For as long as I can remember, I've been troubled by the iron curtains of perception that divide people into 'us' vs. 'them' (the enemy). In my heart of hearts, I instinctively sense that we can't really be all that different from one another. Every time I learn of people from 'enemy camps' who are attempting to bridge the divide and do the real work of coming understand one another, I pay attention. Listening to this program gives me hope.
In the wake of 9/11, amidst the shock, grief, and marshaling of righteous revenge, many of us cringed, and worried that our response to this tragedy would make things far worse, instead of making anything better. I'm grateful that Malka and Aziza were among those who chose to let this tragedy serve as catalyst for personal change - the kind that ripples out into the community and world. Their story, and the work they are engaged in is cause for hope. Where ever any two people who have thought of themselves as enemy, or 'other' can find reconciliation, mutual care and respect, then we know that redemption is not only possible, but happening here and now.
I am grateful to have grown up in a family and community that truly valued diversity. Yet here and there, I have opportunities to stumble upon my own limited view of another. I was raised Catholic, and retain a great deal of the richness of that tradition in my core. Along the way, I keep discovering sacred writings from other traditions that I find great resonance with.
Years ago, I encountered a poem by Ken Sehested in a journal I subscribed to, entitled, "Annunciation". The poem beautifully expresses the mystical importance of Mary's story, and the potent implications of Jesus' coming arrival into a troubled world. I immediately added it to my collection of poems I live with.
In reading about the author, I had a chance to encounter a small prejudice I didn't even know I had. Ken is a Baptist minister, and my experience with Baptists was next to nil. I remember being amazed that this poem, which I might have guessed to have been written by someone in the Catholic tradition, was written by a Baptist. This may sound insignificant, but it helped me (again!) recognize that the hunger for the Sacred and truth that lights a way is universal. As it turns out, Ken is also very active in a variety of programs of interfaith dialogue (including the Baptist Peace Fellowhsip). He has also co-edited, along with Rabia Terri Harris, a booklet containing quotes from the Christian and Islamic scripture traditions, entitled, "Peace Primer', published by the Muslim Peace Fellowship. (He/ they would likely be great candidates for interviewing on SOF.)
Here is the poem:
Hail, O favored one!But Mary was greatly troubledat the angel’s erupting, interrupting greeting.
No wonder.The annumciation of heavensplitting earthis always troublingtremblingtremulous.Mountains shakehearts quiverat the sound of God’s rousing.
No wonder.Such announcements stir dangerous memory:the crumbling of ambition,quakes rending high places;and raise saviors out of mangersto subvert palaces and princes and priests.
Hail, O favored one!Heaven’s comedy breaks with a grin:into the womb of a teenage peasant,to shepherds standing in dung-filled fields,to goyim -- refuse of creation -- of distant landswho decipher God’s signature in the very stars.
With Mary, Herod also shudders,gripped with fear,at the sound of the heavenly Hail!His heart, too, is troubledtrembling tremoulous.But Herod-heartscast slaughtered innocentsin their wake.
Only those with wombs of welcometo heaven’s Announciationcan magnify God and heal the earth.
* by Ken Schested, executive director of the Memphis, Tennessee - based Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America
(Note: the attached photo is of me with my newborn grandson, Reynolds Jerome.)
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