Visit Our New Blog Channel: The Living Tradition
Threshold has started a collaborative blog channel called The Living Tradition on Patheos.com. We will be publishing at least six blogs per month around the theme of how Sufism can be lived in the contemporary world. Anna Rohleder, Daliah Merzaban, Daniel Dyer, Mahmoud Mostafa, and Shaikh Kabir are starting this off, and other writers will be invited over time. We hope to share a fresh Sufi perspective that is rarely represented online. To get started you might want to read Anna’s original and intriguing “5 Early Indications I Was Destined for Islam”. So go to www.patheos.com/blogs/livingtradition and “follow” The Living Tradition.
Reflection on April’s theme: Prayer (dua) is a technique to manifest the divine names latent in our being.
~ Rahima McCullough (Wisconsin, USA)
My reflections on this theme took me back to the first time I was taught the divine qualities were part of me — that I was created with that divine potential. This was a revelation to me. I was taught that I was born a sinner in need of salvation. What a shift in perspective. I was created with the divine names latent in my being? God “stamped” me with my true character before I was born? It was from my “meeting” with Mevlana and the Islam I found in his words that I learned this amazing lesson. It was and is an important lesson for me, and over the years I have had the feeling that Allah was making sure I learned and remembered it.
At the end of the first Threshold Society summer retreat I attended, the new book Jewels of Remembrance was available. I opened the copy I had just purchased with a short prayer that I would receive a final lesson to take home with me. I opened to the poem “Why Are You Milking Another?” which included these words:
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;1
These words released a dam of emotion because it was still difficult to believe this concept. As if to reinforce the lesson, I had a dream, which is as vivid today as it was then. In this dream, there was a person who seemed to be looking for something, covered in dirty, heavy robes. Bent over and trudging down a dark path, the person held the hands of two beings; on one side, a child whiney and acting out, on the other an old hag wagging her finger and nagging. Suddenly the person stopped and as she straightened, the dirty, heavy robes fell away to reveal a beautiful being, radiant and majestic. The child and the hag didn’t just disappear but were lovingly enveloped in the light of the being’s skirt.
Years later sitting on the grass at Casa Paloma during a retreat we were given selections from Mevlana to read. The one I received was called “You, Yourself, Are the Melody” and included these words:
Your origin is noble, your nature awesome.
Invulnerable in spirit, your beauty comes from within;
you belong to the Majestic, a ray from the light of God.
What have you seen of your own still-concealed beauty?
One of these days at dawn, you will rise from within yourself like a sun.
It’s a shame that you’re so hidden, like a moon under a cloud.2
The memory of my dream, still so vivid, came to me. It almost seemed as though Mevlana was describing my dream! Again, I could hardly contain my emotions. Tears of of awe and gratitude streamed down my face, not only for this gift of being, but also for the beautiful reminder.
The theme for this month is not only about the divine potential within us however. It is a reminder of what is needed to manifest this beauty.
So character is something we have to work on. But we need to develop it on the basis of who we really are as God made us. God “stamped” us with our true character before we were ever born; our job is to develop, to actualize, what God has stamped us with. Just as to “envelop” means to wrap something up, to “develop” means to unwrap something. Character development, then, is the process of unpacking what God has provided us for our journey through this world, and into the next.3
The practices or tools we have been given to “unpack” this latent potential are dua and zhikr. Dua includes the meanings of prayer, invocation, supplication, crying out, need. Reflecting on these meanings is important, as it reminds me that I am helpless to manifest this latent potential; that my efforts are often sabotaged by the false self. Kabir Dede describes this so well when he wrote:
The false self (nafs) will never be satisfied; so strive with God to be near to Him. So much of what we do to make ourselves better may arise from a feeling of insufficiency, from negative attitudes about ourselves, from the need to feel superior to others, and from selfish desires. The reason so much of our striving yields poor results is that the striving originates in the false self, the nafs.
But Mevlana reminds us “God has linked our invocation to the promise, ‘I will answer’”