THRESHOLD SOCIETY NEWSLETTER ~ NOV 2020
There is a word in our tradition, “dervish”; maybe you’ve heard it. This word is probably not strange or unknown to most of you. It refers to someone who has willingly committed themselves to the path of Sufism.
Unlike the word Sufi, which implies some sort of attainment and which people in their modesty are reluctant to apply to themselves, the term “dervish” signifies a humble state, devoid of prestige, with no pretensions. Yet being a dervish requires giving all of oneself to the path, expecting no praise, serving others, and even seeing them as better than oneself.
During my early encounters with dervishes in Turkey, I was moved by their humility, open-heartedness . The dervish wants to be with people who inspire and remind him of his Quest. I was impressed with their respect and affection for their shaikhs. Honestly, I had never seen anything quite like it.
The dervish attains humility through his or her relationship with that person to whom they have given their hand. Murshid, murshida, shaikh, shaikha, baba, or simply friend — there is a sacred bond between the guide and the dervish. In the ideal situation, the affection, trust, loyalty, and affection that develops is not only something extraordinary; it is also mutual, never one-sided. In the ideal situation, the dervish takes on these qualities, having seen them embodied in his or her guide/murshid. But the murshid may also be learning sympathy, patience, and affection from those who have given over their trust.
As important as this relationship of guidance is, it is a fact that the dervish will be living his or her life away from the companionship and watchful eye of the murshid. For the way of the dervish is to be in the midst of life, sharing the responsibilities of livelihood and family. And even within these circumstances, the dervish must remember his or her Quest. This is the secret in the heart of the dervish. And if destiny has not brought someone a guide they can love and trust, let them be sincere and remember their Quest. The Generous Universe will be obliged to guide them, educate them, enlighten them, and perhaps bring them to people who share their Quest. But the most important thing for the human being is to have a spiritual Quest.
If you find some resonance with this subject, if these words awaken some indefinable yearning, you might appreciate my new book In the House of Remembering, The Living Tradition of Sufi Teaching. Get it easily on Amazon. Peace.
Rumi and His Friends: Stories of the Lovers of God
Selected and translated by Camille Adams Helminski with Susan Blaylock
"This is a marvelous book! A treasure-trove, a goldmine of stories about Rumi and Shams and their friends. Everyone who loves Rumi and Shams should have this book!"
~ Coleman Barks
Rumi and His Friends relates anecdotes of the life of Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi, his father and sons, wife and daughter, and his relationship with Shams of Tabriz and with other close companions and disciples.
The original text was written in Persian by Ahmad Aflaki, a devoted student of the grandson of Rumi and is based on the oral traditions of the early days of the founding of the Mevlevi Order. The selections included in this volume are also teaching stories that illuminate the way of the dervish.
Now available on Amazon Kindle and still available as a paperback from Fons Vitae.
Watch an interview with Camille as she discusses the book, sharing some stories along the way:
Gnosis is my stock-in-trade; intellect is the basis of my religion; love is my foundation; longing is my vehicle; remembrance of God is my comfort; trust is my treasure. ~Muhammad (a.s.)
We welcome your reflections on this theme.
Reflection on October's theme: The interpretation of a sacred text is true if it stirs you to hope, activity, and awe. ~Mevlana
~ Rahima McCullough [Madison Wisconsin, USA]
The theme for October is a line taken from the Mevlana’s Masnavi, and provides a standard by which to measure our understanding of sacred texts. It seems the experience of hope, activity, and awe can act as a barometer of our connection to Spirit and Truth. But what are the “sacred texts” that Mevlana refers to that hold the potential to experience these states? Are they only the revealed words of the Qur’an and the other texts mentioned there: the Torah, the Psalms, and the Gospels? Could the meaning be expanded to include the texts of the saints, including Mevlana? What about the words of our teachers and our companions on this path? In looking for an answer, a passage from the Qur’an came to mind and, when looking for it, I found the message repeated several times.
In time We shall make them fully understand our messages in the utmost horizons and within themselves, so that it will become clear unto them that this is indeed the truth.
Behold, in the heavens as well as on earth there are indeed messages for all who believe. And in your own nature, and in all the animals which He scatters, there are messages for people who are endowed with inner certainty.
And on earth there are signs to all who are endowed with inner certainty, just as within your own selves: can you not then see?
To this heart, these verses expand the meaning by pointing numerous times to the sacred text to be found in nature and within ourselves. Mevlana also speaks of the “sacred text” within us in a favorite passage.
Though mysteries of spiritual poverty
are within the seeker’s heart,
she doesn’t yet possess knowledge of those mysteries.
Let her wait until her heart expands and fills with Light:
God Said, “Did We not expand your breast…?
We have put illumination there,
We have put the expansion into your heart.”
When you are a source of milk,
why are you milking another?
An endless fountain of milk is within you:
why are you seeking milk with a pail?
You are a lake with a channel to the Sea:
be ashamed to seek water from a pool;
[Masnavi V: 1065–70, 1072]
Can Mevlana’s words be considered a sacred text as well? The definition of sacred found in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary is that which “is dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity.” Undoubtedly the saints and Mevlana dedicated their words to the service of God. That definition could also apply to the words of our teachers and those of our companions on the path which have led to the experience of hope, activity and awe.
As the definition of sacred texts came into focus, the question of context came to mind. Clearly the line from the Masnavi used for the monthly theme has important meaning; however, it is a line taken out of context. What is the context of the line, and does it affect the meaning? The first two verses (3111 and 3112) of that section of Book V say:
The saying of (God’s) servant, ‘whatever God wills comes to pass.’
does not signify ‘be lazy in that’;
No, it is an incitement to entire self-devotion and exertion, meaning,
‘Make yourself exceedingly ready to perform that service.’
How does that apply to the verse used for the theme? Then by “coincidence,” I opened to a portion of Discourse 12 of the Fihi Ma Fihi translated by Arberry and found this:
If God wills, it makes these few words profitable so they will grow within your heart, bringing great rewards. If God wills not, if even a hundred thousand words are spoken, they will not lodge in the heart but will pass by and be forgotten.
Reading this added to my questions. Is Mevlana contradicting himself? But further in the discourse, he says:
So too with a tree—as long as there is no moist thirst in its roots, even if you poured a thousand torrents of water over it, it would accomplish nothing. First, there must be a thirst in its roots for the water to nourish it. Although the whole world is ablaze with the sun’s light, unless there is that spark of light within the eye, no one can behold that light. The root of the matter is the receptiveness of the soul.
Rather than a contradiction, to this one it appears that Mevlana is saying that yes, if God wills, we will be able to find in the sacred texts that which will stir us to hope, activity, and awe, but we can’t just sit back and expect it to come to us. We have to do the work.
The answers this heart found to these questions are that a sacred text is not found in one form but in many: in the revealed words of God, in nature, in our inmost self, and the words of the saints, teachers, and companions on the path. Our work is to increase our devotion, thirst, and receptivity; to find the illumination within ourselves. Our ability to interpret the sacred and the knowledge that leads us to hope, action, and awe is an enigmatic mix of God’s will and our work.
Reflection on October's theme: The interpretation of a sacred text is true if it stirs you to hope, activity, and awe. ~Mevlana
~ Jeremy Henzell-Thomas [Glastonbury, UK]
These words of Mevlana immediately aroused in me the question, What is a sacred text? The more I reflected on this the greater became the orbit of what a sacred text is and what it encompasses. For a start we might affirm that there are two books in spiritual traditions: the written book of divine revelation and the displayed book of nature, the book that is brimming over with luminous signs which offer a continual reminder that in those signs, both majestic and beautiful, we can see the living Presence of God in the created world. As Mahmoud Shabistari, mystic poet of Iran, wrote: “Know that the whole world is a mirror; in each atom are found a hundred blazing suns. If you split the centre of a single drop of water, a hundred pure oceans spring forth. If you examine each particle of dust, a thousand Adams can be seen.”
The word ‘text’ is actually derived from the Indo-European root *teks- meaning ‘to weave, to fabricate, to make’, and it is often said that a truly creative storyteller is a ‘spinner’ of tales and a poet is a ‘weaver’ of verses. The same might be said about the composer of music as a weaver of notes, a fashioner of melody, harmony and rhythm, or any creative artist or craftsman who makes a thing of beauty from diverse materials. We refer to the ‘texture’ of a piece of writing or music, a fabric or ‘textile’, or anything whose quality and character can be discerned through the senses or perceptive faculties.
Music and art of course have a direct relationship to verbal sacred text in the inspiring forms they employ to clothe it. I include all forms of sacred music in every religious and spiritual tradition, from recitation, chanting, kirtan, audition (sama’) and zhikr to the hymns, psalms, anthems, cantatas, oratorios, passions and masses in the Christian liturgical tradition. We can go further of course; Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ comes to mind. And I personally feel that a piece of music does not need to be a setting of a specifically religious text to carry a sacred vibration that stirs the spiritual heart. As affirmed by the Jungian School of Music and Psyche, ‘of all the arts, music has the most immediate, direct and visceral impact on the soul. It is the intersection of mathematical harmony with the ineffable, and otherwise inexpressible, movements of the spirit.’
As for visual art, no tradition has brought written text to such heights of beauty and sublimity as Islamic calligraphy, although there are also fine examples of calligraphy in illuminated medieval Christian manuscripts of the Gospels, such as the ninth century Book of Kells. Japanese Zen Buddhist calligraphy also comes to mind, based as it is on the principle of mu-shin or ‘no-mind’.
In all of this we see the manifestation of the Divine Names Al-Khaliq (the Creator), Al-Bari (the Evolver) and Al-Musawwir (the Shaper). In fact, we might well say that everything in the created world – this infinitely varied theophany of divine disclosure (tajalli) – is a sacred text, and the human being is the most sacred of all, for, as the Qur’an tells us, God imparted to Adam ‘the names of all things’. Muhammad Asad interprets the knowledge of the ‘names’ to mean the ability to ‘think conceptually through the medium of the letter’, and this is why the angels, who possess only the knowledge given to them directly by God, are commanded to prostrate before Adam as khalifah. I would go further in interpreting the endowment of the names not just in Asad’s rational terms but more comprehensively as the Divine Attributes within our essential Adamic nature and the capacity to embody them through the totality of our human faculties (of which the Heart is the core) as the ‘complete’ or perfected human being. As Imam Ali said, ‘You presume you are a small entity, but within you is enfolded the entire universe. You are indeed the evident book, by whose alphabets the hidden becomes manifest.’
In assuming the inward authority enshrined in that ‘book’, one becomes authentically human, for the word ‘authority’ is derived from the Greek authentikos meaning ‘to have the authority of the original creator.’ We can extend the meaning here to go beyond the usual sense of ‘authentic’ as applied to a text, artwork or banknote (not a forgery or fake) and understand it as encompassing the authoritative state of the human being created, as the Qur’an assures us (95:8) ‘in the best of moulds’ (fi ahsani taqwim).
Returning to the quote from Rumi, I was struck by the inclusion of ‘activity’ as one of the outcomes of a true interpretation of sacred text. I searched for the context of the quote and found it in Jewels of Remembrance, and also in Shaikh Kabir’s new book In the House of Remembering (p.127) as follows:
The interpretation of a sacred text is true
if it stirs you to hope, activity, and awe;
and if it makes you slacken your service, know the real truth to be this:
that it's a distortion of the sense of the saying, not a true interpretation.
This saying has come down to inspire you to serve…
[Masnavi V, 3125–27]
This made it clear that ‘activity’ encompasses whatever service we can give to bring peace, love and justice to the world. In Shaikh Kabir’s words, it is ‘to undertake acts of wholeness and reconciliation’. Such acts ‘are eternal because they are of a spiritual substance. They’re an outer action, but their reality is on a spiritual level.’
We might also call this ‘right action’ as well as heart-centred ‘activism’. The imperative to engage in right action is described simply and beautifully by the Catholic monk, Thomas Merton: ‘The activity proper to man is not purely mental, because man is not just a disembodied mind. Our destiny is to live out what we think, because unless we live what we know, we do not even know it. It is only by making our knowledge part of ourselves, through action, that we enter into the reality that is signified by our concepts.’ In other words, through action we ‘actualise’ and embody what we believe, think, say, feel, know and hope. We ‘walk the talk’. In the reported words of the Prophet Muhammad, if we see a wrong we should endeavour to undo it with our hand; and this has precedence over ‘speaking against it with our tongue’ or ‘abhorring it with our heart’. Action to bring healing to a fractured world is itself the fruit of hope as much as it is the fruit of faith. As Jesus said, ‘By their fruits shall you know them.’
~ Jeremy Henzell-Thomas is an independent researcher, writer, speaker, educational consultant, and Visiting Fellow at the Centre of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge.
Sunday Meditation: 1st & 3rd Sunday of the month
An online meditation with Shaikh Kabir Helminski, Camille, and other members of the Threshold community. Held on the 1st and 3rd Sunday of every month at 11am EDT / 4pm GMT.
Allah will not ask from anyone more than He has bestowed. Surely, after hardship Allah will bring ease.
لا يُكلّفُ اللهُ نَفْساً إلَّا مَا آتَاهَا سيجعلُ اللهُ بعد عُسرٍ يُسْراً
[Sūrah aṭ-Ṭalāq 65:7]
How will we endure? We will endure with Rahman, The Divine Compassion & Mercy. We must carry each other. “All believers are brothers/sisters.”
God says, “I am in you. Where are you?” We must find Spirit within ourselves, as Love.
Join us on Zoom: https://zoom.us/j/435138208
[If you have not used Zoom before, please allow time to install and test the software before the meeting time. Click the above link and you will be prompted to download.]
Watch all the previous meditations on our YouTube channel.
The Threshold Society, rooted within the traditions of Sufism and inspired by the life and work of Mevlâna Jalâluddîn Rumi, is a non-profit educational foundation with the purpose of facilitating the experience of Divine Unity, Love, and Truth in the world. Sufism is a living tradition of human transformation through love and higher consciousness. Our fundamental framework is classical Sufism and the Qur’an as it has been understood over the centuries by the great Sufis. The Society is affiliated with the Mevlevi Order, and offers training programs, seminars and retreats around the world.
Each month we intend to highlight an article about our lineage and its principles. This month we offer: Love in Islam by Mahmoud Mostafa:
Dear brothers and sisters, the guidance of Islam is the guidance of love. The innate, natural and ancient religion that is Islam is the religion of love. The Prophet (puh) came to guide us to love and to make clear the love that is at the core of all religion. Our purpose as human beings is to consciously manifest Allah’s love in our lives. This is the most significant meaning of Khilafa and Ibada that can bring purpose to us and transform our lives. When we reflect upon the history of the Prophet (puh) and the spread of his message we will realize that Islam could not have taken root in the world without the love that filled the heart of the Prophet and was clearly manifest in his way of relating and interacting with people that brought out their own deep and profound love for him. Without this mutual and abiding love, none of us would be here today. Without this love Islam would not have been possible.
Threshold's collaborative blog channel The Living Tradition on Patheos.com has been reaching new audiences and sharing the experiences of our community in a unique and vibrant way for nearly four years. We will now be transitioning over to Medium. More news next month.
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