Please take a look at my latest article in The Islamic Renaissance Magazine here: http://www.islamicrenaissance.com/the-beauty-of-just-one-a-feeble-exposition-of-the-beautiful-reminder/
Surah #20 – TaHa
We begin in the Precious and Pleasurable Presence
The One Aware Alone, Loving and Kind
We have not sent this Reminder to cause you distress,
But only to awaken those who value God Alone.
Gradually is it revealed from the One,
Creator of the high heavens and the whole earth,
Owner of Mercy, and Established Presence of the Almighty Throne.
Presence of the heavens, and all the earth,
as well as what is between them and what is beneath,
All this and more belong to God Alone.
Whether you speak loudly or quietly, He hears all.
He even knows your secrets, and what is even more hidden than that.
There is none Aware, but the One Aware, to Him belong the most excellent names.
1) Out of Boundless Compassion,
2) The Beloved Reminds,
3) Creating humankind,
4) And teaching His Words,
[The Words that God teaches embody The Straight Way to His Pleasure and Tranquility– both here and now, as well as hereafter. By pleasing Him we know His Pleasure. Thus, we value knowledge of Him and what He loves. In this way God Reminds us of what He favors, and how to experience His favor. This chapter will repeatedly ask us, which of His favors would we deny? By acknowledging that all appreciation and thanks belong to God alone, we deny none of His favor. Hence, His Words– and the ability taught to human beings to use such words to reason, understand, and share such understanding with one another– are among the greatest favors of God. As such, it evidences His nature as One of Unbounded Compassion!]
5) [Like] The Sun, [representing our comprehension], and the Moon, [indicating our various moods]; measured by design.
[Because this Reminder is full of knowledge, it can be taught and learned. It’s knowledge exists in measured degrees, and can be known according to the capacities of the learners, with their varying degrees of sincerity, purity, and submission. To “know” with reason is one level. The knowledge of the heart, (and it’s accompanying loving yearnings), represent another. Even within each of these categories are multiple degrees.]
6) From the creepers to the trees, all in submissiveness are entwined.
7) And He set the Heavens high [a symbol of consciousness and it’s potential], with justice as the balance [between unity and multiplicity],
[From the animal appetites on the physical plane, to the accusing-self (i.e., the mental platform of duality), to the self that pleases God, all are balanced by the scales of justice. Most humans experience all three of these phases of consciousness, in greater or lesser degrees. The animal mind has virtually no knowledge. Hence, it suffers very few consequences. The accusing-self, on the other hand, recognizes the duality of multiplicity, but fails to harmonize into the unity of the reality. Subsequently, it is the phase of greatest suffering. However, even this suffering is a mercy, as it ideally and eventually leads to the self-realization of pleasing God; which is the highest of heavenly aspirations, or the supreme consciousness available to humankind. However, the transcendence of this awareness must be balanced in this realm of creation with the immanence of form– establishing unity within the appearance of multiplicity.]
8) So that you may not exceed the limits of the balance.
[This balance is set for us to practice the middle way of harmony between the unity of the Transcendent and the diversity immanent in the world of form. To “exceed the limits of the balance” is simply to deviate, or go beyond the boundaries of what is prescribed for existing in a quality of peace and true happiness, or even bliss. This is generally done by misuse or over-indulgence in the principle human drives of reason, lust and anger. Such error, or wrongdoing, darkens the naturally loving heart of the individual. If one persists in such a covering of darkness, eventually the faculties of “seeing,” (as in perceiving), and “hearing,” (with clarity of understanding), can be completely lost. In this way one wrongs one’s own soul by transgressing these limits.]
9) And moderate the balance with equanimity; causing no loss or diminution.
[The importance of “the balance” is emphasized by it being mentioned in three consecutive verses. This balance applies across all creation as well as the relationships among it’s many parts, including human beings. For humankind this balance is important both individually and collectively. The collective remains balanced by the enforcement of justice. Individually, the acceptance and application of mercy keep one in harmony. Of course, both justice and mercy apply to each category. However, the emphasis changes based on personal and social considerations.
Reason serves to balance the appetites of the animal mind, as well as the frustrations of the accusing self. However, reason also requires balance. Left unchecked reason itself degenerates into arrogance and deceit. However, a failure to reason results in stupidity and foolishness. The middle-way is to moderate the intellect with discipline. This facilitates the acquisition of useful knowledge, which matures into wisdom. Such wisdom is then brought to bear on the lustful appetites of the animal mind, setting bounds to curb it’s wanton lust, while avoiding degenerative apathy. When applied to the accusing self, such wisdom only allows correction leading to asserting the way of surrender, which culminates in God’s Pleasure. Living under such a harmonious governance brings a life of peace and virtue, richly invested with meaning and purpose.]
10) And the earth he has spread for all living entities.
11) Therein are delightful coverings from which to choose.
12) And they love these husks; though perishable, quickened as they are by My Spirit.
13) So, which of the favors of your Provider will you deny?
12 Steppin’ Sufi
I am writing this article with a mind to appeal to my Christian family and friends.
Anyone who is actually a friend or family member of mine would almost certainly be aware of my 12-Step affiliation. Suffice it to say that, were it not for these types of programs I would likely not be here interacting with you today. These programs and my active participation in them saved my life!
That being the case, I would not accept anyone’s point of view who attempted to come between me and my freedom to take part in this “life-giving” community.
And what is of more value, the life of this world, or one’s spiritual life? So, you can surely understand why I have even less acceptance of someone attempting to take away my freedom to plot my own spiritual course. Yet, that is exactly what I feel like some religionists are inclined to do.
Make no mistake, during my life I have been greatly benefitted by Christianity, as well as other institutional religions. I have also made extensive use of 12-Step programs, which have helped me to develop a faith personal to me. However, it was the openness of the 12-Step philosophy that has been most helpful in facilitating an unhampered expression and fulfillment of my practical day-to-day spiritual affairs. While the Church, with rare exception, functioned primarily as a place for formal family worship and bonding.
Over the years I found little objection to being identified with Christianity, although I never liked the classic intolerance of other faiths.
Despite my divergent path, I never felt I left or betrayed the core of Christ’s teachings. To the contrary, I expanded and deepened my understanding; albeit, often far beyond the orthodox “party-line!”
I will admit, simply saying “I am Christian” often seemed to leave out more than it described. However, it was not a complete misnomer. After all, as a teenager I had sincerely accepted and been baptized into formal Christianity. I had even practiced it in the most orthodox of ways for some time. And even though I left its formal practice as my exclusive source of divine inspiration some time ago, I never divorced myself from what I consider its core message.
Of course, as in any Faith, there are those who are more attached to particular forms and sectarian doctrines. Those who by “Christian” only mean that one pledges allegiance to their particular religion, club or creed– and subsequently, knowingly or unknowingly filters their thinking or views accordingly. This never really appealed to me.
What does appeal to me is having better access to deeper understanding and meaning. The further I travel on this spiritual journey, the more important this depth becomes.
I find “Sufism” to be one of the most effective ways to get to these deeper aspects of the soul.
At this point, if a friend or family member were to ask, “What do you mean by ‘Sufi?’ You’re still a Christian, aren’t you?” I would want to be very clear in addressing this.
What is being asked of me? Do I “believe in” Jesus Christ? Or, am I being asked if I am a member of the religious institution of Christianity? Most would agree these are very different questions.
I do believe in Jesus Christ—and more literally than anybody I know. I believe “Jesus” is the “Word of God.”
But, just what exactly, do I mean by this? “Jesus” is a word. It is a name; but first it is a word. This word is from God. Well, what is God saying with this word? What does “Jesus” mean?
Jesus, (or, more precisely the actual Aramaic name “Isa”), literally means “GOD ALONE IS OUR SALVATION!” Even the Greek translations, (Greek being considered the “official” language of New Testament manuscripts), give it this meaning, or one very similar. [In case you are unfamiliar Jesus, or Isa taught in Aramaic. However, his teachings were recorded and preserved for posterity in Greek.] So, this name of Jesus meaning “GOD ALONE IS OUR SALVATION“ is exactly what I believe. It is that in which I have always believed. This word from God.
My salvation is not in a Church, nor a creed, nor a religion, ritual or formula. It doesn’t come from what I say, or what I do. It is a gift from God that I have accepted by faith. I believe in God alone, and that only He saves. I testify to this.
Nobody else gets to tread on this sacred ground. Not a priest, minister or rabbi; nor apostle, guru, monk, sheikh or imam. Nobody. It is a sacred trust between me and God. It does not require, nor tolerate any intermediaries. You may not like it. You may not agree with it. And, I’m not asking you to. But I believe in this Word of God, “Jesus.”
When I say I believe, I understand that “Jesus” means, “GOD ALONE IS OUR SALVATION!” And that is what I believe.
You may or may not be aware that this testimony is not exclusive to Christianity. In fact, it is also the beginning of surrender in Islam. In Arabic it is, “la illaha illalaah!” Loosely translated, this means “There is none to save us but the One who saves us– God alone.”
I mention Islam because, simply stated, Sufism is Islamic Mysticism.
And whether it be Christian, Jewish or Islamic Mysticism, Mysticism does what I just did with the “Word of God,” and the name of “Jesus.” It emphasizes contemplating the depth of internal meaning.
This is the Way to Truth, that gives Life. There is no other way to get beyond this world of form. Hence, Jesus was speaking as a mystic when he taught, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life!”
The Kingdom of God is within us. This is beautifully illustrated when Jesus himself answered the religionists of his day, who were inquiring about the “Kingdom of God.” Forgive, if you will, the lengthy quote, but it is best read in context:
“And when the Pharisees had demanded of Him when the Kingdom of God should come, He answered them and said, “The Kingdom of God cometh not with outward show. Neither shall they say, ‘Lo, it is here!’ or ‘Lo, it is there!’ For behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.”
The secret to knowing this, to making it a reality of your experience, is in stilling the rampant opinions and ceaseless accusations of the false, egoic-mind. If we will be still, we will know.
“be still and know that i am god”—Psalm 46:10
Like Jesus, as with all true Prophets and Messengers from God, Islam’s revelation is also mostly misunderstood.
Islam literally means “Peace.” More specifically, Islam means to find peace through surrendering to God alone. Hence, the objections of most Muslims to being identified with such terrorist groups as Isis or Al-Qaida.
But, even in comparison to other Muslims, Sufis in particular are especially attached to a more loving and kind way of peacefulness— a way, in fact, known as “The Way of the Heart.”
A Sufi is one who surrenders to the Peace of stillness found within—both, within words, and especially within oneself.
You may already have some familiarity with Sufism. The poet, Rumi, was a Sufi. Perhaps you are not aware of Rumi, or his writings. However, I read somewhere that he is now considered the most popular poet in America.
So, Sufism is a form of mysticism. A “mystic” is one who believes that not all knowledge can be obtained intellectually. Some knowledge is only available through realization, or spiritual apprehension. This type of knowledge evades the investigation of the intellectual, egoic-mind. However, it may be directly apprehended through contemplation and self-surrender.
There are many ways to slow the intellectually inquiring mind, so that one can see with unobstructed clarity. Meditation is one such way.
Sufism has a rich tradition of meditation. Sufis are known for their chanting, usually revolving around the names of God, or spiritual truths such as la illaha illalaah. In addition to this chanting, Sufis also engage in observational meditation, or just watching the mind or breath. Contemplative meditation is also done; as is meditating on the ways of those in the prophetic tradition who have mastered these truths.
Mystics, such as Sufis, are present in most spiritual traditions; although due to reasons related to a variety of historical and political developments, they seem to be virtually absent from Orthodox Protestant Christianity. So, for one raised Protestant, (in other words, for one like me), to access these deeper levels of meaning looking to other traditions is almost a necessity. Even the commanded phrase, “Be still and know that I am God,” has virtually no practical application to most Protestant’s lives!
So, I suppose it may appear to many Christians that I have wandered outside the camp. I can certainly understand anyone feeling I no longer qualify as a Christian, in the orthodox sense of the term. But, as they say in the 12-Step fellowships, “To thine own self be true.” I cannot both please your sentiments and obtain the holy comfort of an honest heart at the same time.
To put it another way, I don’t believe in your religion. Nor, do I wish to convince you of my religion. I only believe in our submission to the One Aware, God alone. So, you worship your way, and I’ll worship mine!
Jesus taught, “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” May we each find this peace deep within our own souls. Then, let us return to this external realm and freely distribute it’s fruits to all!
Thanks for joining me!
Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton