Passover is coming for Jewish families and, soon, Easter will dawn for Christians. We’ll write more about these global observances as we get closer. (Right now, if you’re preparing for Easter, we’re continuing our daily Lenten stories over at OurLent.)
THIS WEEK, we’re focusing on some major voices calling for liberation. That’s a major theme in both Passover and Easter celebrations. We’re starting today with a brief sample of Alexander Shaia’s “The HIdden Power of the Gospels,” which calls Christians to look at Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in a fresh way: as four powerful stories, drawn from the life of Jesus, that lead us in four ways through the darkest challenges of life toward transformation, liberation and eventually joyful service in the world.
Here’s a brief excerpt from the opening of his book …
HIDDEN POWER OF THE GOSPELS:
Four Questions, Four Paths, One Journey
When I was seven years old, racists burned my grandmother’s house to the ground. They waited until nightfall so they could slip through the shadows. Then they scoured her house, dug in her closets, opened her wooden chest, stripped the mantels of her beloved mementos, and put everything into a big pile in the living room. All the Catholic artifacts, statues, and family pictures from her tiny home were added to the stack. Placing the crucifixes atop the heap, they poured on kerosene, lit matches, and fled.
Fire engulfed the structure in minutes. Summoned from my bed, I rushed to her house with my family and watched the conflagration, despairing, certain that my grandmother was inside, perishing in agony. We all called her “Sitto,” which is Arabic for grandmother, and she was especially beloved to me. Since she walked with a crutch, I was sure there was no way she could have escaped the terrible fire. However, hours later she appeared, having fortuitously been taken to church by a friend that evening. Her restoration to us was joyful, but I will never, ever forget the smell of the charred wood, nor my fear, nor the palpable experience of hate that surrounded me that night. Indelibly imprinted on my seven-year-old heart was the clear understanding that being “outside” meant the risk of pain and terror, and perhaps even the loss of life itself.
Why was Sitto’s home burned? Because in that 1950s southern community, all of us in the Shaia family were outsiders. My grandparents had emigrated from Lebanon, and we were Maronite Catholics. At that time, Birmingham, Alabama, was less than one-half of one percent Catholic, and Maronites were a tiny, obscure minority even among those Catholics. I was truly a minority within an immigrant minority in a city that was, in those days, not kind to minorities.
When it came time to write this book, I felt that the fire of my past was the perfect image for the beginning of my spiritual journey. You may share some of these feelings if you think of the terrible pain of the last unforgiven argument you had with a loved one and then try to imagine it magnified by dozens, by hundreds, and by thousands outward—into your family, your community, your country, and your world. As simplistic as it sounds, aren’t most of the conflicts in the world unforgiven arguments at their core? The beginnings of change often come from the charred embers of loss or the hard, rocky ground of necessity. Mine did. I vowed to commit myself to: “No more, and never again.”
To provide an image for the work of transformation for which we are striving, I’d like to tell you about my family’s Sunday dinner five days after the fire. We always met on Sundays at Sitto’s house—everyone: parents, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, the whole extended crowd—and usually we sat around the big, old mahogany table, which was converted for the occasion with embroidered linen and china. My recollection isn’t clear whose house we went to that week, but I do remember that the tables were planks on sawhorses, the chairs were folding metal, and the tablecloths were paper.
The grown-ups sat in the middle, the kids around the edges. Sitto, as always, was at the head of the table, and when the room hushed, she led us in saying grace. Afterward, there was silence, and then eyes, clear and direct above the glasses perched midway down her nose, slowly moved to meet the eyes of every person in the room—even ours, the children. We all waited patiently in the silence. Finally, she spoke. Her voice was soft, and she said only two words, though she repeated them until she was sure we understood and accepted them: “No hate. No hate. …” And I felt the burden lift from the heart of my family.
And, come back Wednesday for our interview with Alexander Shaia.
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