President’s Letter | March 2021

Dear friends and Colleagues,

Humanity has always travelled. Near or far, to migrate to a better place, visit relatives, explore other regions or, more recently simply for the pleasure of tourism, walking, riding, by sea, ground or sky, it has been in our genes for centuries and millenniums to go on journeys. Apart from very few notable exceptions in very remotest areas of the planet, none of our cultures and faiths would be what they are if they weren’t for journeys of a few or many men and women and the encounter with other human beings, their environment and cultures. I believe that each one of our spiritual traditions is specifically marked by some kind of journey and cultural encounters.

I am no specialist in each world religion but for the little I know about the founders of our rich traditions it seems to me that they all went through some kind of journey. I know very little about the Buddhist tradition, didn’t the Buddha walk through so many paths of India and Asia before he understood what he sought and achieved Enlightenment? The whole story of Abraham, whom is regarded as the father of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, is a long journey. It starts with this mandate: “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you” (Gen. 12. 1). And his journey never ended. My rabbi friends and colleagues like to insist on the first words and explain that they could also be translated “go towards yourself”, “go and discover yourself”.

There is no understanding of oneself, no spiritual deepening without some kind of journey. For some it is a strictly spiritual journey that could even happen inside a prison cell for this spiritual journey towards our deep inside truth is profoundly liberating. But for the most important figures of our religious traditions it often is a physical journey. Think about Moses leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. A journey of 40 years throughout the desert! Through it Moses and his people will learn (sometimes the hard way) to understand who their God was, to trust him and depend on him for their life and survival. It was sometimes a painful place to be but a necessary one to go through in order to be truly free from bondage and ready to receive the promise God had made to their father Abraham. Through it they truly become Hebrews, a word that means going across, travelling.

It is no wonder that the Gospels tell us that Jesus died and rose again during the festival of Passover that commemorates the crossing of the Red Sea and the liberation from Egypt. This journey from death to life is a Passover, a coming through, a liberation. Easter, the main Christian festival is in itself a journey. It is also the meaning of the 40 days of Lent which are a journey towards the joy of the resurrection. But going back to Jesus’ life we see how much he traveled through his own country (and even a couple of times outside of it). Often the Gospels specify that his teachings, encounters and miracles were done on his way, along the path, the crossing of a region or a lake. He was always moving, walking through the land. “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head” he told a man after telling him to follow him (Luke 9. 58).

 Traveling was Jesus’ way of living, teaching, healing and saving people. He invites his disciples to follow him, not to seat and listen but to follow them on his journey and actually on theirs. “Go towards yourself” becomes very much the same as “follow me” that I suggest we could rephrase as “travel with me towards your deepest calling”. Pessah and Easter which Jews and Western Christians are celebrating almost simultaneously this year (Eastern Christians who follow the Julian calendar) will celebrate it one month later) are really the same (at least from my Christian perspective): they are a celebration of a liberating journey.

I don’t know enough about Hinduism, Sikhism or other world faiths to refer to the meaning of the journey in their tradition (but I would love to learn about them if you would be gracious enough to share them with me and us!). But writing about this reminds me of the explanation our colleague Hadj Khababa gave us about a year ago about the celebration of Al Isra-Wa-Miraj (celebrated a few weeks ago) and how the Prophet of Islam was transported from Mecca to Jerusalem and through the 7 heavens. I understand he also spent much of his time travelling in the Arabic region sharing the revelation he had received. In a similar fashion as Lent is a spiritual journey for the Christians who practise it, the blessed month of Ramadan, which will start in a few days, is  a profound journey for the Muslim believer, one of self-examination, generosity and deepening relationship with the Creator.

What I’m trying to say here is that travelling, going through a journey as always had a deep spiritual meaning in probably any faith tradition on the planet and in the history of humanity. Although these journeys can be purely spiritual they often are and need to be also real travels which give us the opportunity to meet and encounter our fellow humans. For more than one year now, most of us and in fact most of humanity, have been restrained from travelling. Humanity as a whole as well as many of us individually have been going through a difficult and painful journey during this pandemic. And we are not out of it yet. But I believe we need to rediscover the richness of travelling and its spiritual value. Following the example of our spiritual forefathers we need to move, come across lands, seas and skies in order to continue to go towards ourselves and continue to discover who we are and what we are called to as humans and as believers. Like many of you  I’m longing for possibilities and opportunities to travel again and see our fellow humans move again and our airports come back to life.

Pierre de Mareuil
Paris-Charles de Gaulle