus and teach little about non-violence?  Also, why do I pay my taxes, 60% or so which go to support of war, not including hidden taxes we are not considering? Complicacy, is that why?

Satan does not want us to realize we are in slavery.  We deny we are in slavery.  You may deny it and may be mad at me now as you read this.  I deny my own slavery in many ways too.  We are at war with Satan, not flesh and blood, and generally do not know it or admit it.  War, the myth of redemptive violence to establish “freedom” is really enslavement to Satan’s original desires and intentions for us. It separates us from God’s love and grace, whatever addiction we are battling. We defend our addictions and enslavement to war, killing, and redemptive violence with repression, rationalization, and denial.

Tomorrow we will quit, just after we win the battle.  Our minds have been tricked and we have been addicted.  Our only solution is to quit it, and quit it now.  But how?    We are in collusion with the system, we are complicit.  There is no easy way out perhaps until we hit “rock bottom” as may happen one day.  How do we confess our own sins and the sins of a nation?  How do we stop the mind tricks?  How do we STOP IT NOW!?  I am not so sure I know.  May states “our motivations are always mixed and our hearts are never completely pure (p. 108).  It is not just war, but all our addictions to which we are enslaved.  Maybe one day we have hit rock bottom, then we can STOP IT.  Maybe, when the Kingdom comes.

John Cooper

Social Desolation

Social Desolation: The Occupation of the American Mind

            I have been in a funk lately, actually from the day I knew Donald Trump would be the President of the United States; I have been in a funk.  My funk at times seems to be only worsening.  I don’t think I am the only one who is in a funk.  Our nation is in a funk too.  I believe the constant stream of lies, the minimization of the poor, the lack of care for refugees, and our constant state of war is subconsciously taking its toll on the American psyche, creating anxiety in the soul of America.

The occupation of the American mind by the disordinate affections of consumerism, material riches, pride, militarism, and the cult of the self has created the anxiety of mind that refuses to recognize God’s presence in everything, every human being, and God’s presence even in our enemies whom we, if we are Christians, subconsciously know we are supposed to love.

Recently, in my morning meditations, I read:

“The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.” (Matt. 13:20-22)

            Anxiety… This is me.  This is us.  This is the United States.

I have most of my adult life tried to be apolitical, leaving the political systems up to God, who is supposed to order the powers over these systems, but I have never been as anxious about the state of affairs in the world as I am now.  I know I should not be anxious, but the lies, filth and profanity spewing out of the mouths of some in leadership just have gotten me down.  Since first writing about these matters, it seems every day matters only seem to get worse.  North Korean missiles fly through the air, and tough retaliatory words concerning the fire and fury of nuclear warfare fly back through the airwaves.  There are a few leaders in the world who seem to be level headed, like Angel Merkel of Germany, Justin Trudeau of Canada, and Pope Francis, but at least two other world leaders who have their fingers on nuclear codes, just do not look like Jesus to me.  Nor, would it seem they understand or practice the ethics of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 5 from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

I expressed my frustrations and my sin of anxiety with my Spiritual Director recently, and his suggestion was that in place of being less involved, (apolitical) perhaps I should be more involved.  I believe it is time for America, and the world, for that matter, to return to God, and recognize God in others, not continuing the endless quest to solve the world’s problems with the Myth of Redemptive Violence, which can also be violence of the heart, violence of the mouth, or violence of the eyes, in addition to the violence of perpetual warfare and killing, as my own nation, and many other nations seem to support.

In my Ignatian studies, I came across the following text I will quote from “finding God in all things” by William A. Barry, S.J. which, of course, would ask us to find God within our political systems, within our enemies, and I suppose I will have to admit, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un too.  I quote:

“This social desolations shows itself in a feeling of futility before what seem to be intractable problems of our complex world.  Those who find themselves in such a state, a gnawing sense of futility, about the world in general and about the particular institutions, to which they belong, need to be freed by the Lord just as much as the addict or habitual sinner needs to be freed by the Lord.  The gnawing feeling saps life and vitality from them and keeps them from the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.

When they do let the Lord of life free them, what s the result?  They feel astonished at the enormity of God’s love for them in this sinful world.  They know that in spite of all the horror, the Lord has not abandoned his people.  In spite of the stupidity and evil, in spite of institutional injustice, the human spirit is not crushed and defeated.  The powers of darkness have not prevailed.  As a result they feel themselves empowered to try to do their part in the social injustices in which they have participated.”  (pp. 63 & 64)

Therefore, I too am trying to take action, to do my part, to do something that may help to bring myself back to how God views Donald Trump, Kim Jon-un and others, how God views our enemies, and how God views me, as beloved sinners.  I believe we need to seek the common ground of recognizing the Image of God in all mankind.  Having a conscious is the indication we are humans, and that God’s Image is in us.  Seeing God in all mankind is a step to relieving our anxieties and reaching out for our human potential.

Social Desolation is a worthy term to describe what is happening to us, but I am going to try to recognize God’s presence in our political systems, in our nation, and in the people in positions of power, but I also want to speak to them, and tell them that they just do not look very godly to me, and that I think they are wrong, very wrong, and so am I wrong who is complicit with them in by paying my taxes, at least half of which go to support the evils of our society, such as warfare.

On a better note, in the quest for finding God in all things, it is encouraging to see the protest movements against racism and to see all those who care about their fellow human being in attempting to rescue and serve those affected by hurricane Harvey.  Therefore, as William Barry, whom I quoted said, “The powers of darkness have not prevailed,” although, these powers seem to be doing everything possible to occupy, meaning inhabit, the American Mind.  Let us actively resist this attempted Social and personal Desolation with all our being as we cry out to God for His help.

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

 

 

 

 

 

The Seed is Sown

The Seed is Sown

(Matthew 9:32-38)

2016 Translation

 

            Jesus went out to conduct an assessment of the state of religion in his domain.  He went to all the churches, knocked on their doors, the Jewish Synagogues, the Baptist ones, the Catholic ones, the non-denominational ones, and the Islamic Mosques too.  He went to all of them in every town he could and met great big crowds of people who were looking for someone to lead them and to be President, but they were uncomfortable with all the choices available.  Jesus talked to them about an entirely different type of governmental system, one where there is no support for military systems, all the swords have been put up excepting some relics in museums, and the money that used to be spent on war is used to take care of sick people, to heal them, and to feed the hungry, build up hospitals and day care centers.  In this Kingdom, they use bricks and stones from walls torn down that used to separate people one from another.  Another great thing about this new political system that Jesus taught about, which he called “The Kingdom of God,” is that money was spent caring for the refugees of the old types of governmental systems who had no home or food because their jobs in the country where they lived and worked in factories making weapons of war and destruction had been done demolished.

Jesus really cared about these crowds and the refugees that were going to church in the churches he visited.  Jesus’ idea was that these people had been troubled and abandoned by the entire religious systems where they went to church every Saturday.  Jesus taught they needed to be harvested, along with those who do not go to church, like one harvests wheat.  Jesus prayed that more Mexicans would come and help in the harvest.  The Mexicans could see with Hispanic eyes which are very good and picking out grain from the field and separating the wheat from the chaff.  Jesus liked the Mexicans and anyone else who wanted to be a part of his harvest.  Jesus often thought about his illegal alien cousin, Ruth, the Moabitist, who was very good help in the harvest too.  This was way back before Jesus was born, but he heard all about it from his family history which his mother, Mary told him.

I think part of what Jesus is telling us here is that these religious systems of all kinds, Jewish, Christian, Muslim, and others, are not all that bad.  After all, Jesus is telling us to go to the “harvest” for the Kingdom, not to plant the seed.  The seed has already been planted in these churches, It just needs to grow and be fed, and then be harvested.  He asks us to do the harvesting, not the calling, not the sowing.

Because of this great need for the harvest, Jesus brought workers for the Kingdom from Africa too, because people in Africa do not have so many TVs and have time to study the Sacred Scriptures.  In some countries people watch more TV than they do praying for the harvest and praying for peace, as Jesus asked.  One has a tendency to pray more when it is a life and death situation.  So, Jesus brought in a bunch of black Catholic priests from Africa to help with the harvest, and He even sent them across the sea into the united States.  They are good Priests, and they did not mind going to little towns either.  I saw one in Greenville, IL this past weekend.  I also saw one in a big city, Birmingham, AL, not too long ago.  I think these black priests must be everywhere.  Also those Mexican workers are everywhere.  They are the nearly the only ones who want to work in the harvest.  The Amish want to work too and are very good people, believing in Jesus and all of that.  The Amish love peace and the Kingdom of God too and hate warfare and killing.  But Amish cannot do much in the world because they go about in horses and buggies and like keeping things simple.  But, isn’t that what Jesus is asking us to do?  To just keep it simple, that is, to love one another, and to get out into the fields and bring in the harvest?  After all, He has already sown the seed, his very image, in every man and woman, and he is the one who makes this seed grow, not us.

 

Let’s just do it.. It is just that simple…

 

Grace & Peace,

 

John Cooper

 

 

 

Little Boy

Luke 7: 11-17

2016 Version

A PRAYER OF IMAGINATION

Little Boy

After a little while, Jesus went to a town called Nain with His apprentices and a great big crowd following Him.  Nain is a town just off the beach in Greece and a little dead boy had just washed up on the beach.  There was a war going on in Syria and his mother and the little boy were fleeing the war because the father had been killed by a bombing raid on a hospital.  The little boy drowned but the mother just barely made it to the shore alive.  They were having a funeral for the little boy who was the woman’s only son.  The little boy was all she had left on earth.  She had spent every penny she had on having the little wood casket made.  She had no money for flowers.

Jesus saw the funeral procession and the woman crying and Jesus cried too.  It just is not right, Jesus muttered in between tears as He went up to the coffin and felt the smooth wood.  The coffin was 5/4” thick cypress.  Jesus was a carpenter and He had made some similar to this one before.  It had hand cut dovetail joints.  This was like the coffin Pope John Paul II was buried in, but a much smaller one and this one was square, not trapezoid.

Even though tears were coming out of Jesus eyes, He told the woman, “Don’t cry”, and as He opened up the lid of the coffin, He said, “Little Boy, get up, I tell you”.  The little boy got up and started talking and Jesus helped him get out of the coffin, holding his little body in His arms he and gave the little boy back to his mother.

Everybody was filled with awe and they praised God, even though not all of them were Christians.   Some of these refugees were Muslims and some were Christians too, but they all praised God, “A great prophet has appeared among us” they said.  “God has come to save His people”.

They put the whole story up on the internet, and someone recorded it with their cell phone and put it on You Tube for all to see just how much Jesus loved the little boy and all the refugees for that matter.  Because of this mystical and mighty event, the whole world sustained from war for 49 days.

 

John Cooper

 

Peaceful Thoughts

Peaceful Thoughts

As a matter partially of time and chance this past week, I stopped by Panera Bread at a time of the day I would not normally be there because I was on my home to pick up a check out of my home office. I noticed as I sat down a Muslim man in the back of the restaurant. I have had several conversations with this man and his friend, Sammy, also a Muslim, when I used to go by Starbucks on the way to work early in the morning. (Since we were given a Keurig coffee machine, my Starbucks visits are virtually nil.) I noticed him sitting in the back of the restaurant in what appeared to be deep thought or meditation, so I did not greet him. After several minutes he came by me on the way apparently back from getting a drink refill and he asked my, knowing my beliefs in Peace and Nonviolence, this question:

“Have you had any Peaceful thoughts lately?”

“Yes, I have,” I said, and invited him to sit down with me at my table. I got out my small Samsung tablet and opened my You Version Bible App up to the place already in the memory, which I reflected on just the day before. I quote it below from Philippians 4:

1 And so, my most beloved and most desired brothers, my joy and my crown: stand firm in this way, in the Lord, most beloved.
2 I ask Euodia, and I beg Syntyche, to have the same understanding in the Lord.
3 And I also ask you, as my genuine companion, to assist those women who have labored with me in the Gospel, with Clement and the rest of my assistants, whose names are in the Book of Life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say, rejoice.
5 Let your modesty be known to all men. The Lord is near.
6 Be anxious about nothing. But in all things, with prayer and supplication, with acts of thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God.
7 And so shall the peace of God, which exceeds all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Concerning the rest, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is chaste, whatever is just, whatever is holy, whatever is worthy to be loved, whatever is of good repute, if there is any virtue, if there is any praiseworthy discipline: meditate on these.
9 All the things that you have learned and accepted and heard and seen in me, do these. And so shall the God of peace be with you.
10 Now I rejoice in the Lord exceedingly, because finally, after some time, your feelings for me have flourished again, just as you formerly felt. For you had been preoccupied.
11 I am not saying this as if out of need. For I have learned that, in whatever state I am, it is sufficient.
12 I know how to be humbled, and I know how to abound. I am prepared for anything, anywhere: either to be full or to be hungry, either to have abundance or to endure scarcity.
13 Everything is possible in him who has strengthened me. (Emphasis is mine.)
The Muslim man studiously and respectfully silently read the text for several minutes in deep thought as I silently watched. After a while he looked up to me and said, “It is very Islamic, isn’t it?” “Yes, it is,” I agreed, and we started another long and mutually respectful and, by the way, Peaceful, conversation.

I told him about the Inter-Faith city wide Prayer Service I had attempted to activate a couple of months ago for the sake of the Refugees, both Christian and Muslim refugees and pointed him to my blog site, http://www.jcooperforpeace.org where I posted the Prayer Service. I told him my idea had already been shared with another of my Muslim friends, Mirza Beg, who was to forward it to the local Mosque, or Islamic Center as they call in here in Tuscaloosa. I asked him to talk it up and perhaps just a few of us could have a smaller event than the city wide event I had envisioned. Even though the Mayor of Tuscaloosa had agreed to help in any way he could, I could not garner support from the Christian churches I had contacted whom I was asking to host the event.

We continued our conversation and the Muslim man told me he had been looking into the Spirituality of the Native American Indians. One of the American Indian wise sayings, he said, is: “If God created you a crow, you do not have to become an Eagle.” I told him I liked that and many Indian Spiritual sayings and I had recently been through an 8 or 9 month St. Ignatian Spiritual Exercise Retreat. I told him of the many ways I personally think God can reveal himself to us humans, and concerning the Indians we were talking about, that God can reveal himself and to Indians as one walks in silence through the forest, even without a word written or spoken, God can do this, as one walks in Peace. I mentioned that to me, God has revealed himself sometimes as a Father, sometimes as a Son, and sometimes as the Holy Spirit, but still, I believe there is only one God. I shared my idea that one could take all the knowledge of the American Indians, and the Jewish religion, the Christian religion, and the Islamic religion, and all the knowledge of the Atheist religion, and put them all in a bucket, stir them all up and dump them into the ocean, and it would not be a drop in the ocean compared to the vast knowledge of an infinite God. He understood, and I mentioned again the Scripture we had just read, although I did not quote it again at that time. Here is a principle part of it below.

7 And so shall the peace of God, which exceeds all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

I don’t think he would have agreed exactly with the Jesus Christ part of it, but then, apparently many Christians do not believe it either, not understand it, in that many Christian folk like to be guarded by weapons, guns, and “Peacemaking” six-shooters, not by the Peace of God. It appears in America that the “tougher” and more one believes in guarding oneself, the better, especially in the Political realm.

I cannot share everything now, we talked about, this is already too long, but the point I want to highlight especially at this “season” of Christmas 2015 is this:

“Have you had any Peaceful thoughts lately?”

If you have not had any, I ask, why not? Could it be the Prince of the Power of the Air is getting through to us through the Media and the Political systems of this world? Why not turn off the Media for an hour or two a day and silently reflect upon your Scriptures, either your Hebrew ones, Christian ones, Islamic ones, or, even just take a silent walk in the woods, just like the Indians and reflect on the Peace God has very clearly said he came to give us, which goes beyond understanding. This Peace is a gift of Grace and Mercy. Yes, it does sound Islamic, but it sounded to Abraham, like a gracious and merciful God, before the Jewish people, before the Christian people, and before the Muslim people. It is a Grace that has extended to all Abraham’s offspring, which by extension is all mankind.

Have you had any Peaceful thoughts lately? Accept this gift, get some of it; Let this be the year of God’s favor for you…..

Grace and Peace,

John Cooper