dispatches to and from

nathan f. elmore

Dispatches to and from faith, culture, and things in between

The Song of Machpelah

{Introducing} The Song of Machpelah is an interfaith writing project borne out of Christian-Muslim exchanges, experiences and ongoing study. The name itself is derived from a cave, referenced in the biblical book of Genesis, which is said to be the resting place of Abraham’s body and is considered a holy site for Jews, Christians and Muslims. Known by Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Ibrahimi, the Cave of the Patriarchs is located in Hebron in the West Bank.

{Machpelah}

Like this cave, which is steeped in death-remembrance, the writings in this series are intended to ask Christians and Muslims, at times distressed by inter-religious hostility, conflict and violence: What must die in order that Christian-Muslim relations might breathe and even flourish?

Caves, in particular, are emblematic of where hidden things lie. One of the modest hopes for this project is to bring to spiritual light what might have otherwise remained in hiding. And to do so whether it is comfortable and agreeable, or unpleasant and challenging.

Andrew White, the “Vicar of Baghdad,” has passionately asserted: “Religion is the only way of dealing with this conflict.” Here, at Machpelah, we shall see.

{The Song of}

Music, of course, being what it is, finds its source of beauty, pleasure, suffering or pain from the countless emotional places along this fantastic and feeble earth. These writings, then, aspire to function as songs of a sort – in a Christian-Muslim re-imagining of the tent of Abraham. Surely that place is one of the earth’s most peculiar places, filled with much beauty and pleasure as well as suffering and pain.

The 16th-17th century Italian composer Claudio Monteverdi once remarked, “The end of all good music is to affect the soul.” Here, at Machpelah, perhaps we will be moved.

{What?}

The Song of Machpelah's format will try for variety: short reflections, long-form essays, stories, poems, images, questions, interviews, or maybe a review of an innovative practice in Christian-Muslim relations. From time to time I hope to integrate guest contributors.

It should be assumed: here, we are moving beyond fear and ignorance. Additionally, we will attempt to cut through mere politics or entrenched cultural barriers or even the occasional theological impasse. We will work hard in the direction of the common good, which is, in the least, less hateful, less violent, more peaceful, more constructive Christian communities and Muslim societies.

David F. Ford, professor at the University of Cambridge, founding director of the Cambridge Inter-Faith Programme and co-founder of the Society for Scriptural Reasoning, has called the early 21st century “a kairos for interfaith engagement.” In reflecting on his own engagement he describes growing into a long-term interfaith collegiality that has led him “deeper into my own faith, deeper into the faith of others and deeper into commitment to the wider common good.” Ford’s characterization of his personal journey contains significant anticipations for mine as I’ve waded into these waters over the last 5 years. Globally speaking, very few matters seem as pressing or pertinent as Christian-Muslim relations.

So, this project is humbly designed to engage – to participate in and perhaps catalyze a bold kind of culture-making. At Machpelah, God willing, in small, medium or large ways a living song will arise. And it is a composition being put together by both Christians and Muslims. Peace by piece.

May God – in Him is all knowledge – be merciful to us.

Nathan F. Elmore