Thursday, January 18, 2018

Divine Intoxication

Our Tavern of Woods, Jan 17, 2018
In comic-strip pith, “Word” signals “That’s it!” as in “Truth!” But in real life, words only approximate and often miss the mark, frequently crafted with intention to deceive, witnessed poignantly in the discipline of rhetoric. Her cousin, Religion, focuses on guiding discernment into truth, plumbing the eternal word becoming flesh, tuning the human voice toward resonance with its Source. Both rhetoric and religion testify that not all, not even most, scratching on surfaces  approaches the sanctity of “Word.” And yet this writing and reading, this employment of words sometimes corrects a false step, sometimes allows a a scent or taste of the water of life, the "mystical intoxication."
   Concerning taste, this preoccupation with “word” came about, perhaps, due to the trouble stirred up by Hafiz choosing to feature “tavern” when “temple” is meant—isn’t it? Franklin Lewis, in his chapter in Hafiz and the Religion of Love (Ed. Leonard Lewisohn), comments:
“Thus the wine tavern becomes the locus—the ruins on the outskirts of town, where the non-Muslims drink clandestinely so as not to offend public morality, the liminal space outside society—while the dawn becomes the poetic moment when divine intervention arrives, allowing wine and relief, or mystical intoxication. [Lewis illustrates with the first line of Ghazal 479] ‘At dawn a call from the wine tavern, wishing good fortune/ It said come back, for you are an old haunter of this court.’” (pp. 274-5)
The next line from the ghazal extends the purpose of Hafiz playing the word “tavern.” In Peter Avery’s translation:
“A draught from us drink like Jamshid, so that of both worlds’ mystery/ The beam of light from the world-seeing cup might inform you.” (p. 580, Collected Lyrics of Hafiz of Shiraz)
Of course, in the spirit of good mythopoesis, Hafiz wants to shake us, to wake us, in order that we might search out hypocrisy, alert for hidden idols, finding the ones that continue to separate us from the Love of God; that we might come back to the source of inspiration, walking in the mystery of both worlds. 
God invites us every moment to do this, to purify in order to live more cleanly. To help me enter the invitations, as explained earlier, I’m intending a year-long project that connects (A) David George Haskell’s study (The Forest Unseen) of his forest mandela with 
~14 cardinals
(B) the woods that illumine our windows. We’re now on his second entry, the one for January 17. On this date, his woods like ours are filled with snow. We wonder how the snowflake reaches its essential uniqueness, turning through the spirit wind, glistening in the illuminating light.
Haskell’s meditation (pp. 8-11) flows back to Johannes Kepler (1611) who “wrote that snowflakes are showing us the spirit of the earth and God, the ‘formative soul’ that inhabits all being.” Yet Kepler was frustrated in not showing “a material explanation” and still his “musings on the snowflake…contributed to the development of our modern understanding of atoms.” Haskell brings our contemporary X-ray analysis to the design of matter: our woods, water, and us.
“The basic hexagonal shape of snowflakes is elaborated in varied ways as the ice crystal grows, with the temperature and humidity of the air determining the final shape… Other combinations of temperature and humidity cause the growth of hollow prisms, needles, or furrowed plates. As snowflakes fall, the wind tosses them through the air’s innumerable slight variations of temperature and humidity. No two flakes experience exactly the same sequence, and the particularities of these divergent histories are reflected in the uniqueness of the ice crystals that make up each snowflake.” pp. 9-10
As a side note, Kepler has also received recent attention in relation to his role in enlightening dark consciousness evident in witch hunts, including the one involving his own mother.* 
The human defines the authenticity of word as the individual resonates uniquely back into the original promise, the timeless covenant between God and human, the affirmation of sovereignty. Humans also revolve through cultural drafts and shadows that challenge each of us to sound the authentic word that is true to the Source. Thus, again, the purpose of religion. 
        Sufis talk of this walking as the Path of Attraction. But life abounds with attractions, and so many are bewitchments from the impurities picked up in the currents of culture. The true calling is to discern, to follow, and to voice the Word. God is Everywhere. The purification back to the Source leads to and follows from entering more deeply into Beauty, Truth, Love, and the array of qualities endowed uniquely in each individual.
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* Ulinka Rublack, The Astronomer and the Witch, Oxford, 2015.

James A. Conner, Kepler's Witch: An Astronomer's Discovery of Cosmic Order Amid Religious War, Political Intrigue, and the Heresy Trial of His Mother. Harper, 2005.

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Heartbeat


The gospel for busy people: Love God.
How? Keep the commandments.*
In a world that lives by quick concrete answers, I fear that religion too often gets reduced (semi-consciously, at best) to this simplistic formula: loving God equals following rules, mostly the “Do Nots.” When this reduction happens, the Devil must be gleeful because the spiritual heart turns to stone. The experience of the Divine then remains surface-level, too superficial to overcome the materialistic, “carnal,” self.
     Let’s not be fooled by another simplistic move that flips to “Anything Goes.” No, that’s not the answer either because sacred scriptures does emphasize keeping commandments “for your good”*; and still the call of Love demands so much more. Yes, giving and following orders often provides safety in situations where a wiser one commands the more naive to stay clear of potential dangers such as the street, drug use, and fake-news; but to stay in that controlled zone limits Love’s dimension. Mature love expands freedom, enters paradox, and manifests God-given individualities.
     So, how do we learn to love God in ways that include and extend beyond the follow-rules-religion? I think that an initial step involves recognizing when dogma has dried up. For example, persons who call themselves Christian (or Jewish or Muslim or …) when doing racist, sexist, and other self-centered acts might wake up. Fake religion is not the path to God.
     Keeping to the Path to God demands hard honesty. True love is truth-telling; it’s not Hollywood, not SuperBowl, not status, drugs or money. At the birth of our first child, I knew without doubt that a powerful gift entered my heart. Why would I expect less in my relationship with God? Cold ritual, going to church/temple/mosque does not make the Religion of Love.
     Our spiritual guides try to tell us this over and over. Antonio Machado capsulized Jesus’ teaching: “I love Jesus, who said to us: Heaven and earth will pass away. When heaven and earth have passed away, my word will remain. What was your word, Jesus? Love? Forgiveness? Affection? All your words were one word: Wakeup.” Perhaps to love God, then, is to wake up, to feel gratitude both for the contraction as well as the expansion (but that’s a topic for another time).
     If we wake up and realize that the Love for God is missing, we might notice the dirty house, the veils, the extent of hypocrisy, within and around. Hafiz “considered hypocrisy in the form of the ostentatious display of religious piety to be the worst moral evil” (Lewisohn, p. 174), “the supreme sin” (p. 175).*** Lewisohn also quotes Ansari who “characterizes hypocrisy as shirk or ‘polytheism’” (p. 175) and Khurramshahi who says that Hafiz extended hypocrisy to include “self righteousness, smugness, conceited self-satisfaction, putting on airs, ostentatious displays of ascetic piety, vaunting one’s learning, considering oneself to be holy and sacrosanct, bragging of and setting stock in one’s own acts of pious devotion, superciliousness, mendacity, imposture, deceit, duplicity in one’s relation to God and man, cruel lack of feeling, being without love and wisdom, and so on” (pp. 174-5). Waking up leads to light coming in, feeling the hard realization of distortions, and bowing.
     When something terrible has become commonplace, what is a sacred poet or prophet to do? With Hafiz, I’m reminded of Hosea and his marriage to Gomer, considered “an adulteress, a common harlot, or a temple prostitute.” Gale A. Yee says the text and interpretation possibly call “into question the authority of traditional interpretations, which are embedded in the sexism and misogyny of Western culture, and calls for new ways of thinking about the body, woman, and the sacred.” ****
     To love God cares about that.
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* Deut 10:12-13 “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God demand of you? Only this: to revere the Lord your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and soul, keeping the Lord’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good.” (New JPS version). See also, Jn 14:21 “Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” (English Standard Version)
Qur’an 3:31 “Say, ‘If you love God, follow me, and God will love you and forgive you your sins; for God is Forgiving, Merciful.’" (3:31) See The Study Quran, p. 140, for elaboration of this passage.
** Antonio Machado. Translated by Robert Bly, Times Alone: Selected Poems of Antonio Machado, Wesleyan University Press, 1983, p.109.
*** Lewisohn, Leonard. Hafiz and the Religion of Love. 

**** Gale A. Yee. “Gomer: Bible.” https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/gomer-bible

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Faces of the Beloved

photo from when Joseph & Leg’cy first partnered up,
circa 2007. Taken & framed by beloved Belqis.
The Religion of Love pretty much says it all, and at the same time leaves one free-falling, ecstatic, as if intoxicated, calling for imagery of taverns, love-making, and (especially for me) horses.* The Persian mystic poets leave me breathless that way. From a random page of Hafiz:
“…From the demonic rival, I take refuge in my own God;/ For the sake of God, that gleaming star might grant some help.//  If your black eye-lash has our blood in its sights,…/ When you set your cheek alight, you burn up the heart of a world…” **

Avery’s footnote to “cheek” states: 
“The “cheek”, izar (also rukh ): Shabistari defines the cheek as the stage on which the Divine Beauty is revealed. The cheek is the jamal, the beauty of God, the vestibule to God’s jallal, His Glory and Power. The cheek is the Divine Essence manifested in its names and qualities.” **
         This wonder-full especially happens when life-experience throbs deep in the heart and calls up in its inimitable, undeniable way: “Truth!” Within each individual, a feeling that eludes the meaning-making of the schooled-mind waits to be owned and known through the heart. It may have to wait a long time, to the end of time? Searching out, forging a good connection with passion deserves high priority. 
         Natural horsemanship requires collection. While driven by passion, my horsemanship demanded many years of riding and groundwork before I could claim to be true the subtle vibrations that my body had long known but could not get through to my conscious knowing because the schooled mind refused to yield. I say “schooled-mind” because Reason must not be devalued. The mind, when cleaned, plays a crucial role in discerning the path. It’s when a person’s thinking (or any other function) presumes to know more than God that it has to be dethroned by surrender. David George Haskell gives a marvelous example of this: “Lichens master the cold months through the paradox of surrender” (The Forest Unseen, p. 4; for elaboration, see These Frosty Woods). ***
         Usually, perhaps optimally, in order to feel heart-resonance fully, the surround space stands still, silent, as if bowed, waiting to be witnessed. Yet in a rushed, distracted world, this deep-bass-voiced “Amen” from a Hallelujah chorus risks never being heard. That’s why I look long into the winter woods, the patient leaves, gold-toned, drawing me further and farther in. 



It’s remembering dreams, both kinds. For me (as in Good Stories), it’s also returning to traditional tales, allowing old ones to come true again, at any moment, as they tell the meaning of otherwise inarticulate experience.
"All the tales of great lovers and the fables of the heroic champions of yore thus become part of the soul’s psychohistory. They pertain to the inner journey of the poet…These are not legends, but living facts of the heart that appear constantly in their verse; they are, as Emily Dickinson says, ‘Bulletins all Day from Immortality’. . . in the Religion of Love such circumstances fill the mystic’s presential awareness. These legends are tangible issues of the present moment that facilitate the lover’s pursuit of Eros, food for his soul that he consumes hoc tempore in the pursuit of knowledge, goodness and beauty, which incite him to excel in the only serious sport: Amor. "  Husayn Ilahi-Ghomshei, pp. 100-2.****
         When passion marks the pathway, the meaning of “God is love” continues to unfold. Even heartbreaks trace the mystery, perhaps more than the good times. Jesus is alive in any religion that has Hafiz.
"Likewise, the Sufi poets consider the appearance of Jesus as an ever reoccurring event sustaining them in the present, using in this context the metaphor of the Messiah’s breath of inspiration’ (dam-i masih). Hafiz alludes to this in two verses: ‘Love’s physician is compassionate and endowed/ With the breath of Jesus,/ But whom should he assuage/ If you are without pain?’  and ‘To whom may I relate such a subtlety?/ She killed me—my stony-hearted mistress,/ Yet possessed the life-giving breath of Jesus.’ "Husayn Ilahi-Ghomshei, pp. 101-102. ****
         When I trace passion’s pathway, I re-see my falling in love with horsemanship as it revealed the delicacies of power, more through the body than the mind. Another touch comes in the tender yet ecstatic touch of Beauty that clicks any second in the shutter release of a camera open to the master artist’s palette. The Beloved appears in the faces of whatever lines have been pre-formed in each human’s origin. From Husayn Ilahi-Ghomshei’s section “The Primordial Disposition of Man and the Religion of Love”:
"According to the Qur’an, man was created with an ‘original disposition that God instilled within him’ (fitrat Allah ) and formed with a ‘fundamentally immutable God-given nature’ (la-tabdil li-khalqi’illahi , Q30:30). Basing themselves on this evidence from their holy scripture, Persian poets drove this classical theolgical doctrine up several theosophical notches higher, maintaining that man’s nature had been already moulded and framed to develop according to the nature of the divine attributes of Beauty, Truth and Goodness, and inclined to follow the ‘Straight Path of Love and Mercy’ (‘ishq, mahabbat, rahmat ) long before birth."  Husayn Ilahi-Ghomshei, p. 87 ****
         In last night’s dream, I set a herd of horses free but with insufficient preparation for their safe passage to the intended pasture. Perhaps the dream meant to guide me toward providing context around the metaphors of intoxication: the tavern, the love-making, fast horses. My first taste of riding came in cantering narrow woodland trails and ducking branches. It was intoxicating and served to hook me. Without the wild taste it’s unlikely I’d have dedicated myself to a ten-year discipline of riding slow circles in arenas that was necessary for me to develop and to trust “feel.” I don’t recommend riding wild, and I no longer drink alcoholic beverages. Such experiences and images are meant to be contained and translated into the Religion of Love.
"If we approach the transcendental significance of some of these symbols, how the process leading to the sublimation of these metaphors occurred—and thus the raison d’etre sustaining them—is easy to discern. The phrase ‘it is delightful to be mad’, for example, poetically speaking conveys a self-evident sense. Understood spiritually, however, the phrase makes no sense whatsoever unless we understand it to imply a madness above and beyond reason, rather than below reason: the lower, irrational—psychotic—insanity. Likewise, the expression ‘the joys of intoxication’ makes perfect sense to every secular sensibility attuned to wine’s bacchanalian pleasures. But to the philosophical temperament focused on progress in the spiritual life, it makes sense only when it refers to the drunkenness that contemplation of the Beautiful inspires—or, as the Sufis say, the ecstatic rapture that the sight of the beauteous visage of the Cup-bearer (saqi ) rouses in the beholder—stimulating intoxication without any hangover. In the same vein, the joys of freedom extollled by the Sufi poets involve their liberation from the vices of greed, anger, pride and emancipation from the vanity of ambition for honours and high rank…That wanton witness-of-beauty (shahid-i harja’i ) celebrated in Sufi mystical poetry is that icon of supreme loveliness, whose ravishingly attractive countenance is everywhere reflected, both in man and nature alike." Husayn Ilahi-Ghomshei, p. 92 ****

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* Although I’m not finding it as evident in Lewisohn’s volume on Hafiz, references to horses and riding are abundant in the Persian mystic poets. For example, see Riding from Passion to Compassion.  Also, as I progress into the next chapter in Hafiz and the Religion of Love,The Erotic Spirit: Love, Man and Satan in Hafiz’s Poetry” by Ali Asghar Seyed-Gohrab, pp. 107-121, I find reference to Ahmad Ghazali: “Love exists first in an unadulterated form which flows to existence from God. Lingering on the border of existence, love waits for the human Spirit so that it can come down to the world. In Ghazali’s metaphor, the Spirit is depicted as the steed of love, which transports love to the earth. Here on earth, love assumes many faces—sometimes it is a sensual love, sometimes love between parent and child, and so on—but ultimately love seeks to return back to its place of origin. In its return journey, love is the steed and spirit is the rider, bringing love to its original abode” (p. 110). 
** Peter Avery, “Poem VI,” p. 27 in The Collected Lyrics of Hafiz of Shiraz, Archetype, 2007. For a more accessible sampling of Avery’s translations, see Hafiz of Shiraz, translated by Peter Avery & John Heath Stubbs, 1957/2003. Also, Angels Knocking on the Tavern Door: Thirty Poems of Hafez. Robert Bly & Leonard Lewisohn. HarperCollins, 2008.
*** David George Haskell, The Forest Unseen, 2012.

**** Husayn Ilahi-Ghomshei’s chapter “The Principles of the Religion of Love in Classical Persian Poetry,” translated by Lewishohn in Hafiz and the Religion of Love, pp. 77-106. The ghazals that are quoted come from Hafiz, Khanlari’s ed., #182 and #59. These ghazals, in complete form, can be found in The Collected Lyrics of Hafiz of Shiraz, translated by Peter Avery, #182 on p. 242 and #59 on p. 96.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

These Frosty Woods

Jan 1, 2018 viewed from upstairs study
          For friends who notice the photos I post on Facebook, my love affair with deciduous woodlands will come as no surprise. The view from the upstairs desk mesmerizes me, even taking me from the mystical readings; maybe it’s not a separation but rather a union! These two must be of one spirit. The best pages breathe their origin, the inner fiber of tree; both transmit inspiration.
          My romance with books often gets teased by the spell of Maria Popova’s reviews. About a month ago, she featured David George Haskell’s recent book, Song of Trees. The tease enticed me to chose his earlier book: “The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature (Viking, 2012, https://dghaskell.com/theforestunseen/), winner of the National Academy of Sciences’ Best Book Award for 2013, finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction, winner of the 2013 Reed Environmental Writing Award, winner of the 2012 National Outdoor Book Award for Natural History Literature, runner-up for the 2013 PEN E. O. Wilson Literary Science Writing Award…” 
         The book has 43 short chapters, each based on his observations and musings focused around a spot “of old-growth forest in the hills of Tennessee.” Every few days through the year, Haskell watches this forest mandela that is about a meter across. He connects this to Tibetan mandelas (p. xii). My intention is to read his book throughout 2018 and to ask this reading to inspire my walking in our woods. 
         Haskell’s first entry comes on January 1. He features lichens whose “vibrancy contrasts with the winter-weighed lethargy of the rest of the forest.” He continues:
Supple physiology allows lichens to shine with life when most other creatures are locked down for the winter. Lichens master the cold months through the paradox of surrender.” (p. 2) 
          Our woods, some 600 miles northeast from Haskell’s forest, look pretty locked down on January 1, 2018, still frosted with snow, temperatures below freezing all week, dropping to near zero at night. It is cold. Still I look for lichen, trying not to lock down for winter.

lichen on rocks ?
lichen on tree trunk ?

close up of lichen (?) on rocks 
          Haskell enriches his observation about the lichens’ paradox with an anecdote about a fourth century BCE Chinese Taoist philosopher and then elaborates the biological explanation. He comments on their means of survival:
By stripping off the bonds of individuality the lichens have produced a world conquering union. . . the lichen partners have ceased to be individuals, surrendering the possibility of drawing a line between oppressor and oppressed. (p. 3)
hmm...what's this?
Interesting...but sacrifice of individuality? Yikes--but that does sound rather like the Sufi mystics on surrendering the self. 
         While we might celebrate the “winning partnerships,” Haskell keeps us from imagining only unseen rosy hints when he also notes the presence of piracy and exploitation. And yet: “Even piracy is powered by collaboration” (p. 6). 

When you look out (and in), can you see these fascinating happenings?


Next up: “January 17—Kepler’s Gift” pages 8-11. The woods keep calling.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Hardened Hearts vs the True Life

frozen “water of life” like the hardened heart
“Your True Life,” Rumi’s poem for the day, begins: “As you start to walk out on the way,/ the way appears” (Dec 26 in Coleman Barks’ A Year with Rumi).
     A big step for me (and I suppose for most everyone) involves personal embodiment of “career,” a term whose etymology appropriately points toward “road,” “racecourse,” or “wheeled vehicle.” Today’s “true life,” for better and worse, comes not just in walking, but in riding and racing. 
     My teaching career culminated in a course, Good Stories: Teaching Narratives for Peace & Justice. I loved teaching it, the class limit of 60 persons always filled, and it usually had a wait list of over a hundred. After teaching the course about fifteen times over the past six years, I’m still pondering the essence, the primary aim, and the secret.
     As 2017 wanes down to its close, while in my first year of retirement, I’m walking my way into more understanding and appreciation of Good Stories and True Life. This week, “the way appears,” in part, through a Christmas gift book from the top of my wish list, Hafiz and the Religion of Love. Leonard Lewisohn (who edited the book) articulates “the language of the invisible” and the almost impossible, although crucially vital, task of integrating “mythopoesis” into the “mental furniture of modern man.” His explanation of this aim resonates so tellingly with my experience of Good Stories.
“Albeit immanent in popular consciousness, most of Hafiz’s mythopoesis—his language of analogy and capacity for thinking in symbols—is no longer part of the mental furniture of modern man. The aesthetic premises of his poetry are incomprehensible within the conceptual framework of modern anti-art movements such as surealism, minimalism, abstract expressionism or ‘pop’ art, for the principles of his spiritual vision, being heart-based and focused on presential knowledge (‘ilm-i hudhuri), are completely alien to the presuppositions of the modern materialist society of the West. . . The central aim of the chapters in this volume is to enable contemporary Western students of classical Persian poetry to reconnect with that lost symbolic universe and hopefully re-initiate themselves into the mundus imaginalis of Hafiz and the entire galaxy of Persian poets who spoke his ‘language of the invisible’. . . In modern literary studies and critical theory, especially in the contemporary West, the vertical purport and spiritual import of his symbolic imagery by and large are deliberately neglected, and the esoteric doctrines and metaphysical teachings inspiring his verse are treated as irrelevancies.” pp. xxi-xxiii
     About the same time (around 2007) when Lewisohn and colleagues were drafting and presenting their conference papers that turned into Hafiz and the Religion of Love, I was developing the Good Stories course. If I had been able to articulate it, my central aim could have been worded as Lewisohn powerfully phrases it: “to reconnect with that lost symbolic universe and hopefully re-initiate themselves into the mundus imaginalis.” Perhaps it’s just as well, because if I had included those words on my course proposal the chances are pretty good that it would have been rejected by the university’s course approval process, “treated as irrelevancies.”
     Recent political events prove to me the consequence of our failure to nurture spiritual vision, heart-based knowing and caring. The sober intellectual lacks the capacity to counteract the ego-centered dystopia because cold rationalism fails to offer sufficient attraction against sensual materialism. In a strange way, the tavern and the house of love (primary images in Hafiz and other classical Persian poets) show closer affinity for the path to God than the strict legalistic rigidity cut by fundamentalist religions. Because approaching God surpasses human mind and body, the metaphysical stretch found in symbolic expression has to be called forth.
     Without this nurturing, the imaginal world disappears. Without mundus imaginalis* we lose the courage, vision, and strength to engage in social justice; these qualities are essential if we are to repel the self-centered tyrannies from within ourselves and from others. In language carried by the scriptures and prophets of our major religions, this loss can be related to the “hardening of the heart.” Teachings on this topic are abundant and a few samples follow:
* In the Judeo-Christian scriptures, statements about God hardening the heart occur at least fourteen times. The prime case involves Pharaoh dealing with the plagues. 
     If it’s God who hardens the heart, we wonder: Are humans absolved of moral responsibility? What if we do not wake up and “walk out on the way”? Are we freed from responsibility to teach the discernment between good and evil?
* Persons who are exploring the “hardened heart” explain the human part:
“When it says that the Lord made Pharaoh’s heart hard, the meaning in the internal sense is that Pharaoh himself made his heart hard. . . The evil that is attributed in the Bible to the Lord actually has its origin in human beings.”
* From an Islamic perspective, we find the responsibility to “soften our hearts.”

     In my view, the hardened heart relates to the failure to compose and engage the mundus imaginalis.* A person with a hardened heart has limited or no access to the eye of the heart and sees instead through the rational mind with a consciousness dominated by ego, the power drive, and materialism. The capacity for imagination (for a person having the hardened heart) has been corroded by sensationalism featured in media that are driven by gratuitous sex and violence. Imagination has been polluted. The higher calling demands that we continue to purify, resurrect, and re-create.
     Spiritual teachings have hardly been remiss in stating clearly that humans are wrong to place too much value on material possessions. “The love of money is the root of all evil.” How could it be put more plainly?
     When persons have hardened hearts and do not feel the problem in accumulating money in order to buy bigger houses, faster cars and phones, and other forms of instant gratification, a wake-up call may be in order. If “love” has deteriorated to getting applause, being admired for display of wealth, and feeling better than others (sexism, racism, superior-religionism, etc.), perhaps God has to harden the heart so that it can break before death ends the opportunity to bow before the Divine. If persons cannot see discrimination, hate, and ego-centered acts as opposed to God’s will, then the mirror of their heart might be shown in a ruler dominated by ungodliness. That seems to be the classic Pharaoh story, timeless, acted out once more.
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* For elaboration on mundus imaginalis, see Henry Corbin
For example, he says: 
"At the beginning of each narrative, the visionary finds himself in the presence of a supernatural being of great beauty, whom he asks who he is and whence he comes. Essentially, these tales illustrate the Gnostic's experience, lived as the personal history of the Stranger, the captive aspiring to return home. (from p. 2)
As a result of internalization, one has moved out of external reality. Henceforth, spiritual reality envelops, surrounds, contains so-called material reality (from p. 4)

We realize immediately that we are no longer confined to the dilemma of thought and extension, to the schema of a cosmology and a gnoseology restricted to the empirical world and the world of abstract intellect. Between them there is a world that is both intermediary and intermediate, described by our authors as the 'alam al-mithal, the world of the image, the mundus imaginalis: a world that is ontologically as real as the world of the senses and that of the intellect. This world requires its own faculty of perception, namely, imaginative power, a faculty with a cognitive function, a noetic value which is as real as that of sense perception or intellectual intuition. We must be careful not to confuse it with the imagination identified by so-called modern man with "fantasy", and which, according to him, is nothing but an outpour of "imaginings". " (from p. 5)

Monday, December 18, 2017

Looking out

 looking out the window with gratitude, facing west on Dec 18
Love God and keep the commandments (e.g., Deut 7:9*). Note the “and.” 
     Sometimes a vital doorway into life-more-abundant opens through re-reading; this requires letting go of previous interpretation/s and allowing a reincarnation to come into being, sometimes in a flash and other times much more slowly. To read “love” especially deserves frequent re-reading because it’s “many-splendored,” mercurial, sometimes shape-shifting with great speed and other times so slowly. In order to progress in living love, Paul suggests we advance beyond talking and thinking like a child (I Cor 13).
     I’m wondering if my spiritual life gets closeted, cutting off breath, by a semi-conscious belief that love for God enacts by (that is, “equals”) keeping commandments. While the linking term (“and”) might rarely mean “equals,” it usually points to something else. Of course keeping commandments is right and good, but I think that’s not enough when love is getting minimized. And I’m pretty sure that commandments can be followed without love. Responding to the voice, “Do it because I said to!” comes to mind.
     This blunt version (Love God by keeping the commandments) may be needed for childlike understanding; but, importantly, a more mature statement adds: “And you shall love the Lord your God with all your [mind and] heart and with your entire being and with all your might" (Deut 6:5); re-stated in the gospels, "And He [Jesus] replied to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (intellect)." (Matt 22:37, Amplified Bible Classic Ed.). 
     These scriptures stand out because they capsulize an essence. Ecclesiastes 12 expresses the heart of the matter similarly: 
All has been heard; the end of the matter is: Fear God [revere and worship Him, knowing that He is] and keep His commandments, for this is the whole of man [the full, original purpose of his creation, the object of God’s providence, the root of character, the foundation of all happiness, the adjustment to all inharmonious circumstances and conditions under the sun] and the whole [duty] for every man. (Amplified Bible Classic Edition).
     These pondering have been prompted in part because I’ve been wondering about the “eye of the heart.” Once again, Rumi (Mathnawi, Book V, line 1103, Nicholson’s translation**)
هست آن پیدا به پیش چشم دل  ** جهد کن سوی دل آ جهد المقل (But) that (difference) is manifest to the eye of the heart (spirit): exert thyself, advance towards the heart (spirit) with the exertion of one whose means are small.
     I’m surprised by the results shown on my computer screen when I enter “eye of the heart” because it immediately shows a book title by Frithjof Schuon: The Eye of the Heart. As mentioned in previous blogs, I’ve been reading in his book The Transcendent Unity of Religions but didn’t know of the one titled “The Eye of the Heart.” In searching another of his books on my shelf (Gnosis: Divine Wisdom), I find:
When Christ—in renewing the Law of Sinai, which he came to “fulfill” and not to “destroy”—teaches the love of God, he distinguishes between “heart”, “soul”, “strength” (Torah: “might”), and “mind”; this “love” thus excludes no faculty that unites with God, and it cannot be merely one term of an opposition, as when love and knowledge confront each other. If by the word “love” the Torah and the Gospel express above all the idea of “union” or “desire for union”, they make it clear by the adjectives that follow that this tendency includes diverse modes in keeping with the diversity of man’s nature; hence it is necessary to say, not that love alone draws toward God, but rather that only what draws toward God is love. (p. 83)
     Coleman Barks chose for today, December 18, from Rumi one he titles “What Is Love? Gratitude.” The poem concludes: “Don’t ask what love can make or do./ Look at the colors of the world./ The riverwater moving in all rivers at once” (A Year with Rumi). 
 looking out the window facing east a few days ago, with gratitude

* Deut 7:9 ISV “Know that the LORD your God is God, the trusted God who faithfully keeps his covenant to the thousandth generation of those who love him and obey his commands.”
Eccl 12:12-13 ISV: “There is no end to the crafting of many books, and too much study wearies the body.  Let the conclusion of all of these thoughts be heard: Fear God and obey his commandments, for this is what it means to be human.”
Qur’an 2:165 “But those who believe are more ardent in their love of God” and see the commentary in The Study Qur’an. See also Q 3:31 and commentary.

** Line 1103 can can be seen online: http://www.masnavi.net/1/10/eng/5/1100/ . For expansion of the “heart,” see also the preceding section, especially around line 1065. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

“and He is with you”


Perhaps a particular book falls open anywhere
to strike the perfect match for the intended person
igniting the moment of illumination, perhaps.

But would Book Five of Rumi’s Mathnawi pour
the “illimitable fountain”* without the preparing four,
flowing within; as if all books burn, the truth return?

Else the rider, already seated on the horse,
asks, “Where is the horse?” A person thirsts
though knee deep in the stream. An oceaned pearl 

in search of the sea. Bewildered of God,
the only direction remains wonderment.

* In Nicholson’s translation, about line 1072 of Book V. 

When desire burns too low, the fire goes out. Tending the spirit depends, essentially and finally, on that variant of desire called love, ineffable, beyond-words, breath-stopping, a consuming fire that burns off all the external inauthenticities because to know oneself is to know one’s Lord. [See, for example, Chapter 1 in Al-Ghazali’s Alchemy of Happiness (Claud Field’s translation, pp. 17-23).] 
     When motivated by external forces (such as the condition often characterizing graduate school’s assigned readings), it’s easy to develop the habit of skimming a “Preface” or just skipping ahead entirely to get to the real chapters in a book. While that’s the way I used to read twenty years ago (truth be told, grad school was closer to fifty years ago), now I’m drawn to giving close attention to the introductory material, especially when a book is being revised after a span of time. A good preface reveals contextual particulars needed if an individual is to absorb and appropriate the teaching across the external to the internal. 
     For example, Carl Ernst gives a Preface to the 2011 Edition in his book Sufism (published in 1997 as The Shambhala Guide to Sufism). He says the book has found a home among diverse readers and speculates it might be because it “illustrates the tension between the outsider and insider approaches to understanding religion” and adds “What is offered here does not pretend to be an esoteric revelation” (p. xii).
     Maybe I was in the next sentence or paragraph when I realized that something had clicked. Except it wasn’t a “click” or any other sound but more like a scent or a slight breeze easily missed or a sense of resolution. It’s a subtle sensation that I’ve come to hold in high regard. Maybe it’s a visitation or a knowing in the heart instead of added head-knowledge that’s isolated from the more integrated knowing in head/body/spirit. Anyway, I paused to reflect, to look back, and to wonder. 
     Perhaps the offering involves a more articulate discernment. I’m a person who thrives on the fusion of not-yet-connected, almost smoldering, bits of meaning; my work/play space looks littered with books on spirituality, horsemanship, folklore, mysteries, poetry, and more. Any additional clue that guides to the treasure is more than welcome. 
     That’s what came in. If I were to put the gift into words, it would say something like, “Listen, bud, you should be able to recognize which of these books is dedicated to the inner journey. Don’t waste time with ones that focus on the outer stuff. Pay attention because some are tricky and use esoteric terms, but they don’t really know what they’re talking about.” 
     Sometimes words fail the test of personal experience. Remember the three levels of certainty (hear about, witness, and live it). Push for that fire-tested truth. Thresh out the non-GMO grain from the fake and the chaff. And remember the risk of drowning in books. Always be on alert for a sign to put all books aside and fall into wonder.
     Certainly the languaging that the mind brings to experience can advance understanding and can sometimes power future action, but thinking can also be imperious and can shut down other knowing, especially from within, from the "eye of the heart" (also in the passage from Book V). Having been humbled many times in the riding arena where “feel” for “true unity” knows far faster, more sure than thinking, my mind’s tendency to presume to dominate has been corralled a bit. Rather than attempt to force closure or containment, bewilderment, in a special tone, may be the homing signal.