Sunday, May 15, 2011

At the Entrance to The Garden of Eden by Yossi Klein Halevi

What happens when a religious Israeli Jew decides to engage with Christians and Muslims during their times of religious practice? This book is a pilgrimage, a desire to bridge the differences and find the roads to a peaceful mediation upon God.

What ensues in 1998, when he first begins walking this path, is a look at the inner soul of the three religions that occupy a narrow piece of land. His walk includes praying with a Sufi master whose mission is to seek religious peace, an encounter with a Sufi healer who is also an exorcist, dialogues with an Armenian monk who also suffered from a holocaust and an encounter with nuns who belong to an order called the Beatitudes intent on reconciliation with Jews. One of the nuns teaches him about mediation and contemplation. He also meets a monk whose life's work includes being a conduit for reconciliation between the occupants of the Holy land.

Along the way Halevi meets people who are intent on forging dialogues between the groups. While the Sufis welcome him they are the only Muslim group that he is able to enter.

Halevi doesn't walk alone on this pilgrimage, he engages the help of Eliyahu who has forged friendships with a number of Sufi religious men. When he phones Eliyau he is greeted by these words: Shalom aleichem, Salaam aleikum.

Abu Falester, a Sufi, says, "Make your mind and heart a fit place for God to live."

Sister Johanna says, "You don't give your life to God once, you do it every minute, in the choices you make."

But Halevi isn't an observer who stands on the sidelines watching, he joins the celebratory observances. Those are some of the most moving parts of the book. It isn't as if he relinquishes the teachings of Judaism; it is the recognition of the commonality of transcendence and prayer.

"Each of us was entrusted with a minuscule piece of God's plan. Impatience was futile; only the massive accumulation of small acts of good would ultimately ensure the plan's success..."

By the end of the book many of his perceptions have been challenged and he is left with    several paradoxes. If in Judaism one is not to do to others what has been done to you then how do you deal with the occupation? And how do you deal with the reality of the other?

Perhaps one needs to read Emmanuel Levinas to grapple with an understanding of the Other? What Halevi offers is a beautiful book that enters into the soul of two other strands of worship.

He quotes from Paul Lakeland: "Faith is a primal force... Faith is the dynamic element in life, what keeps us in process, in becoming , in possibility."

Non-Fiction Challenge

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