Jun 19 | The Wound and the Mirror (Radical Love Journal #11)

Hi everyone! Sorry the numbering is out of whack – I’m obviously behind on my entries. This one, on today’s lesson, came to me before the others. I promise they will be updated ASAP! Next week will be the last entry. <3

In today’s lesson we contemplated several lovely stories, but the one I liked best was the story of Joseph (son of Jacob, patriarch in Judaism and Christianity and prophet in Islam) and the friend who comes to him as guest.

Omid-jaan explained that in the Muslim tradition Joseph has a reputation as being the most beautiful person that God made. It is this glorious beauty, then, that the friend wishes to celebrate. When he arrives at Joseph’s house, Joseph, speaking gleefully in my own imagination of him, cries, “What gift have you brought me?”

The friend is so embarrassed he starts to cry. He explains that he searched all over the world but could find nothing for this beloved who has everything. The only gift worth anything, he has decided, is a mirror. In this mirror, Joseph can contemplate his own beauty, but also remember the friend each time he does.

“What greater gift,” Omid-jaan says, “could you bring to God than a mirror of God within your own heart?” Again, we remember earlier reflections (heh) on the Muslim concept that creation was made for God’s own contemplation of God’s self. We are sent out from the house (as it were) to be contemplated by God, and therefore the greatest gift can be our own understanding of God’s desire and our meeting of it. We return with the mirror in our own hearts, our own selves. It’s all the more precious a gift when we admit to ourselves how difficult this is. We rarely see our own beauty. “Remember,” Omid-jaan says, “that in the old days, a mirror wasn’t made of glass, but of metal. It needed polishing to work. So we must polish our own hearts if they are to be mirrors.”

How do we do this? How could we polish the heart? What mirror do we bring?

The rust that must be polished off is the ego. We have to disavow any sense of being on our own, any sense of being the sum total of existence, and bring that humility to God.

Omid-jaan expands on this with another lovely story of Shams, Rumi’s most dearly beloved friend. On the Day of Judgement, the story goes, Shams arrives and is caught up the crowd. He’s at the back and can’t see, so he starts kicking up a fuss, which the angels finally notice.

I love the way Omid-jaan tells the next part: “The angels look over and say to God, ‘Who is that?!’ God says, ‘Oh, that’s Shams. He’s…different.’”

Shams cries, “I have to come up front! I am the only one who has brought a gift God doesn’t have!”

The angels are perplexed and a bit offended, but God says, “He’s telling the truth, let him forward.”

Shams comes forward, prostrates before God, and says, “I have brought the one thing you do not have, O Lord. I have brought my need.”

God, being perfect, has no concept of need or dependence. Shams therefore brings it as a gift.

It’s interesting to read this through Christian eyes. While God may not have need, our story is of a God that came to walk among us and feel need in a new way, feel dependence and powerlessness. But I don’t see it as a contradiction. God having walked among us surely understands how hard it is to let go of that sense of alone-ness, the sense we inherited from being expelled from Eden, the sense of the necessity of depending only on ourselves. While some may understand this story in terms of disobedience (and that’s clearly Scriptural, of course, so I don’t disagree) I tend to focus more on the sense of mistrust that’s present in the story when I contemplate it. The storyteller insists that the serpent tricks Eve, surely not a difficult thing when she is so naïve and childlike. I’m far more struck by Adam’s hiding from God once the deed is done. It’s one of the more humourous parts of the story, probably because it feels so familiar to us as well as being absurd (I always imagine God asking Adam where he is in the sing-song tone that parents use when their child is playing hide-and-seek with them). The theme of nakedness as well gives me pause. Why does it matter that the two are naked? Literally no-one and nothing are wearing clothes in this garden. No norms have been set, and yet the two of them immediately want to cover themselves rather than stay “naked and unashamed.” What’s to be ashamed about? How does this connect to knowledge and wisdom?

For me, living in the 21st century West, I see this as a rejection of dependence and vulnerability, as well as a rejection of intimacy. A child has no problem being naked (and delighting in it!) because she has not been shaped by these norms. She has no problem with being naked in front of her parents because, when she is very young, she doesn’t yet have a fully developed sense of self outside her caregiver. This sense of being at one with things extends to other people. Babies and little children will do and say things that are not “appropriate” not only because they don’t understand social norms but because there is no drive to appear “okay” in front of other people. While it’s a source of great anxiety for many adults to police the behaviour of their children, it’s sort of amazing to contemplate a place where we were utterly free of such worry. We can see the change quite clearly when we compare a child who has just been introduced to clothes (and parents will know that all too often the first thing that happens once the kid is old enough is that the clothes come flying off!) and a teenager, who finds themselves suddenly deeply self-conscious and trying to assert independence around parents who are by now used to the earlier child who had no sense of shame. (Parents will hear the telltale, “MOOOMMMM DON’T YOU EVER KNOCK?!” ringing in their ears).

We laugh about these memories and experiences now, but I really think it’s an important lens through which to view the story of the Fall. God would rightly wonder what had changed, and suspect the worst. The response to this is punishment in the storyteller’s eyes, but when I explore this story through a more psychoanalytic or mythical perspective, I see the response as wholly necessary in the sense that this is the logical endpoint to a declaration of one’s independence. We would of course argue that the development of the self as a being apart from one’s parent is a net good, but we cannot deny that something precious and irreplaceable is lost in the declaration of single-ness, and apart-ness. We just accept it as part of the world, and for human beings, it is.

But clearly it was never God’s intent for our relationship with Her to mirror an earthly relationship with our parents. It was never supposed to end and become strained.

The way, then, to offer God our greatest gift, is to do our best to return to that state, to say that we are part of God. Imagine an adult returning to their loving parents after many years of wandering, desiring love and closeness again, and thanking the parents for all they have done to support and care for her – not because this is a transactional relationship, but because when we love each other, we tell each other.

So we bring our need. We bring our wounds – for, as Rumi and Leonard Cohen say, the wound is where the light enters us.

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