The professor, 10 years ago, is passing through Istanbul. He has spent three nights here in transit. Tomorrow he flies Aeroflot to the North Russian University where his fiancée is finishing her masters at the Siberian Institute of Logic.
It is Ramadan and, walking through the balmy evening streets of the city in search of coffee, he has found himself accidentally in a tekke, a Dervish lodge, its members engaged in their nightly recitation of the Holy Book.
They recite the verses, then prostrate. Salat (prayer) is repeated by salat, continuing the verses, and as they move through the Holy Book, the recitation increases in speed and energy. The worshippers’ act of prostration parallels this acceleration in its ascendant intensity. They don’t merely bow down, they fall, collapse, yield.
The sound of their bodies hitting the earth overwhelms, it is almost fearful in its beauty. It is as if Creation itself dies at that moment.
The people debate the hadith relating to Umm Waraqah. But none of them understand. If they could taste this fruit, their thirst might be quenched for a moment this jummah. But their debates never break the skin.
Seekers read the narration and wear my garment to the masjid:
The professor and the Builder were driving along the A12 to the eastern shores. It was their intent to spend a day at the beach. They stopped at Newbury Park gas station for some petrol.
They filled their car with fuel, stocked up on crisps and water and were about to depart when the petrol attendant stopped them with a question.
“I see by your dress that you are from that mystical group known as the Sufis. I have always appreciated what I read concerning Sufism. Most of it seems like a mystical expression of divine truth told skilfully and intelligently.”
He addressed the professor. “But I see you wear a beard according to the traditions of the mainstream Muslims. I have a hard time understanding how a Sufi could take the Quran as the literal word of God, or support things like Shariah law. I understand that there are ‘Universal Sufi’ movements that seek to be less dependant on Islam, but I don’t know if these are genuine or more New-Age inspired organizations.”
“To me, Sufi teachings seem to have more in common with mystical Christianity, Buddhism, and Gnosticism, and these philosophies are totally at odds with what Muhammed wrote and said. I know Sufis claim that Sufism predates Islam, so is it possible that many orders just nominally accepted Islam to avoid persecution?”
The Trinity of Eastern Orthodoxy: the Holy Spirit flows from Father eternally. This is in contrast to the Catholic filioque, in which Son and Father are at the same horizontal level, from which the Holy Spirit flows, forming a triangle.
Orthodoxy prevails here, for the Trinity is a line, not a triangle.
The Father is Love, the Loving Beloved whose Love breathes a cosmos in loving submission. The Son is the Logos of Truth. The Son follows from the Father because Love is relational, Love has a direction: Love entails a Lover and a Beloved. So Love entails that God should breath the cosmos. The Son is Truth because only Truth can be come from the ruh (breath) of God. This action of breathing is the relationship of Holy Spirit from the Loving Beloved to the Loving Son. God’s most beloved lover is the Logos of Truth that God breathes in love.
But in turn, from our fallen perspective, the Beloved Truth is buried within us, sublimated within us, forms a body of difference, a logic of life upon which we can strive to attain Love in Cosmic Romance. (We sometimes call this sublimated body the Gifted Body, but more on that another time.) It is this Romance that makes our life into a journey, but also makes our love the strongest above that of other, immediately submissive entities.
That original breathed Word is still within us, but sublimated, so Truth walks with us, but we cannot see. Its sublimation makes our lives of difference possible.
So what does it mean to say the Spirit descends upon us? It is the mechanism of Truth. The Spirit descends upon us and Truth is breathed into us. Wisdom, Sophia, emerges.
The professor and the builder were visiting a gallery. They went to see a controversial retrospective of a Somalian born Dutch national artist called Ayaan van de Paddo. The exhibition was controversial amongst the Muslims of the city, because her oeuvre tended to follow a consistent theme: naked female bodies, painted, as if tattooed, with words of the Quran. Her message was in some way political, relating to the treatment of women in the Islamic world. The juxtaposition was too much for some of the believers. The outside courtyard of gallery was subject to constant noisy protest, a sea of brown and black voices crying out, sounding inside the gallery like waves of an angry post-colonial ocean about to break, or perhaps already broken, up on the shore of this strange Albion. The protest came courtesy of the local university’s Islamic Union, with much flag and effigy burning, angry sheikh speeches and quivering voiced sister vox-pops to the media. The outrage was not confined to this country, having spread as far south as South Africa and as far east as Indonesia, where the Dutch embassy suffered a bomb attack the previous day (no one serious injured, but the West now panicked and outraged). Of course, like other similar mass hysterics, there was a deeper religio-political wound at the heart of all this.
And We prescribed to them in it that life is for life, and eye for eye, and nose for nose, and ear for ear, and tooth for tooth, and balance (qisas) in wounds; but he who foregoes it, it shall be an expiation for him; and whoever did not judge by what God revealed, those are they that are the unjust. And We sent after them in their footsteps Jesus, son of Mary, verifying what was before him of the Torah and We gave him the Gospel in which was guidance and light, and verifying what was before it of Torah and a guidance and an admonition for those who guard. (Quran 5:45-46)
Jesus saw some babies nursing. He said to his disciples, “These nursing babies are like those who enter the kingdom.”
They said to him, Then shall we enter the kingdom as babies?
Jesus said to them, when you make the two into one, and when you make the inner like the outer and the outer like the iner and the upper like the lower, and when you make male and female into a single one, so that the male will not be male nor the female be female, when you make eyes in place of an eye, a hand in place of a hand, a foot in place of a foot, an image in place of an image, then you will enter the kingdom. (Gospel of Thomas, 22)
The verse of qisas in the Holy Book is a verse of judgement. But what is judgement? Judgement is a mapping from the paths we inscribe upon the Gifted Body to remade paths upon the New Body.
“Homework for next week. Compare and contrast the following quotes.” The professor handed out the assignment.
“I am the One whom I love, and the One whom I love is myself. We are two souls incarnated in one body; if you see me, you see Him, if you see Him, you see us.” Al-Hallaj
“Do you not see that when the spirit is heedless of itself, it intrudes upon and is audacious toward the Divine Station? Then it claims lordship, like Pharoah. When this state overcomes it, it says, ‘I am Allah’ or ‘Glory be to me!’, as one of the gnostics has said. This is because he was overcome by a state. That is why words like this have never issued from a messenger, or a prophet, or a friend who is perfect in his knowledge, his presence, his clinging to the door of the station which belongs to him, his courtesy, and his observance of the material within which he dwells and through which he becomes manifest.” Ibn Al-Arabi
The students were streaming out from the lecture theatre. The professor disconnected his laptop and gathered his chalk and duster, about to leave for his office. He was prevented from this by a monk. It was a somewhat incongruous sight under the florescent lights of a modern university, but the professor recognized something of his own journey in that figure’s saffron robes. He was an initiate of their order himself, once, and anticipated why the monk had appeared.
The monk asked the professor: How can you teach when you know words are a burden from which only the Oblivion of Unification?