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No Peace Without Prayer
(Vatican Radio) “No Peace Without Prayer” is the title of the soon to be published book by Benedictine Abbott Timothy Wright.
Father Timothy is an old friend of Vatican Radio, and listeners who throughout the years have enjoyed listening to the many interviews and reflections he has produced for the English Programme, will not be surprised to learn that the subject of his book is Christian-Muslim dialogue.
A dedicated scholar and expert in interfaith relations, a man who has travelled the world to meet with, speak with, pray with and exchange ideas with imams and others committed to peace building through dialogue, Timothy Wright OSB, is beginning yet another journey of commitment to the cause, as he leaves Rome to teach at the Benedictine University in Lisle, Chicago, where 25 percent of the students are Muslim and there is fertile ground for further research and insight into a new “creative” approach to peace-building.
Of course we will miss Fr Timothy, but he has promised to stay in touch and keep us posted. Before his departure Vatican Radio’s Linda Bordoni met with him for the last time at the Pontifical Beda College where he lived and worked as spiritual director during his time in Rome.
Abbott Timothy speaks with optimism and enthusiasm of the new life awaiting him in the USA. He also talks about his ideas and his beliefs that are the seeds for his book and about his vision for a possible future in which Christians and Muslims across the globe will accept their differences and at the same time affirm their similarities in the name of brotherhood and peace.
Listen to Abbott Timothy’s introduction to his book…
Abbott Timothy explains that during the seven years he has worked as spiritual director at the Pontifical Beda College, he was also working for the Abbott Primate on Muslim-Benedictine relations.
This led him to engage in 5/6 years of academic study on the one hand as well as a number of visits to countries where there are Benedictines and Muslims to test the waters and see how much interest there was in dialogue, and what type of dialogue.
The reason for his move to the US stems from the fact that the Abbott Primate has asked him to work with Benedictine communities, “particularly with those who are in dialogue with Islam or have Muslim communities nearby and seek to get into dialogue in order to bring the fruits of my research into their way of thinking, into their way of acting. To encourage them to enter into a dialogue, and at a deeper level to engage in what I call a dialogue of spirituality”.
Fr. Timothy calls the work he did in his research is an integral part of this new development and it will be published as a book in August wtih the title “No Peace Without Prayer - Encouraging Muslims and Christians to pray together – a Benedictine Perspective”.
He says that although his preliminary writings for the research were geared towards a Benedictine charism, the book is geared to a much broader readership of people who are interested in and have friendly relations with their local Muslim communities and want to get beyond the matter of simply doing things together, ensuring that there is mutual understanding of different customs and different ways of approaching things. So, he says, “I’m trying to move that dialogue a step further, both within the monastic tradition and within the Christian tradition”.
One might ask – Fr Timothy says – “what justification have you for doing this as we are so totally different? To which my answer quite simply is that the spirituality of the Rule of Benedict and the spirituality of Islam are like brother and sister. They were both immerged in a similar environment and had similar origins”.
“What do I mean by that? What I mean is that the Rule of Benedict emerged from desert experience of the early monastic tradition which was mainly eremitical, but it had a spirituality based round the Word of God, based round the repetition of phrases, of prayers – particularly the psalms – and a sense of discipline etc. Go 100 years after the rule of Benedict and you had the revelations to the Prophet, again in a desert environment. And those revelations were made to someone whose memory was: A) alive; B) perceptive; and C) well-tuned to remember. And in that memory, each of these revelations of which there were hundreds, the Prophet brought down to his group and repeated. And in that culture of repetition, eventually emerged the Koran: the voice of God, speaking to the Prophet through the Word. In the Benedictine tradition: the voice of God, speaking through the Scriptures in the Word”.
And it is in that spirituality of the Word that there is a relationship. “I call it brother and sister”. There are of course other elements within the Rule of Benedict which echo the disciplines of the Muslim way of life, of simplicity of lifestyle, of generosity, of giving, of learning to care for the other, of seeing in the other the presence of God whoever that other is, offering hospitality, etc.”.
Within that framework, the Abbott believes there is the possibility of creating a new style of dialogue. “I call it the dialogue of spirituality. The dialogue of spirituality which has a very particular end in view, which is to try and create something quite new in the dialogue”.
Fr. Timothy points out that “at the moment if you talk to Muslim people they will tell you that the Western world, which they see as a Christian world, is a world of violence. The Christian armies, the militarism that accompanies many so-called Christian countries. Leave aside the fact that most of them would call themselves secular, as far as the Muslims are concerned: they are religious, they have military chaplains who are religious and there are many good, practicing Christians who are members of those armies. On the other side you have many Muslims for whom this Western side is a threat. And so you get the militancy, the power, the destruction, the violence…. And at the moment the dialogue between the two hardly exists, and in some cases, the two sides are not even listening to each other”.
“Is there another route? Is the question I ask? Through my Benedictine experience and through my experience of the spirituality of Islam, what I am trying to suggest is that a detailed examination of the two Sacred texts shows that many of the figures in the Christian tradition: Adam, Noah, Joseph, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Mary are echoed in the Koran. And echoed positively in the Koran, not the same exactly, but there are similarities. You put the facts of those two elements together and you say: as we ponder our Sacred Scriptures - the Muslims the Koran, the Christians the Bible – so we get insights coming to us as we listen. My point is if you have a shared reflection on a topic, for example Adam, each will be able to produce her or his insights into that topic, into that personality, into the events that are described in the Scriptures. And out of those shared insights it is possible to record them and be able to transcribe them into – what I call – a tapestry which is a memory. A tapestry of the different threads coming out of the believer’s reflections, Muslim and Christian, to create this tapestry on the memory, for example, of Adam. And in that tapestry there will be lines and links that each can share with the other, that each can affirm. And there will be lines and elements where there is difference. And it is trying to put those two together, because the basic truth behind these revelations is the one God, which the Vatican Council affirmed in its document “Nostra Aetate” as being the one God of Christianity and the one God of Islam”.
Abbott Timothy says “this is not syncretism, nor is it trying to reach an agreed statement, nor is it intellectual. This is the heart speaking to the heart, inspired by the one God, in two different ways”.
He agrees that his perspective is ambitious and that there are bound to be many people, both Christian and Muslim who will say it does not represent their faith, etc. But he says there are many common elements that cannot be denied. And he says: “all of us, Christian and Muslim are capable of meditating on those Scriptures and having insights flowing from that meditation”. And so what is not disputable is “if we share those insights, both of agreement and difference, of echo and of counter-echo, there we can create something new: a positive memory, accepting difference, affirming similarity.
This perspectives – the Abbott says – “helps to dissolve some of the negative memories which are passed down, and have been passed down for generations, among Christians on the one hand about Islam, and among Muslims about Christianity.”
That is the core of what this book is about and what it is trying to achieve. Will it succeed? “As both Muslims and Christians would say: if it is God’s will it will happen”.