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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Open A Window to God | December 17, 2023 Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake



Open a window to God

and begin to delight yourself

by gazing upon Him through the opening.

The business of love is to make this window in the heart,

for the breast is illumined by the beauty of the Beloved.

Gaze incessantly on the face of the Beloved.

Listen, this is in your power, my friend.

-Rumi

 

Take a few minutes to allow the message of Rumi to unfold in you and massage your spirit.

 

What a message this is for me while my heart sinks so heavily and burdensomely during these times of massacre of Palestinians and their little towns. How such annihilation has laid asunder one of my favorite Christmas hymns, O Little Town of Bethlehem.

 

O little town of Bethlehem

how still we see the lie;

above thy deep and dreamless sleep

the silent stars go by.

 

The song has traditionally brought to me deep stillness – a stillness that rests in the All-Pervading Presence, a stillness resting in the profound mystery of existence, a stillness that does not anticipate but waits, with arrested mind. There is a simple beauty in the song that echoes the majesty of that in and beyond us, our words, and the world. It is a time of quietude, of preparing me to listen to me. It was not analogous but reminiscent of returning to the Brown University campus after Christmas vacation and finding the campus covered with snow. So pristine was it that I hesitated to sully its grounds by walking upon it. I beheld it as something new, something inexpressible, something whole.

 

In this song written by Phillips Brooks, even the stars contribute to the silence as does the deep and dreamless sleep. Rev. Brooks was one of the most erudite and acclaimed ministers of the second half of the 19th Century. Brooks voyaged to Bethlehem in December 1865, a significant year in the history of the nation, as well as in Brooks’ life. By horseback, he journeyed from Jerusalem to Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and found himself in the fields where supposed the angels had appeared to the shepherds with the grand announcement — the birth of a child who would incarnate good news for all the people. He attended Christmas Eve service at the Church of the Nativity which is considered the birthplace of Jesus and the oldest church in the Holy Land. This experience of beauty, peace, clarity, and newness stayed with him when he returned to Philadelphia. Several years later when he wanted the children of his church to sing a new song for Christmas Eve service, sacred memories of the simple setting of Bethlehem restored his memory and soul. The words we now know as the lyrics of the song were born again. He, however, had no music to accompany the words and asked the church organist, Lewis Redner, “to compose a simple melody for the children to sing on Christmas Eve.” Nothing clicked for Mr. Redner until the night before Christmas Eve when the angels wrestled with him and he developed the melody we sing even to this day.




 

The reality is that Bethlehem resides in the West Bank, occupied by Israeli settler colonialists supported by the Israeli government.


Read portions of NPR's Asma Khalid’s interview with Palestinian Christians Munther Issac and Tamar Haddad about their efforts to convince American lawmakers to support a ceasefire in the war between Israel and Hamas.


ASMA KHALID, HOST: Bethlehem, long revered as the birthplace of Jesus, is in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. And as the war between Israel and Hamas continues, Christian leaders in Bethlehem say the city will skip Christmas festivities this year in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Munther Isaac and Tamar Haddad, two of those Christian leaders, join us now. Thank you for being with us.


KHALID: Munther, I want to start with you. What does it mean to not celebrate Christmas? Why have you all decided to do that?


ISAAC: Because it's impossible to celebrate when our people are going through a genocide. And we're sending a message - enough, enough. We hope this war ends as soon as possible.


KHALID: So no lights, no decorations?


ISAAC: Nothing. No lights, no decorations. No one feels - no one is in a mood to celebrate.

. . .

HADDAD: I mean, it depends on which staffers we talked to. Some were completely against a cease-fire, especially on the Republican side, as you may know. It was actually tough having some of these conversations with them, focusing on eradicating Hamas and not really caring about all the civilian casualties in Gaza.


ISAAC: If the United States government, which boasts itself and religious freedom and protecting religious communities and so much talk about that - if they're not willing to consider a letter signed by the churches in Bethlehem and a trip precisely for that, then I think that's an indictment to policymakers in USA more than it is about our message itself.

. . .


ISAAC: Yeah. Well, we were told he got it. Let's hope that's true. The letter was written by representatives, as I said, of the churches in Bethlehem - Orthodox Catholics, Armenian Assyrians, Melkites and Lutherans. And I have the letter with me. (Reading) For years, as followers of Jesus, we have called for peace that is based on justice. This land has been crying for peace and justice for 75 years. It is time justice is served. It is time everybody can live with dignity in this land. The Palestinian and Israeli children deserve to live, hope and dream. Dear Mr. President, there can be no peace and security without justice and equality. There can be no peace and security without equal rights for all. Siege, violence and war cannot bring peace and security. A comprehensive and just peace is the only hope for Palestinians and Israelis alike.


O little town of Bethlehem occupied today.


At our last YouTube Beloved Community check-ins, one of our members stated that she felt that each of the bullets killing Palestinians had her name written on it. I hesitate to share her name without having previously obtained permission. It reminded me that I had also been visited by my conscience while preferring the gift of slumber that my taxes pay for this war. I am therefore complicit in the atrocities being committed.

As I write, however, I remember the stanza:


Yet in thy dark streets shine

ththe everlasting light;

the hopes and fears of all the years

are met in thee tonight.


Life was difficult when Jesus was born. His people were under Roman occupation. Fear was ever-present yet on this holy night a light, everlasting and hope-filled creation and culture. Hopes intersect with fears, fear of the subjugating power of Rome, fear of fear itself.


Today we pay tribute to Parivash Gharavi, mother of cherished member Vahid Razavi. She was a light who clarified that women’s rights are human rights as she marched against persecution of women in Iraq. She was a light that shone in demonstrations supporting Palestinians and calling for a cease-fire turning the chair she was offered due to her elderly status into a stand so that the sentiments expressed in her sign could been seen among the crowd. She was a light respecting all religions and instilling that in her family. She was a light that supplanted fear with hope.


If she could do it, I must also.


Open a window to God

and begin to delight yourself

by gazing upon Him through the opening.

The business of love is to make this window in the heart,

for the breast is illumined by the beauty of the Beloved.                                               

Gaze incessantly on the face of the Beloved.                                                    

Listen, this is in your power, my friend.

-Rumi

 

“O Holy Child of Bethlehem,

Descend to us, we pray.

Cast out our sin, and enter in,

Be born in us today.

We hear the Christmas angels,

The great glad tidings tell.

Oh come to us, abide with us,

Our Lord Emmanuel!”

 

 

 

 

 


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