Archive for April, 2020

Go deep (Fire in the Wineglass #2)

Today’s lesson from Omid-jan’s course explored the introduction to the Masnavi. Each volume of the work (there are 6) comes with an Arabic preface of sorts, which explains how they should be read.

It begins:

This is the Book of the Masnavi, which is the roots of the roots of the roots of the Way in respect of unveiling the mysteries of attainment and certainty; and which is the greatest science of God and the clearest way of God and the most manifest evidence of God.

“You could say it’s ‘the heart of the heart of the heart’ of the faith,” Omid-jan said.

In the season of Easter, I often reflect on bridal imagery as a metaphor for Christ’s new relationship to the Church in a post-resurrection world. Today I explored the notion of knowing oneself, perhaps even unveiling one’s deepest roots, in a new way.

Knowledge comes in different levels, Omid-jan explained. If you liken the experience of God to honey, for example, we might find ourselves looking at the word “honey” written on a board. If we can read, we understand what this means, and indeed we understand enough that we know we can’t lick the board and discover the taste of honey there! It would just be ink. But seeing the word brings up lots of thoughts and ideas.

The next level would be to have someone bring a bowl of honey to us, but not have us taste. For me, this experience is like the reading of a sacred text. It may be a passage from the Hebrew Bible, or one of the Gospels, or a surah from the Qur’an, or the Masnavi itself, or even a person through whom we see the divine (when I explore this concept with residents of Hineni House I call these folks “living sacred texts”). I can see the colour, perhaps feel the shape of the experience of the divine. But I can’t quite taste it. I wasn’t there.

Omid-jan says, “Is it possible to fully taste honey just by listening to someone else describe it? So much of religion is this very thing! A teacher stands before us and says, ‘I do declare that this honey is as sweet as they come!’ We are asked to bear witness to their experience.”

But, he added, Shams says, “How long will you ride this horseless saddle?”

I’m reminded of the stick horses I sometimes played with as a child. Perhaps it’s good to do this when we’re young in our spirituality. It’s definitely safer, and there’s something terribly beautiful about a child easily creating an experience she has never had through play – something terribly divine in fact. But if we want the bones-deep knowledge, the integration of fleshly as well as spiritual knowledge, we’ve got to find a “real” horse.

In the Christian calendar, we’re looking ahead to the feast of Pentecost on May 31st. Pentecost is often celebrated as “the birthday of the Church,” a day when we remember an ecstatic experience shared among Jesus’ disciples as they sat together. The Book of Acts describes it thusly:

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages, as the Spirit gave them ability. (Acts 2:1-4)

Many of us interpret this as the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise in the Gospel of John that the “Advocate” would be sent to enliven the disciples after he was raised. In this story the Holy Spirit comes among them and gives them the Sign-Act of communication. The story goes on to say that a crowd of people from all over the world gather when they hear the noise, and are able to understand the testimony of the disciples in their own languages. Today, lots of churches try to replicate this experience on the feast in a number of ways, including reading the passage in multiple languages at once.

In a sense, this is still the sharing of an experience, as Omid-jan says, but we are brought closer by having it “read” to us in our own language, our own words. And indeed, the teaching is done by those who were close to the teacher. If he was the root (of the root of the root), they have become the branches, and now they are tossing their fruit hither and yon to seed the earth of all the children of Adam.

Through these seeds, we may yet become children of God.

As we enter the season of Ramadan, let’s explore the root of the root of the root of what sustains us. Let’s go deep.

From Scars to Stars (Fire in the Wine Glass #1)

Lesson 1 of “The Heart of Rumi’s Poetry” with Omid Safi begins with a deep dive into the first 18 lines of the Masnavi. Followers of my Sufi reflections will not be surprised to hear that they are the text of “The Song of the Reed.”

This text, which I explore in my “Song of the Reed” series of posts detailing my experiences at RumiFest 2019, starts us off not in a place of comfort, but a place exploring the nature of grief. This is no mistake. Those who wish to be divine lovers, “Allah’s crazy ones,” all begin from a position of acknowledgment of life’s difficulty and suffering.

This is a most prophetic “take” in an era of unrelenting optimism, the New Age focus on “positivity” and “law of attraction,” and the evangelical Christian preoccupation with the same. One of my parishioners once posted a beautiful and deeply honest reflection on their own sense of anxiety as the new year dawned and the world continued to groan under the weight of environmental disaster and creeping fascism. This reflection was concluded with words from Lord of the Rings calling for stubborn hope during such times. Underneath this post was a flurry of what to me seemed rather desperate comments from various family members and friends to have hope in Jesus and stay positive. It made me sad. How can we possibly hope to conquer fear by denying it and “always looking on the bright side”? When has that ever worked? Ask anyone who suffers from depression. Empathy is the antidote, not denial.

As I sit and reflect on this after watching Omid’s first video during Easter Week, I can’t help but read the lines through the lens of the Gospel of John passage we always read on the Sunday after Easter, John 20:19-31.

It’s clear that we primarily read this passage because of the time in which the story itself occurs, which is a week after the events of Easter. Today, though, I wonder if there is a rather amazing kernel of wisdom in the assigning of this passage after the big blow-out of Easter. Everyone can ring their bells and cry “Alleluia!” when the church is packed full of people in their finery and we’re looking forward to candy and a big feast. But in the days following a momentous occasion, how common is it to feel a sense of letdown, a sense that maybe the grand truths we affirmed all together in a riot of sound and colour weren’t quite as true as we hoped?

Anyone who has experienced grief can tell you that the hardest part is after the funeral and the rush of visitors and helpers has gone. Then, life goes back to normal…without the one we loved.

The disciples sit together in the upper room where they observed the last supper with their beloved teacher only a week before. They are trying to hold onto what he taught them, and perhaps trying to process the nonsensical news of his return shared with them by Mary Magdalene. The doors are locked…and yet suddenly, Jesus is there, among them, speaking words of peace and forgiveness, and breathing on them to gift them the Holy Spirit.

But Thomas is not with them.

The text doesn’t say why. All we know is that when he eventually returns to them, the disciples try to tell him about what they had seen. Thomas refuses to believe unless he can see Jesus for himself – but not even just Jesus. Thomas wants to touch him, specifically the marks left from the nails and the spear of his crucifixion.

It is not enough to see the Beloved and hear him speaking words of love. Thomas wants to know, for absolutely certain, that Love returns speaking these words even after all of the harm caused by the terrorism of Empire, the betrayal of friends, and the slammed door of Death.

It’s all well and good to imagine the gentle and loving God some of us may have learned about in childhood returning to us with a happy smile and a hug. But Thomas wants an adult vision, one that is scarred and broken and still speaking love.

If the Beloved can return to us even after all that we have put him through, and not having denied any of that pain, then we know that the Beloved can weather anything, and truly is with us, forever.

In traditional Christian teaching, Thomas is often painted in an unflattering light, with his desires being shown as presumptuous. But the text doesn’t bear this out. Thomas wants something, and he receives it. The next time he is with the disciples, Jesus returns yet again, and invites Thomas to touch without any hint of annoyance or anger. “Believe,” he says. “Believe in Love. Believe in Love’s power to return from even death in pursuit of you. You thought you were Majnun, forever denied Layla through the tyranny of my having become married to Death. No, my jan. I am Majnun and you are Layla – and all that separated us is now only a veil that’s been lifted away. You are Layla and I battled through Death itself to find you again. You are now free to choose me no matter what. Nothing can keep me from you, and nothing has.”

Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God!” How else should we respond to such love?

The reed sings of longing, and this longing, this suffering, is what truly unites us as humans. It’s the one thing that we all experience. Even the richest and most self-absorbed among us have times where we suffer. Sickness, death, and heartbreak do not discriminate. But all exist in order to be transformed in some way. They are a byproduct of a great gift, which is the freedom to change.

In the month of Ramadan, observers make changes to their everyday lives. They sacrifice for God and for humanity. This is the greatest gift we can make to God: to make a choice to change the way we live, in order to glorify. It’s not the glory itself, for God takes an entirely different kind of delight in angels, who are constantly in a state of glorifying their Creator, and God knows that human acts of praise often fall short. It is the choice to glorify, the choice to orient ourselves toward God, the choice to make a change.

God reflects this glory back to us in the conscious choice to return bearing scars, rather than returning in a perfect, flawless form. This is a marvelous teaching: it tells us that we don’t need to hide our scars.

Rumi, in gathering his students, chose those who needed adab, spiritual refinement, the most. It’s only one letter from scar to star.

In seeking the best and most beautiful, we don’t need to hide our scars.

God didn’t.

Praise to the One who returns bearing words of peace.

Fire in the Wine Glass: A Journal for Ramadan

While working on the “Radical Love Journal” series in the season of Lent, I began corresponding with Radical Love author Omid Safi, professor at Duke University and scholar of all things Rumi. The pandemic has given him time to work on projects he has wanted to bring to fruition for many years, and one of them is an online course, “The Heart of Rumi’s Poetry.”

With his encouragement, I signed up. My experience with the Radical Love book and the necessary deepening of my spirituality in this strange time were only further reasons to do so.

It occurred to me as I began the work that the holy season of Ramadan was coming. Ramadan, the name of the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, is a month of fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. I had been considering marking it in some way, and it seems now that I have the perfect opportunity to do so.

Cloistered in my home like so many of us, I sat at my computer to begin my new adventure, alongside some of whom Cem Aygodgu refers to as “Allah’s crazy ones,” to learn more about Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī, one of (if not the) greatest mystical love poets of all time.

A great Sufi mystic, Rumi was born either in Afghanistan or Tajikistan to Persian-speaking parents. His father, Bahā ud-Dīn Walad, was a theologian, jurist, and mystic from Balkh, in Afghanistan. Rumi’s family profession for generations was preaching, and he continued this legacy.

Rumi had several influences besides his parents, chief among them the poet ‘Attar, whose work was quoted a few times in my Radical Love Journal. During childhood and adolescence, his family moved a lot in order to avoid trouble with the invading Mongol forces. Rumi met many Sufis in these travels and was formed by their wisdom. He passed through many places, including parts of Syria, before finally settling in Konya, Turkey, which is where Sherif Baba and Cem live, although he still traveled from time to time. Rumi inherited his father’s position as head of a religious school and was known as a preacher, teacher, and jurist.

In November of 1244, Rumi’s life changed forever when he met a dervish known as Shams-e Tabrizi. There are many stories of how they met and their deep, mystical friendship.

About four years after they met, Shams left and was never seen again. There are rumours that he may have been murdered. Whatever happened, Rumi was shattered, and spent a long time searching for him. During this time, he arrived in Damascus, and realized:

“Why should I seek? I am the same as He.

His essence speaks through me.

I have been looking for myself!”

Those who read the entry “Majnun on Fire” from my Radical Love Journal may remember Majnun’s ecstatic pronouncement: “I am Layla.” I did.

The rest of Rumi’s life was taken up in gathering students, who were drawn from all types of folks, many of them working class and rather uncouth, as Omid-jan explains (which is good news for those of us who fear our appropriateness as students of such an august teacher), and in writing truly stunning poetry. He spent twelve years dictating the Masnavi to his beloved student Hussam.

In December 1273, Rumi died in Konya, and was mourned by all, Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike. He is buried there, beside his father, with the epitaph: “When we are dead, seek not our tomb in the earth, but find it in the hearts of men.”

The work of Omid-jan’s course is in exploring the Masnavi in sections of his arrangement. I’ll share my own reflections on the course, which follows selected passages, before, during, and after the month of Ramadan (it’s a twelve-week course).

To all who will be observing this holy month, blessings on your observances, and may the Creator, the Beneficent and endlessly Compassionate, be most pleased with you.

“Love will rise up,” (Easter Sunday Sermon, April 12th 2020)

This was meant to be preached at St. Margaret’s, Cedar Cottage, on Easter morning at the main service of the day in 2020. Of course, that was not to be. Instead, I went out from my house before sunrise and preached it on my phone on the beach. It wasn’t the same, but I expect I’ll remember it forever.

Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. 4The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10Then the disciples returned to their homes.
11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ She said to them, ‘They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.’ 14When she had said this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ 16Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said to her, ‘Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” ’ 18Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, ‘I have seen the Lord’; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

John 20:1-18

“And Love will rise up and call us by name.”

Jan Richardson’s painting which bears this title is arresting. A hint of silver at the top right suggests early morning, perhaps the silver moments just before the sun crests the horizon. A rich, heavy curve of black suggests a cave-like structure dominating the viewer’s eye. And within this cave, an emerging, almost solid wave of gold. Up near the top of the cave, the brushstrokes bend as though the light illuminates the inner walls. But below that, the brushstrokes shift abruptly, pointing straight outward, Love’s fire ready to surge forth out into the world, almost dissolving the edges of the cave, which appear ragged and torn, like a temple veil.

But what really caught my eye was an inexplicable dash of deep blue, right in the middle of the piece and also appearing torn through by light. What could this possibly be? I have a hundred ideas if I have none.

“And Love will rise up and call us by name.”

Medieval Persian mystic Abu Nu’aym Isfahani writes,

“O God!

Publicly I call you

‘My Lord’

But in solitude

I call you

‘My Beloved.’”

And perhaps this was what Mary intended to whisper as she staggered grief-drunk through the dark to the tomb of her beloved teacher – not to mourn a romantic partner or husband but to mourn a titanic spiritual figure in her life, her liberator from seven demons, her Moses, her Maker. This is no more and no less than an all-encompassing force that knows us more intimately than we could ever be known.

At the sight of Love’s wreckage, old ways of being that have been laid waste in its lovely fire – old ways of fear, pride, oppression, execution – Mary is shocked and afraid. Why shouldn’t she be? She thought Love a victim of these old ways, and now here she finds that not only is there no remnant of Love, there isn’t even any remnant of those old ways which were the supposed winner of that battle, old ways which were terrible and corrupt and rotting but at least familiar to her. Now there was nothing. What was she to do now?

She calls for her friends and they come – poor reckless Peter, faithless in life but now faithful in death, how strange; and the beloved disciple, who indeed is never named and certainly may have been a real person but who has come to signify so much more than just one life, for indeed that beloved disciple lives within us all even though more often than not we suppress that voice out of shame or anxiety.

They come and stumble into the tomb. There is a strange interplay rather like a dance – who gets there first? Who goes in when? Who comes out? What do they see? And indeed how often do we find ourselves wide-eyed and arms pinwheeling on the edge of a grand revelation, jostling past the warring voices within us.

The beloved disciple believes, but says nothing. Why? Perhaps, out of all of the voices within, this one alone understands the appropriate response to the infinite is silence. They go back, Peter probably more confused and heartbroken than ever, and the beloved one unable or unwilling to testify as yet, perhaps knowing more was to come.

And Mary remains, weeping.

Now even her friends are gone, and she is left with nothing.

And it is only then that she encounters angels.

What are they doing there? Why does she not seem to understand what they are? They ask her a question laden with subtext. She doesn’t seem to pick up on it. She skims only the surface with her answer.

But even that complete lack of understanding is rewarded, because suddenly, the one she has been seeking has found her.

And still, she does not recognize him.

Why would that be? Does he look entirely different? Has she been crying too hard to see him? Are they playing a lover’s game together? Ah, but he asks her a question she’s surely heard before: “Whom are you looking for?” in English, which obscures the fact that it is the exact same question Jesus asked of Andrew and the other disciple of John the Baptizer who decided to follow him all the way back in Chapter 1. The story begins again.

But Mary still doesn’t understand. Face to face, inches from Love’s great revelation, on the threshold of the bridal chamber, she mourns for the wedding robes he has discarded on the floor! “Tell me where you have laid him and I will take him away.”

And now the time for games is over. Love will rise up, and call us by name.


“Mary. I’m right here.”

But what a strange wedding, for as soon as she recognizes him, he says, “Do not hold onto me” – and yes, the Greek word hapto does carry an almost erotic connotation. One translation note also states “to modify or change by touching, touching that influences.”

Why can we not partake in the delights of the Beloved? When will we be able to, if we cannot touch before he is ascended, while he is still in the world?

The work wasn’t done yet.

Perhaps this is the splash of blue in Jan’s painting – the sharp pain that exists between disciple and Apostle, between the one who knew the earthly and the one who knows the heavenly, and yet will never fully be able to reconcile the two, scarred beautifully but sadly for having known the Beloved on earth and no longer being able to delight in the very particular sound of his laughter, in the very particular way the light caught in his curls, in the very particular way he walked and talked and loved.

And so perhaps we who have not seen and yet have come to believe, in these latter days of fear and uncertainty, these latter days of disease and distancing and despair, should at the very least count ourselves blessed that we are privileged to know both earthly and heavenly. We hear the stories of his friends and marvel at how particular they are, how different and precious each image of the Beloved…and yet how blessed we are to be able to also see him flickering like a candle within each other?

Today is unlike any other Easter in our living memory. Today many of us are not held together within the physical walls of the bridal chamber. Today, many of us are at home, or in places like where I’m standing right now. Today, we weep and mourn for the bridal chambers that stand empty all around the world.

But children, why are we weeping?

At the absolute zenith of longing and confusion, we are fated to encounter angels.

As the Rev. Jake Morrill writes, “This year, in fact, the churches will be empty. And the tomb will be empty.”

Whom are we looking for?

Do not mourn the discarded bridal gown.

The buildings are empty, and the church is free.

She is running wild over the earth today, and perhaps that is as it should be.

Yes, the bridal gown was beautiful. Yes, it made us resplendent and luminous. Yes, discarding it brings us back down to earth, looking as we always do, looking rather…quotidian. Rather…ordinary.

But that is not how the bridegroom will see us.

The bridegroom’s mind is only love. Only desire to see us as we really are.

And this is how we are: outside in the world, trying our best to take care of one another. Not because we have an image to maintain, but because this is who we were always called to be.

When we can return to our buildings and be together again, what a banquet it will be. What finery will ornament us. What music we will make and what a bounty we will feast upon.

But it’s not that time yet.

Today, we’re invited to return to ourselves. Naked, and unashamed. Today, Love rises up and calls us by name.

May we never forget this day.

In the Midst of Us (Radical Love Journal #6)

On the evening of March 3rd I was invited to Seemi’s house for a concert. The Rajasthani folk singer Mukhtiyar Ali was in town, and she had invited him to play in her home for a gathering of Sufis. Mukhtiyar-ji, a bear of a man with a twinkling smile and that beautiful depth edged with mischief that I’ve encountered in all mystics, arrived as we rearranged Seemi-jan’s living room to accommodate all of the guests. He and his Hindu drummer set up in her living room.

I’d met him a few days before at a workshop in the Asian Studies Department at UBC. He doesn’t speak English, so Seemi-jan explained to him that I played the harp and sang. My heart nearly exploded as he said casually, “Oh – you should bring it when we go to Seemi’s house on Wednesday.”

I did just that.

We crammed about forty people into Seemi’s living room, and dear Masa served steaming hot smoky chai as Mukhtiyar-ji played and taught us Sufi poetry, with various members of the audience translating for English speakers. I had never really been to a concert like this before; it was a truly astonishing blend of worship and entertainment. The closest cultural analogue for me would be a ceilidh, but it also wasn’t like that, because a ceilidh’s worshipful elements are subtextual and this was all out in the open. But it wasn’t exactly like a sohbet either, because Mukhtiyar-ji was sharing the wisdom of other teachers, sometimes with his own tunes. As a storyteller he’s more of a keeper of past knowledge.

I also felt entranced by the unspoken dialogues that blossomed out of the performance. An old man sitting across from me nodded and watched with great delight, and regularly put out his hand, fingers touching each other, as though he were picking the poetry out of the air and admiring it. Mukhtiyar-ji looked at him for long periods, pouring forth the wisdom to be scooped up. It was so intimate.

Eventually, Mukhtiyar-ji, again with that impossibly casual air, invited me to play. I was terrified – he played the harmonium, and the modes were totally foreign to me, but as he played a chord for me to find, I discovered that, for the harp, it was a simple F. He nodded, grinning, and then we began. Like with my first time playing for Baba, things flowed easily – clearly I was picking up on the energy in the room. He even left space for me to do solos, which gave me a wonderful and whoopsy feeling like being on a rollercoaster unsure if the next drop would send me flying from the car.

As we played, the carpet before us was rolled up to leave a space, and dear Raqib, dressed in his tennure, arrived to turn. People also turned and danced in the kitchen, including a man I knew to be a court judge.

Time had absolutely no meaning. Culture, language, skin colour had no meaning in these fleeting moments. We were all burning in the garden of ashk.

As I sit in my home, socially isolated and laid off from the one job that took me out of the house the last few weeks, I think back to that evening with a complex series of sensations. There is joy at the memory, gratitude that I received such a gift as that image of forty people clapping and laughing and cheering as Mukhtiyar-ji plays and Raqib turns, eyes closed and with a smile of pure glee, but there is also a piercing sadness. I have a weird feeling of awe at the fact that we were all crammed in there so tight – already now I get anxious when I see too many people in an enclosed space and it’s only been about a month.

Last night, I spoke to Masa and Eda on a video call, and wanted only to be able to hug them.

Before I could say so, Eda said, “I am feeling right now that I want to hug you, so much. It is so strong.”

I know the beloved community exists beyond our physical bodies. I know that God’s love and energy is not hampered by physical distance.

I know that tomorrow, Jesus will rise from the dead, and the fasting of Lent and the long waiting of Holy Saturday will come to an end.

But the waiting is so, so hard.

10th century saint and scholar Ibn al-Husayn al-Sulami writes,

“After suffering the pangs of love

I have no place to go

How empty it is

when the beloved is gone

To live away from those whom we love

is not living at all”

On Maundy Thursday (a night which Masa tells me is referred to as “The Night of Secrets” in Damascus; what an amazing title!) Jesus must have looked at the disciples and mourned the end of their nights of prayer and teaching and song and feasts. Perhaps he felt like I do, a bittersweet sadness mixed with gratitude. Or perhaps there was only the prickly fear of anticipating his betrayal and death. It must have been so many different things. In the Gospel of John, he performs the amazing sign-act of washing their feet, and gives them his last teaching, his last sohbet: They are to love one another. In their love for one another, he will be present again – but before that can happen, he must go through the terror and bloodshed of what is to come.

Persian poet and hagiographer ‘Attar writes:

“Whatever you have

give it away




The Qur’an says

“You won’t attain to good

until you freely give away

what you love”

You have to give away


Even your soul

That too

must be given away.”

I discussed this with Masa and Eda last night as they asked me to tell them more about Good Friday. I told them about a sermon I preached a year or two ago, which centered around a video I found of a man with a blindfold standing, arms wide open, on the roadside with a sign saying “I trust you – do you trust me? Hug me.”

“This,” I said, “is the same posture that Jesus had on the Cross, gathering all the world into his embrace. It’s very vulnerable but also radically accepting, and this is who we’re called to be.”

“Can you say more about how you do that?” Masa asked.

“It’s something Christians talk about a lot,” I said. “Trying to find the balance between protecting yourself and being open to others. That’s the work of a lifetime, I think.”

“We talk about that a bit in the Surah we read today,” Eda said. “Surah 73.” She passed it along to me via WhatsApp later.

Verses 9-11 read: “[He is] the Lord of the East and the West: there is no deity except Him, so take Him as Disposer of your affairs. And be patient over what they say and avoid them with gracious avoidance. And leave Me with [the matter of] the deniers, those of ease [in life], and allow them respite a little.”

“You shouldn’t meet violence with violence,” Eda explained, “but you don’t need to subject yourself to it.”

This is one of those moments of difference between Christianity and Islam, I thought. For Christians, we are traditionally told to accept persecutions on behalf of Christ, imitating him in his act of purposeful nonviolence. On Good Friday itself we remember we are called to take up our own crosses, whatever those may be. What I’ve been struggling with in the last few years, though, is the question of who is helped when we allow ourselves to be utterly degraded and broken on the wheel of pain. If we stand before the oppressed as a shield and are mown down by an uncaring apparatus of subjugation, the oppressed are surely no more saved than they ever were. We must find this balance between accepting persecution for prophetic beliefs and standing firm in order to be prophetic. And I do think that looks like giving something away – giving away our certainty, our security, our ego, our all, for the sake of the beloved community.

Because indeed, the beloved community is not outside of us. It is us. In caring for them, we care for ourselves.

Rumi says,

“You’re clutching

with both hands

to this myth

of “you” and “I”

our whole brokenness

is because of this”

Jesus says, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20).

The strangest gift (if we can call it that) of this pandemic is that it has shown us without a doubt that we are all one. We are all affected by it (it doesn’t discriminate), but we can also save each other by caring for one another in a way that few of us have ever done before. So many of us are accustomed to going above and beyond for others, and this is a beautiful thing, but it can so easily become an act of busyness, an act that makes us feel that we are worthy, an act which can become just as much about making ourselves feel better as making the other better. Physical distancing, while a terrible sacrifice, is perhaps one of the most beautiful acts of all, for at its best it is devoid of ego. We care for one another by staying apart. We might help them with tasks they need done, but even then it is different, because we are forced to ask them what they need, rather than making assumptions or thinking we know better. We even enter into a dance when we’re out and about, forced to watch others before moving into their space.

It has shown us a brand new facet of the jewel that is community.

Today, I wait. I wait for the bells and colour of Easter, but I also wait for my heart and soul to be fed in the Eucharist and the physical gathering of the community once again. I work out my salvation through fasting from others, in order to keep them safe. And though we are physically apart, we are still connected, through what Baba sometimes whimsically calls “the heart telephone.”

For as Rumi’s dearly beloved friend and teacher Shams-e Tabrizi says,

“God commands us

to pray in the direction of the Ka’ba

Imagine this:

People all over the world

are gathered

making a circle

around the Ka’ba

They bow down

in prayer



Remove the Ka’ba

from the middle of the circle

Are they not prostrating

toward one another?

They are bowing down

toward each other’s hearts.”

Praise be to God, Lord of the worlds, who heals and teaches and saves even in the midst of solitude, fear, uncertainty, and pain. Let Love rise up tomorrow, and call us by name.

Ameen, ameen.

End of Radical Love Journal is coming soon!

Sorry for the delay, everyone – I just didn’t have the mental energy to produce something that would have been a good summary of my practice. I’ll do it ASAP. :)

Seeds (Lenten Music Reflection #6)

Life is persistent, and it has its own intentions completely independent of our own. In the hardest, driest earth, in the most barren places, despite sand and dust and Good Friday, life bursts forth recklessly.

Blessings for the upcoming week, and for the season of light and colour and love that I promise will follow.