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Reflection Title: 
Strange Land, Homeland
Reflection Content: 

In unsettled times in human history, stories of home and homeland, immigration and migration, stranger and sojourner, are a common part of self-understanding. The ancient stories of quest for homeland resonate deeply with many refugees in the modern world.

Hospitality to strangers often brings a gift to the one who welcomes. So it is in this annunciation story. The gift is announced by the three strangers, who curiously now speak with one voice, saying, “I will return, yes, return to you when time revives, and Sarah your wife will have a son!”

The table of hospitality is a curious place. There we may hear from the stranger about the deep matters of our own life, a forgotten hope or longing. There we may even hear an announcement of the future. It is the danger and the treasure of welcoming strangers. When we do, like Sarah and Abraham, we may realize that our sojourn has prepared us to make a home, even in a new land. When we welcome sojourners, when we run like Abraham to greet the stranger saying, “Pray do not pass by your servant,” things get turned around, and the strange land becomes land of promise, a homeland. Then we also may rest under the oaks of Mamre.

Story Title: 
Hospitality & Annunciation
Story Content: 

Now YHWH was seen by him by the oaks of Mamre as he was sitting at the entrance to his tent at the heat of the day. 

He lifted up his eyes and saw: here, three men standing over against him.

When he saw them, he ran to meet them from the entrance to his tent and bowed to the earth and said:

My lords, pray if I have found favor in your eyes, pray do not pass by your servant!

Pray let a little water be fetched, then wash your feet and recline under the tree; let me fetch (you) a bit a bread, that you may refresh your hearts, then afterwards you may pass on—for you have, after all, passed your servant’s way!

They said:

Do thus, as you have spoken.

Avraham hastened into his tent to Sara and said:

Make haste! Three measures of choice flour! Knead it, make bread-cakes! 

Avraham ran to the oxen, he fetched a young ox, tender and fine, and gave it to a serving-lad, that he might hasten to make it ready; then he fetched cream and milk and the young ox that he had made ready, and placed it before them.

Now he stood over against them under the tree while they ate.

They said to him:

Where is Sara your wife?

He said:

Here in the tent.

Now he said:

I will return, yes, return to you when time revives, and Sara your wife will have a son!

Now Sara was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him.

And Avraham and Sara were old, advanced in days, the way of women had ceased for Sara.

Sara laughed within herself, saying: After I became worn, is there to be pleasure for me? And my lord is old! 

But YHWH said to Avraham: Now why does Sara laugh and say: Shall I really give birth, now that I am old?

Is anything beyond YHWH?

At that set-time I will return to you, when time revives, and Sara will have a son.

Sara pretended (otherwise), saying

No, I did not laugh.

For she was afraid.

But he said:

No, indeed you laughed.

—Genesis 18:1–15

Contemporary Story Title: 
Meet Again as Happy Thieves
Contemporary Story Content: 

John Kiser, author of The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria, recounts the terror that engulfed parts of Algeria in the spring of 1996 when armed men broke into a Trappist monastery and took seven monks hostage. It was part of a negotiation with the Algerian and French governments. Two months later, the monk’s heads were found in a tree. The village of Tibhirine had sprung up around the monastery because it was a holy place protected by the Virgin Mary, revered by Christians and Muslims alike. But napalm, helicopters, and gunfire had become regular accompaniment to the monastic routine as the violence engulfing Algeria drew closer to the isolated cloister high in the Atlas Mountains. Prior to their capture, the Abbott of the monastery wrote the following testament. The film Of Men and Gods is based on John Kiser’s book.  

Testament of Dom Christian de Chergé
(opened on Pentecost Sunday, May 26, 1996)

Facing a GOODBYE . . . . 
If it should happen one day— and it could be today—
that I become a victim of the terrorism which now seems ready to engulf
all the foreigners living in Algeria,
I would like my community, my Church and my family
to remember that my life was GIVEN to God and to this country.
I ask them to accept the fact that the One Master of all life
was not a stranger to this brutal departure.
I would ask them to pray for me:
for how could I be found worthy of such an offering?
I ask them to associate this death with so many other equally violent ones
which are forgotten through indifference or anonymity.
My life has no more value than any other.
Nor any less value.
In any case, it has not the innocence of childhood.
I have lived long enough to know that I am an accomplice in the evil
which seems to prevail so terribly in the world,
even in the evil which might blindly strike me down.
I should like, when the time comes, to have a moment of spiritual clarity
which would allow me to beg forgiveness of God
and of my fellow human beings,
and at the same time forgive with all my heart the one who would strike me down.
I could not desire such a death.
It seems to me important to state this.
I do not see, in fact, how I could rejoice
if the people I love were indiscriminately accused of my murder.
It would be too high a price to pay
for what will perhaps be called, the “grace of martyrdom”
to owe it to an Algerian, whoever he might be,
especially if he says he is acting in fidelity to what he believes to be Islam.
I am aware of the scorn which can be heaped on the Algerians indiscriminately.
I am also aware of the caricatures of Islam which a certain Islamism fosters.
It is too easy to soothe one’s conscience
by identifying this religious way with the fundamentalist ideology of its extremists.
For me, Algeria and Islam are something different: it is a body and a soul.
I have proclaimed this often enough, I think, in the light of what I have received from it.
I so often find there that true strand of the Gospel
which I learned at my mother’s knee, my very first Church,
precisely in Algeria, and already inspired with respect for Muslim believers.
Obviously, my death will appear to confirm
those who hastily judged me naïve or idealistic:
“Let him tell us now what he thinks of his ideals!”
But these persons should know that finally my most avid curiosity will be set free.
This is what I shall be able to do, God willing:
immerse my gaze in that of the Father
to contemplate with him His children of Islam
just as He sees them, all shining with the glory of Christ,
the fruit of His Passion, filled with the Gift of the Spirit
whose secret joy will always be to establish communion
and restore the likeness, playing with the differences.
For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs,
I thank God, who seems to have willed it entirely
for the sake of that JOY in everything and in spite of everything.
In this THANK YOU, which is said for everything in my life from now on,
I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today,
and you, my friends of this place,
along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families,
You are the hundredfold granted as was promised!
And also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing:
Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a “GOD-BLESS” for you, too,
because in God's face I see yours.
May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both. 

AMEN !   INCHALLAH !  

Algiers, 1st December 1993 
Tibhirine, 1st January 1994 

Christian + 

 

—John Kiser. The Monks of Tibhirine: Faith, Love, and Terror in Algeria. 

Artwork Title: 
Messengers
Artwork Content: 

The greatest surviving icon of Andrei Rublev (1360–c.1430), a monk of The Trinity Lavra (monastery) of St. Sergius, is often called the Old Testament Trinity or The Hospitality of Abraham. It depicts a biblical story in which three strangers are welcomed by Abraham and Sarah and invited to linger and refresh themselves. Rublev paints their silent dialogue of gestures, the inner communing love of God. This communion happens in deep relationship or arises spontaneously between strangers. Visually, the ideas of communion and integration are achieved by the circular motion in Rublev’s icon, a balancing of the angels’ stance and movements. The three have been welcomed to the table of hospitality with its chalice and the head of calf quickly prepared and offered to them. It echoes the central Christian act of worship, the Eucharist, a holy meal of thanksgiving through which the gift of Jesus Christ restores the faithful to their created nature. The central angel dressed in red and blue is a symbolic representation of the Son of God. The angel on the left echoes God the Father, blessing the chalice and expressing movement toward the Son. The Son also blesses the sacrificial chalice, echoing Christ’s last word on the Cross, “into thy hands I commend my spirit.” The mount behind the angel on the right, an echo of the Holy Spirit, speaks to the glory and renewal of the whole of creation. Together the angels invite the contemplation of the unity of God at the heart of the mystery of creation and our life together in the world.

 

Question Title: 
May I live to love?
Question Content: 

Faces to Cherish

Living in, loving, and sanctifying our world wasn’t granted us by some impersonal theory of being, or by the facts of history, or by natural phenomena, but by the existence of those uncanny centers of otherness—the faces, faces to look at, to honor, to cherish.

— Italo Mancini, (1925-1993). Tornino I Volti [Back to the Faces]

Offering the Best

Who are the strangers that you meet? Have you ever invited them to linger? Invited them to sit a while? Did you quickly prepare food and drink for them? Offer them the best you have? Were you surprised by what they said? Perhaps a day or two later, did your thoughts turn to them, to what they said? Did those words come to rest in the meaning of your life, speak to a sorrow, a joy, a new understanding? Did they speak to an aspect of meaning you had not dared to think about before? For the ancients, moments of hospitality turn to annunciations—an invitation, an openness to what may unfold in the future.

Music Content: 

Eftach Sefatai [I Will Open My Lips]

Like the macaronic carols of Christian Europe, this song combines the liturgical language of Judaism with the vernacular. The liturgical language is Hebrew; the vernacular, Provençal (French “langue d’oc” of the middle ages spoken in southeastern France). The opening phrase echoes Psalm 51:15 “O Lord, open my lips and my mouth shall declare your praise.” The Hebrew phrases that follow it are also extracted from scripture texts.

“Eftach sefatai.” Carpentras traditional, The Sacred Bridge, Michael Collver, counter tenor, Anne Azéma, soprano, Joel Cohen, director, Erato 1990. Track 8.

 

Ubi Caritas

The first of Four Motets on Gregorian Themes by Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986). “Ubi Caritas” is an antiphon sung during the ceremony of the Washing of the Feet at the Mass of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday. 

 

“Ubi caritas.” from Quatre motets sur des thèmes grégoriens, Op. 10 (1960) [Four Motets on Gregorian Themes], Maurice Duruflé, Gloria: Sacred Choral Works, Elmer Iseler Singers, Elmer Iseler, conductor, CBC Records 1993. Track 1.

 

The Heavenly Banquet

“The Heavenly Banquet” is the fourth of ten Hermit Songs, a song cycle based on a collection of mostly anonymous poems from the eighth to thirteenth centuries set for voice and piano by Samuel Barber in 1953. The Heavenly Banquet text is attributed to tenth-century Saint Brigid.

“The Heavenly Banquet.” Samuel Barber, traditional text translated by Seán Ó Faoláin, from Hermit Songs, Leontyne Price, soprano, Samuel Barber, piano, Leontyne Price Sings Barber, RCA Gold Seal 1993, BMG Music 1984. Track 4.

 
Layout: 
Portrait
Image Theme: 
Image Thumbnail: 
Image: 
Image Summary: 

Holy Trinity, (Troitsa), 1425-27. Andrei Rublev, 1360–c.1430. 

Story Audio: 
Contemporary Story Audio: 

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