In my soul
there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque,
a church where I kneel.
Prayers should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist.
In my soul
there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque,
a church that dissolves, that
-Rabia of Basra, 8th c. Female Islamic Saint
On the spiritual pilgrimage through life, we look through the mirror dimly, spurred on by a curiosity of our souls to connect with that which we cannot see and yet intimately know to be true. Some call this mysterious Presence God, Allah, Buddha, the indwelling Spirit, or the Holy One. Regardless of the moniker, every soul, whether it acknowledges it or not, yearns to make faith-sense of their humanity, but more importantly the tell-tale markings of their divinity. Integral to this journey of the soul is a willingness to be open in mind, body, and spirit to the myriad ways the Divine intersects our lives. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we realize in the first stepping or maybe many miles down the path, that God’s reach far exceeds our tunnel view and limited imagination.
A couple of weeks ago I was invited to join Soraya, the wife of the Imam at our local mosque in Nashville, for an informal dialogue on the faith of Islam. She surprised and inspired me with her talk of angels, praying five times a day, and her love of Jesus. I realized kneeling beside Soraya in the mosque that we were much alike. She was a wife, a mother, a professional, but also just another humble soul, like myself, both of us trying our humanly-best to be in relationship with our Divine Creator.
So many after September 11th have the bitter taste of the olive leaf in their mouths concerning anything connected to Islam. It is so easy to believe we are protecting ourselves, our beliefs, our faith by designating an enemy that appears to stand in great opposition to everything we hold as true. Eleven years after watching the towers come down on the West Side Highway in New York City, God decided it was time I opened my ears and especially my heart to a different spiritual patois. For years, I have been a devoted fan of the poetry of Rumi, yet never once connected that he was actually a Sufi Muslim. And yet, his poetry stirs my soul like no other, and invites me into a deeper intimacy with God. I must admit that somewhere along the way, I missed the Religion 101 class on Islam. Or maybe, more correctly, due to the ethos of our times, I was just one of the many, afraid of, or harboring a secret anger towards anything connected to the Islamic faith, people, and culture. September 11th in New York City was my first experience of real fear, a true jolt to my spiritual equilibrium. For the last eleven years, I have struggled with how human beings could hurt one another with such reckless abandon, all the while waving the banner of faith. And yet by gerrymandering invisible boundaries, delineating for myself the line that separates good from evil, the faithful from the infidel, I have missed opportunities to see God in a much broader context. What if God has something to teach me, or rather saw an opportunity to stretch my faith through the soul of a Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu?
As safe as it may make us feel, claiming the true God as our own, or doing our best to put God in a nice, neat box (no burqas, Buddhas, or Allahs allowed), we limit God’s reach. And the moment we limit God’s reach and connection to all of humanity, we diminish God’s reach in the intimacy of our own lives. And so, here at Bread and Honey, over the next year, I am going to crack open the door, hoping that by learning a little about the faiths of my fellow human beings, I will be invited to see a new side of God and in the process stretch my faith, and hopefully yours too! Think of a beautiful stained glass window. It requires every single sliver of colored glass to see the full image of the Divine. In this spirit, I offer you today a couple of nuggets of wisdom from the faith of Islam:
1. Ghaflah: Ghaflah is the arabic word for “forgetting.” The foundation of Islam is rooted in the belief that all of humanity was divinely-made and therefore inherently good. Muslims believe our imperfections and brokenness are the result of our “forgetting” God’s presence in our lives and our divine origin. We each bear the engraving of the divine upon our souls and yet this world does everything in its power to encourage us to “forget” this holy truth. Pride, ambition, material accumulation, complacency, and the secular pulls of the earthly world, all contribute to a severe case of spiritual amnesia. Muslims believe that living in faith requires a breath-to-breath “remembering” of our eternal connection to God and our purpose here on earth as human beings created in the image of God. The cure for ghaflah is a conscious removal of anything in one’s life that is standing in the way of the soul connecting with God. We all know in secret what the obstacles are in our own individual faiths.Thankfully, as Soraya reminded me the day in the mosque, “Allah is a God of mercy and grace,” ready to forgive when we fall short of God’s hopes for us.
2. Live in Constant Prayer: Muslims believe that your life should be one long-lived prayer. Every thought, deed, action should reflect your divinity and your devotion to Allah. In practice, Muslims pray five times a day. The goal of their prayers is a “remembering” of God throughout the day. When I asked Soraya how she managed to stop in her busy day of working full-time, and raising three children to prostrate herself facing Mecca, and pray the full Muslim prayers, she replied, “I cannot imagine a better way to greet and close each day than with God. And if I am willing to stop in the middle of the day to feed my body with a sandwich, why would I not also feed my soul with a prayer?” Muslims believe that in any and every breath they can lift their soul directly into the presence of the Divine.The choice is always there to include Allah in one’s life. I am reminded that by definition Islam means, “the peace that comes when one’s life is completely surrendered to God.” Imagine the possibilities if we found ourselves prostrated before God five times a day, every day?
Although Muslims may pray facing Mecca, their hearts are pointed in the same direction as mine…towards Allah, God, the Merciful, the Creator, and Redeemer. I know I am guilty of ghaflah, or forgetting God’s presence in my own life. I will be the first to admit that my needs, my to-do lists, my will for my life often contributes to a bout of spiritual amnesia. I also know that if I am ever to experience a measure of peace on this journey, or live a life that looks more like one long-lived beautiful prayer, then like Soraya, I too, must surrender my heart, my mind, and my soul to God.
Live in Hope,