My Father was a Wandering Aramean

Reflection for the 1st Sunday of Lent by Rhett Engelking, FAN Director of Franciscan Earth Corps
This reflection was originally posted in our February 8th newsletter

Many a 2016 presidential candidate has dubbed “ISIS” the most serious current threat to American national security.  While urging Americans not to be “bystanders to bigotry,” President Obama recently visited a Baltimore, MD mosque and carefully labelled the violent Salafi jihadist militant group, who follows a fundamentalist Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam, “ISIL.” This abbreviated form of “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” refers to a region called the “Levant” whose name translates to something like “the land where the sun rises.” It refers to a broad area on the Eastern Mediterranean which has included lands occupied by the modern nation states of Cyprus, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and in some classifications Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Libya, and Iraq. For Biblical scholars, this comprises nearly the entire region of the Biblical narrative though in Biblical times the concept of nation state and international borders was incompatible with our modern understanding. Naming the region “the Levant” therefore characterizes the antiquated world-view of ISIL, a geographic worldview very much like that of the “wandering Aramean who went down to Egypt with a small household and lived there as an alien.” The Arameans were the biblical inhabitants of the Levant. Rather than see Abraham as a historical footnote, perhaps we might explore that Aramean identity in ourselves as the missing link in a world divided by violence.

The Gospel account of Jesus, another Aramean wandering in the desert of the Levant is the quintessential narrative for our Lenten spiritual search and our encounter with what Fr. Thomas Keating, OCSO called the three energy centers of the False Self, our exaggerated needs for: security, esteem, and power. These are the three areas tempted in Jesus by Satan and Lent may be the only time of year that many of us reflect upon how our own temptations have crowded out room for the Holy Spirit to act within our lives. We pray, fast, and give alms in voluntary poverty to make way for a spiritual rebirth. Hence Lent is not a time for easy answers, but rather the time we set aside to sit with our most difficult questions. While we have much experience of this on an individual level, how much experience do we have at a cultural or even national level? What is the False Self of our nation or our culture? While we may easily see a modern “caliphate” as a false entity demanded by ISIL’s twisted doctrine, how often do we examine how our exaggerated needs for security, esteem and power tempt us to a false sense of our identity in the world as Christians or as Americans? Are we spiritual Republicans and Democrats, or could we embrace an identity as wandering Arameans? What identity do we get our energy from?

For those of those struggling with evil, sin, and a world of violence this Lent, St. Paul offers reassurance in his letter to the Romans “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” We can all recall Jesus’ desperate cry from the cross in his Aramaic tongue, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani,” but how many of us recognize that the word “Eloi” and “Allah” have the same root and meaning? When Paul states, “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all,” are we imagining that Lord of All also makes no distinction between Christians and the Muslim refugees fleeing the violence of ISIL? The lines drawn by nation states are not unimportant, yet why do so many Christians treat them as all-important? ISIL has indeed shown itself to be a threat to national security, but are we as Christians so attached to our need for security that we have forgotten where we have come from as a faith community?

This Lent, I urge Americans to contemplate this statement: My father was a wandering Aramean.

Rhett Engelking
FAN Director of Franciscan Earth Corps

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Published in: on February 9, 2016 at 9:08 am  Leave a Comment  

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