The baby new moon was hanging in the sunset tonight like a boat for the little angels – so the battle month is over again. This has come with a flood of fresh inspiration to hope. 11 February 1896
A four-day gathering of friends – after 50 years and from four corners of the country – reunited in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Our hosts, two brothers and their spouses, embraced us (18 strong) with their hospitality. The draw was the opening performance, at the Santa Fe Opera House, of “The Marriage of Figaro” conducted by our college friend, John Nelson.
The crown jewel of our long weekend was our overnight in beautiful Santa Fe: strolling the market place, dining al fresco preceding the performance, arriving at the site of the striking open-air theater, situating ourselves in our seats with commanding mountain views. Our friend strides across the stage. The music begins! Think of it: flower-strewn stage and costumed singers… glimpses of starlight and twinkle of distant city lights – and all to the sublime music of Mozart! Could heaven be better?
If the Santa Fe Experience – opera and environs – was the “crown jewel” of our magical visit then the “heart” would have to have been the gathering at our hosts’ home the following day, John Nelson, guest of honor. Seated semi-circle around the grand piano, we sang hymns, told stories, shared memories – laughter mixed with tears. A lot of living – joy and sorrows – represented in that hallowed space. Conversations carried over into the dinner hour as we lingered around tables.
Several things stand out upon reflection. 1) All the “living” that has taken place in the span of time that separated us: families raised… careers/vocations pursued… triumphs and sorrows experienced… 2) The diversity of lifestyles and worship traditions represented in a single setting (all of us having “started” from similar places): High Episcopal… charismatic… independent fellowships… Southern Baptist… Presbyterian… – by way of example. 3) The respect accorded each individual for the pilgrimage that took us away from each other – and brought us together again to this place, this point in time.
As we shared our stories, it became increasingly apparent that what united us was stronger by far than our differences. Furthermore, there was an implicit respect for others who did not believe the faith essentials that bonded us and a stated desire to better understand other faith traditions, to establish soul-conversations bolstered by study and dialog. All the individuals had a global sensitivity, many (if not all) had engaged with people from diverse countries, cultures, viewpoints, and faith. Compelled by love.
This was the heart of Lilias. Love incarnate. To come alongside searching and/or hurting people, first in her birth city of London and then to the Arab Muslims of Algeria. And while her ministry was not exclusive to the children and women of Algiers or the Sufi Mystics of the Southlands, her focus was to penetrate a comprehensive system – legal, civil, domestic – with the “light and life and love of Jesus Christ.”
This was brought to me, afresh, upon our return to house and cat and backed up mail. One of the mailings was a reminder of an important day in the Muslim World, July 9, beginning this year’s lunar month-long fast of “Ramadan.” Throughout the world, Muslims will stand as one, under a higher sign than the flags that rule them. The day-old crescent of the Ramadan moon sends its call throughout the world, uniting Islam into one firm front.
This month, of all the months each year, was the most difficult for Lilias and her co-workers. The Islam she witnessed was not just another “optional/neutral” path to God but at best, dead orthodoxy without workable moral power. Her heart and prayer was that these people she loved so dearly – with whom she cast her lot, so to speak – would at least have the opportunity to consider their faith options, to be exposed to the “light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” (11 Corinthians 4:6) It was with collective relief that she saw “the baby new moon” hanging in the sunset, sign and symbol of the end of their “battle month.”
While it may seem that I have strayed, on-screen, from my original story, I have not in my heart. This past weekend I have been nourished by radical hospitality. I have been moved by the music of the heavens and warmed by heart fellowship. But most of all I have been inspired and challenged to come back to my place – my small spot on the globe – and give more fully, from this bounty, to those of diverse faith (or lack thereof) who people my world.
We are united, not by the phase of the moon, but by the Maker of the sun, moon and stars. The Lover of souls who wills all nations, from the ends of the earth, to come to Him and know that His name “is the Lord.”
Painting: Travel Journal 1898