The following is another guest post by my Iraqi friend, Marwan Odeesh. The first part of the post are his own words as he introduces a poem by a Lebanese-American artist, poet, writer, and philosopher named Khalil Gibran. After his introductory remarks, Marwan has translated one of Gibran’s poems about Jesus. At the end of the poem are some more remarks by Marwan, a short poem by Gibran, and then a link to a video of a poem. I left Marwan’s words and translation unedited. I think his words and the poem and the video will give you a glimpse into the Christian faith of our brothers and sisters in the Middle East.
“I am alive like you, and I am standing beside you. Close your eyes and look around, you will see me in front of you” these are the words that are engraved on his tomb in his home town Bsharri, Lebanon, and this is the rock of faith Gibran stood upon.
He was a Lebanese-American artist, poet, writer, and philosopher, He was even called “Khalil the prophet” by Jazz saxophonist Jackie McLean in one of his songs on his album Destination in 1963. Mclean was referring to Khalil Gibran’s book “The prophet” which among many Gibran had authored, and was called the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Lao -Tzu. The book became especially popular during the 1960s in America’s counterculture. Since it was first published in 1923, The Prophet has never been out of print. Having been translated into more than forty languages
I would love to share with you his views of Jesus Christ in his beautiful short-story book “Storms” which was published in Arabic language:
Humanity contemplated Jesus the Nazarene as someone who was born impoverished, lived faint heartedly, and was crucified as a criminal. People weep and mourn him and that’s all what they do to honor him. Nineteen generation has passed and people worshiped the weakness in Christ’s person.
Jesus was strong but they don’t understand the meaning of true strength.
Jesus didn’t live as an impoverished, He wasn’t frightened, nor did he die complaining of his wounds. instead he lived as revolutionary, crucified rebellious at heart and died mighty in character
Jesus wasn’t a bird with a broken wing; he was a strong blowing wind that tears down all crooked wings
Jesus didn’t come from beyond the blue twilight to make pain as a symbol for life
but he came to make the life itself a symbol for the truth and freedom.
Jesus didn’t hide from his oppressors, nor did he fear his enemies. He didn’t ache in pain before his killers.
Jesus didn’t fall from the circle of eternal light to destroy the top of elder houses, and build monasteries and silos out of their ruins…he didn’t entice strong men, dragging them priests and monks before him
Jesus didn’t come to teach people to build high-steeple churches and temples in the vicinity of the huge despicable huts and cold dark houses, yet he came to make of the human heart a temple, human self an altar, and human mind a priest.
This is what did Jesus the Nazarene do, and these principles are the heart for which he was crucified for as an anointed savior, and if mankind could’ve comprehended that, they would’ve stood happily chanting songs of cheers, and resounding hymn of his victory and prevail.
Hence the crown of thorns on your head is worthier than that of Bahram, the nails drilled in your palms are exalted more than Jupiter’s mace and the drops of blood on your feet sparkles more than the necklaces of Astarte.
So be kind on those feeble who mourn over you, for they know not that they are mourning upon themselves, and forgive them for they don’t know that you have abolished death by death and granted life to those in graves.
Gibran was raised as Maronite Catholic who immigrated to USA late in the 1880s and settled in Boston, and according to his mother’s will who wanted him to absorb more of his own heritage rather than just the Western aesthetic culture he was attracted to, Gibran returned to his homeland to study at a Maronite-run preparatory school and higher-education institute in Beirut, called Al-Hikma (La Sagesse). And then he returned to Boston in 1902 and continued his education in America.
The thing that made me write about an outstanding middle-eastern poet-philosopher like Gibran is that he had a dual heritage as much as I do living in America being emigrated originally from Iraq; he combined his well-blended traditional Maronite roots with the contemporary American culture that he experienced early in the nineteenth century. It’s clearly obvious that his overshadowing Christ’s suffering in the beginning of his poem didn’t come from the fact that he lived in denial to the historic facts of Jesus’s suffering, knowing that Gibran was born to a very poor family too. Yet I felt that it’s the revolutionary love that burned fervently within him to declare the breath taking Victory of humanity in Jesus.
He tried to contemplate our stage-arrested humanity in the Middle East as Christians, as we refuse to shift from the life of suffering that is perceived from Jesus’s painful suffering to live out his Glory and enjoy the sense of freedom that come from it and abide to the responsibilities that accompanies it. It’s more of a depressive and fruitless suffering than a hopeful anguish. Yet I felt that it’s the revolutionary love that burned fervently within him to declare the breath taking Victory of humanity in Jesus.
I’m not looking for ways to evade any suffering that we may experience in flesh, as I believe that Jesus didn’t want to numb humanity or abolish suffering, yet he gave us that spirit that lead us through our personal tragedies to discover the greatness of his grace and the joy of his triumph that was laid for us and could potentially be observed though us. In fact in the life of Gibran we can find him enjoying living eternity despite the sensible pain in his life. And that’s the contentment and joy the Holy Spirit provides if we surrender to him. Gibran refused to surrender to the laboring agony that faith relies on in our Eastern culture and preferred to depart to the fullness and greatness of Godliness in flesh that was perceived by Jesus’s Love to humanity.
It’s a clear cut sense of understanding that I grasp from Gibran’s views to the deep message of the Nazarene and I can’t find a better way than him saying:
“Jesus came to make of the human heart a temple, human self an altar, and human mind a priest.”
Gibran’s triune description of a being is crucial to our lives as Christians as we transition from being tombs of traditionalism to living souls in Christ, making our hearts ready temples to receive the actual presence of God’s word, ourselves a living sacrifice broken for others, and finally our minds a well-mannered ones and fully obedient to word of God.
I might not be able to find out how exactly Gibran experienced God’s love in his life, but he sure did, and he showed us a glimpse of that love through his writings and this is Part of his reflection on Love:
For even as love crowns you, so shall he crucify you,
Love gives naught but itself,
And takes naught but from itself,
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed,
For love is sufficient unto love