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God’s October Surprise

Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center points out the confluence of holy days from many different religions in October, encouraging faith communities to use that time for shared celebration, prayer, reflection, and peacebuilding.

By Rabbi Arthur Waskow

At a moment of increasing religious war, violence, and repression, God has given our spiritual and religious traditions a gift of time:

During October 2005, an unusual confluence of sacred moments in many different traditions invites us to pray with or alongside each other, share food and stories, and work together for peace, justice, human rights, and the healing of our wounded earth.

The sacred Muslim lunar month of Ramadan and the sacred Jewish lunar month of Tishrei, which includes the High Holy Days and Sukkot, both begin October 3-4.

And there is more:  October 4 is the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi (who almost alone of all Christian leaders of his generation opposed the Crusades and studied with Islamic teachers, as well as connecting deeply with all the creatures of the earth); October 2 is  Gandhi’s birthday, and is also Worldwide (Protestant/ Orthodox) Communion Sunday. In mid-October, there are important Buddhist and Hindu festivals.

There is much that we could do to heal the world during this sacred season made up of sacred times:

Most powerfully, perhaps,  from sunrise to sunset on the day that for Muslims is one of the fast days of Ramadan and for Jews is the fast day of Yom Kippur — October 13 — Christians and indeed all Americans could also observe a  Fast for Reflection, Repentance, Reconciliation, and Renewal.

All of us could learn from the passage of Isaiah that in Jewish tradition is read on  Yom Kippur morning. God, speaking through Isaiah, says, “Do you think the fast that I demand this day is to bow down your head like a bulrush? No! The fast I demand is that you feed the poor, house the homeless, clothe the naked, and break off the handcuffs on your prisoners.”

So for our generation, this October 13 fast could be dedicated to serving God not through prayer alone but also through committing ourselves that later in the month, we will undertake some action in which the different communities together embody God’s commands to Seek peace, feed the poor, heal the earth.

Other possibilities for action:

  • Churches could invite other congregations to join in learning about,  celebrating,  and acting on the teachings of Francis of Assisi.
  • Jews could invite others into the Sukkah, a leafy hut that is open to the wind and rain. Traditionally, “sacred guests” are invited in and the ancient Rabbis taught that during Sukkot, blessings are invoked upon “the seventy nations” of the world.   Traditional prayers implore God to “spread the sukkah of shalom” over us.   These are perfect rubrics for peacemaking among the children of Abraham and all humanity with each other and with all the earth.
  • Muslims could host Iftar - a break-fast  meal — for other communities, after nightfall on any of the evenings of Ramadan. And they could invite others to join in celebrating some aspects of Eid el-Fitr (the feast at the end of Ramadan), and Jews and Christians could (as in Morocco) bring food to that celebration.
  • Synagogues could set aside a time during Yom Kippur or the Shabbat just before, or another special time during the month, to read and discuss with Muslims the Torah’s story (Gen. 25: 7-11) of the joining of Isaac and Ishmael to bury their father Abraham, and then to achieve reconciliation at the Well of the Living One Who Sees Me.
  • Our communities could together take some action during the month to protect human rights, heal the earth, and seek peace in the whole region where Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah sojourned.

A call to all Americans to join in an October 13 fast and to create shared multireligious local and regional events during the month was initiated by The Shalom Center, with The Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah. It has been endorsed by the National Council of Churches; the Islamic Society of North America; Pax Christi; ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal and its rabbinic affilate Ohalah; the Jewish Committee for Isaiah’s Vision (an ad hoc committee made up of more than one hundred rabbis and other Jewish leaders), and a number of local and regional groups. To explore your own participation in this effort, write Info@tentofabraham.org [Editor - and/or leave a comment below]

In 2006 and 2007, Tishrei, Ramadan, and St. Francis’ day will again coincide.  With three successive years of making sacred connection, perhaps we can learn to continue even when the calendar is not so filled with God’s surprise.

Rabbi Waskow is director of The Shalom Center. For further information see www.shalomctr.org and www.tentofabraham.org

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2 Responses to “God’s October Surprise”

  1. » On November 14th, 2005 at 5:54 pm Kris Said:

    Dear Rabbi Waskow:

    As a Christian, I believe (as the Jews) that we need to care deeply about the souls of men, women, and children all over the world. However, I would like to comment on your desire that religious communities would take actions that “together embody God’s commands to seek peace, feed the poor, heal the earth.” God, through Isaiah, has just been quoted in a passage that commands each one fasting to:

    * loose the bands of wickedness

    * undo the heavy burdens

    * let the oppressed go free

    * break every yoke

    * deal your bread to the hungry

    * bring into your house the poor that are cast out

    * cover the naked

    * hide not yourself from your own flesh.

    This is good and acceptable, but what about the command to “heal the earth”? It is absent. God promises in 2 Chronicles 7:14 that He will heal His people’s land Himself if they follow the command to “humble themselves, and pray, and seek My face, and turn from their wicked ways.” God’s people are those called by His name, as expressed earlier in the same verse. Being a Rabbi, the writer will know that YHWH is speaking in this passage of Scripture. Those called by YHWH’s name are His people. Yet the Muslims worship another god rather than the true Lord of the Bible, in that Allah was already worshiped by an idolatrous religion before Muhammed founded Islam. Only the biblical, original Judeo-Christian ethic teaches true worship of YHWH (manifest as Jesus according to Christianity) as He truly is. I know not what course others may take, but the God of the Bible is the only way if He is to be believed at all. “I the LORD [YHWH] thy God am a jealous God,” He says in Exo. 20:5 and Deut 5:9 (see also Exo. 34:14, Deut. 4:24). He will not share His glory with the gods of other faiths (see Isaiah 42:8). I know that you are trying to promote peace between people, but God’s prophets preached persuasion when the people turned to other gods. This was not done out of intolerance, but because of a deep love and concern for the souls of their fellowhumans. I believe it is not exclusive to say that Jesus Christ (YHWH) is the only way, because the Bible teaches that converts should be treated just as though they had always been God’s people. Although Orthodox Jews do not believe the books of the New Testament to be God’s Word, I hope that you will understand how the following verses harmonize with the Old Testament message: “And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?…as God hath said, ‘I will dwell in them [meaning in God’s people], and walk in them…’ Wherefore come out from among them [the heathen], and be ye separatem saith the Lord…” (taken from 2 Corinthians 6:16-17). This does not mean to disassociate with everyone who is not of our faith, but it means rather to be separate (i.e., different) from them and not to form our closest relationships (such as marriage and other close unions) with them. Jesus Christ ate with sinners and showed compassion on them. Many people whom He healed never converted to His religion. Yet he still healed them and loved them. I don’t believe in interfaithism, but I do believe in reaching out in LOVE, rather than violence, to share my faith in Jesus.

  2. » On November 16th, 2005 at 12:44 am sfuqua Said:

    Kris - thank you for expressing your clear devotion and passion. I find it interesting that you cite Allah as diety who was worshipped by idolaters before the advent of Muhammad; is it not true that the God of the Old Testament was worshipped by idolators at the time of Moses? In fact, historical research shows that “YHWH” may be closely linked with several regional deities in Mesopotamia, long before coming to be the distinctive God of the Israelites.

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