Issue 45, July 2005

God's October Surprise
Rabbi Arthur Waskow

A Sacred Season: October 2005

At a moment of increasing religious war, violence, and repression, God has given our spiritual and religious traditions a gift of time:

During October 2005, an unusual confluence of sacred moments in many different traditions invites us to pray with or alongside each other, share food and stories, and work together for peace, justice, human rights, and the healing of our wounded earth.

The sacred Muslim lunar month of Ramadan and the sacred Jewish lunar month of Tishrei, which includes the High Holy Days and Sukkot, both begin October 3-4.

And there is more:

October 4 is the Saint's Day of St. Francis of Assisi (who almost alone of all Christian leaders of his generation opposed the Crusades and studied with Islamic teachers, as well as connecting deeply with all the creatures of the earth);

October 2 is Mahatma Gandhi's birthday and is also Worldwide Communion Sunday for many Protestant and Orthodox Christians.

Sikhs celebrate Divali and the liberation of the 6th Guru on October 5;

October 4 to 12 are for Hindus Navarathri (nine nights of spiritual struggle), followed on October 13 by Vijayadashami, the tenth day of spiritual victory.

Theravada Buddhists celebrate Kathina which is a festival month between the day after the full moon in October lasting through the full moon of November. Kathina occurs at the end of the Vassa, the three-months rains retreat also called "Phansa" in Thai.

There is much that we could do to heal the world during this sacred season made up of sacred times:

Most powerfully, perhaps, from sunrise to sunset on the day that for Muslims is one of the fast days of Ramadan and for Jews is the fast day of Yom Kippur, October 13, Christians could also observe a Fast for Reflection, Repentance, Reconciliation, and Renewal.

All of us could learn from the passage of Isaiah that in Jewish traditions is read on Yom Kippur morning. God, speaking through Isaiah, says, "Do you think the fast that I demand this day is to bow down your head like a bulrush? No! The fast I demand is that you feed the poor, house the homeless, cloth the naked, and break off the handcuffs on your prisoners."

So for our generation, this October 13 fast could be dedicated to serving God not through prayer alone but also through committing ourselves that later in the month, we will undertake some action in which the different communities together embody God's commands to Seek peace, feed the poor, heal the earth.

Other possibilities for action:

Churches could invite other congregations, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and Sikhs to join in learning about and acting on the teachings of Francis of Assisi.

Jews could invite others into the Sukkah, a leafy hut that is open to the wind and rain. Traditionally, "sacred guests" are invited in and the ancient Rabbis taught that during Sukkot, blessings are invoked upon "the seventy nations" of the world. Traditional prayers implore God to "spread the sukkah of shalom" over us. These are perfect rubrics for peacemaking among the children of Abraham and all humanity with each other and and with the earth.

Muslims could host Iftar, a break-fast meal, for other communities, after nightfall on any of the evenings of Ramadan. And they could invite others to join in celebrating some aspects of Eid el-Fitr (the feast at the end of Ramadan), and Jews and Christians could (as in Morocco) bring food to the celebration.

Synagogues could set aside a time during Yom Kippur or Shabbat just before, or another special time during the month, to read and discuss with Muslims the Torah's story (Gen. 25: 7-11) of the joining of Isaac and Ishmael to bury their father Abraham, and then to achieve reconciliation at the Well of the Living One Who Sees Me.

Our communities could together take some action to protect human rights, heal the earth, and seek peace in the whole region where Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah sojourned.

The call to join in an October 13 fast and to create shared multireligious local and regional events during the month was initiated by The Shalom Center, with The Tent of Abraham, Hagar, and Sarah. It has been endorsed by the National Council of Churches; the Islamic Society of North America; Pax Christi; ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal and its rabbinic affiliate Ohalah; the Jewish Committee for Isaiah's Vision (an ad hoc committee made up of more than one hundred rabbis and other Jewish leaders) and a number of local and regional groups. To explore your own participation in this effort, write --

In 2006 and 2007, Tishrei, Ramadan, and St. Francis' day will again coincide. With three successive years of making sacred connection, perhaps we can learn to continue even when the calendar is not so filled with God's surprise.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow is director of The Shalom Center - see and

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