Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Recognition on the Pathway

Friendship with morning sun & hummingbirds, May 13, 2020
“Jesus loves me. This I know. For the Bible tells me so.” Good old Vacation Bible School children’s song. And then there’s growing up. Getting old. And knowledge from any book, from any preacher, from any external source, sometimes just isn’t enough.
Because humans thirst for truth. It’s the divine implant calling, like a tracking device, that burns through books and that cries for direct personal experience. Even when it hurts. For holy fire purifies. Still unsatisfied, and broken-hearted as well, the yearning yet insistently pulls, thank God, further into the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” This, the trail, the trial, of living in mystery, ever searching.
A vital key to tracking the unseen can be found in the familiar notion of recognition. It’s that thrilling and unsettling feel when a person or place seems both strange and also previously known, a sort of deja vu. William Chittick invites us to go further into the word: “re-cognize”:
“that is, to come once again to see what one already knows. . . recognition is discovered within oneself, but learning is acquired from outside…One comes to see face-to-face what was only known by hearsay and following authority.”
And he connects this with the classic line, replacing “knows” with “recognizes”: “He who recognizes himself (or “his soul”) recognizes his Lord.” [Translator’s Introduction, Unveiling of the Mysteries, Fons Vitae, 2015, p. xi.]
Sufis, as well as other trackers on the spiritual pathway, say bewilderment (of a certain sort) doesn’t mean a person is lost, but instead signals higher reaches on the way toward the divine. “Bewilderment is beyond all the stations” writes Sam’ani in Repose of the Spirits in “his chapter on the divine name wali, the Friend” (translated by William Chittick, Divine Love, pp. 293-4).
In order to re-cognize, perhaps it’s necessary to get befuddled and to let go of indoctrination, and to surrender flat levels of knowing, over and again, in order to climb higher, especially in relation to the greatest guide. For love is the great mystery, not meant to be defined, “inexplicable” concludes Chittick: “Anyone can be a lover, but no one can explain love” (p. 293). 
That’s comforting. Yes it is—for someone who admits the truth of bewilderment about it—especially when it comes to approaching God. And recognize that love, most especially Divine Love, pulls past the reaches of human knowledge and opens a door, one of those hidden in plain sight.  Like the one just mentioned above, it’s so easy to wander past, barely—if at all—aware it’s been missed. Perhaps it doesn’t look big enough or bright enough when up against the great name of Love. 
It’s simply friendship. It’s an experience that’s still hard to nail down in words, but perhaps it’s more comfortable in the sense of knowing where it is, when it happens, how it feels. And it’s easier to feel sure we’ve offered friendship and can still return to the glow of it.
And yet, to presume friendship with God? Still a bit scary. But the glow we know of human friendship radiates in the God-given sunshine after rain, and in the rain, too. Even the thunderstorm, particularly having witnessed rainbows and well-watered flowers. Trees. 
Chittick adds Maybudi to Sam’ani:
“How could the traveler not be delighted that friendship is the nearest way station to the Protector? The tree that produces only the fruit of joy is friendship, the soil that grows nothing but the flowers of intimacy is friendship, the cloud that rains nothing but light is friendship, the drink whose poison turns into honey is friendship, the road whose dust is musk and ambergris is friendship… Friendship’s field has the width of the heart, and the kingdom of paradise is one branch of friendship’s tree. Those who drink friendship’s wine are promised vision.” (Divine Love, p. 298) 
Raindrops, oak leaves, spring flowers: re-cognizing divine friendship

Friday, April 3, 2020

God, First and Last

The pileated woodpecker backlit in morning sun blazes with remembrance of the majesty of God. All manifestations, even unto Paradise, surrender before the Transcendent. In the chapter on “The Fall of Adam” (Sufism, pp. 141-177), William Chittick translates portions of The Refreshment of the Spirits by Ahmad Sam’ani (d. 1140). Adam is revealed as the paradigm for choosing God above all else:
“‘Adam’s unharnessed aspiration placed him like a sultan on the horse of love. He took the arrow of solitude from the quiver of detachment and stretched the bow to its limit. He shot the beautiful peacock of paradise, which was strutting in the garden of the Abode. He knew that this was the path of the detached, the work of those with high aspiration, the court of those brought near to God. Time, space, entities, traces, vestiges, shapes, existent things, and objects of knowledge must be erased completely from in front of you. If any of these clings to your skirt, the name of freedom will not stick to you. As long as the name free does not sit on you, you can never be a true servant of God.’” (Sufism, p. 155; Chittick translating Sam’ani’s Refreshment of the Spirits, p. 120)
In this chapter, Chittick articulates the gift of Adam, especially in leading us toward the secret of Love and into grasping the essential value of free choice.
“If human beings are to aspire to God, they need to be able to differentiate between God and all else. The key to human love and perfection is a discerning heart, one that sees God in the midst of the confusing multiplicity of creation. Adam provides the model for lovers.” (Sufism, p. 156)
Adam disobeyed God at God’s instigation, because God knew that without disobedience Adam would not realize the attributes of distance that allow him to become a lover. The essence of love is yearning and heartache. ” (Sufism, p. 152-3)

Thursday, March 19, 2020


Civilization and its institutions of culture guide fire, at their best, channeling wisely our human passions, maturely directing these forces into constructive production, or at a minimum into non-destructive venting. We dare not attempt to extinguish passion. Without fire, the inner and outer worlds die due to lack of heat and light. Religion, education, and the arts should serve the function of tending fire. When these institutions fail to provide sufficient guidance, humanity and our environment burn up or freeze.
Last night, we viewed a 2017 PBS program on Yosemite.  Even three years ago, climate change was shown to threaten this incredible ecosystem. The warning emphasized rising temperature, drought, and the risk of excessive wildfire, but the program also noted the necessity of fire in the life cycle of the giant sequoias (e.g., to release the seeds from the cone and to open space for seedlings to get sunlight). Of course, without water the entire natural wonderland is doomed. Overheating of the environment threatens the imminence of this catastrophe. Fire, water, earth, and air are all needed in proper balancing.
  A similar threat to the natural world can be seen in the human ecosystem with the reduction of impulse control. Persons in positions of leadership in politics and in the media fail to exercise sufficient reflection on words prior to making them public. Irresponsible mediation results in fake news, distortion (intended or not), and divisions that prompt violence and harm especially toward vulnerable sub-populations. Of course, as voters and consumers we fuel the wildfire when we are not turning our passion into the force of love, when we allow hostile emotions to reside within our hearts, even in those impulses to feel the other as a fool.
A civilized society channels fire into constructive work as well as re-creational activity. For example, competitive sports contribute a vital venue for guiding youth into responsible self-management of power, learning to direct combustive energy that is capable of driving achievement; but violence from players and addictive engagement from the culture prove the failure from coaching and from the wider arena of fans, parents, and sponsors. Each person needs an outlet for passionate engagement that creates and nurtures.
The coronavirus pandemic relates to the overheating. The consequent stoppage of “March Madness” (in the broad sense extending way beyond basketball) offers an opportunity for reflection and reform. Time and space have now been set to ask important questions: 
  • What is most essential? 
  • How do we live into the depths of love? 
  • How can we individually and collectively dedicate ourselves to attending the highest values, including our capacity for tending the human spirit tuned to the divine inheritance?

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

“And now

for other news…” 

Wednesday, March 18. 

Out here in West Virginia, signs of spring look to be a couple of weeks ahead of the past few years. Bloodroot and forsythia blooms already are bringing their early cheer. 

          Looking back two years these were opening further on into April
Forsythia in sunset, April 1, 2019
Bloodroot in full bloom, April 12, 2018

         We can also anticipate sooner than usual some other markers of special interest. These include the first migrants, especially the towhee, brown thrasher, and hummingbird. 
April 30, 2018
May 1, 2018

 In recent years, it’s been May Day when we’ve welcomed their arrivals, but perhaps for 2020 the red-flowered feeders should be in place by mid-April.

          And that coincides pretty closely with the time to start bringing in the sunflower-seed feeders each night so that the morning doesn’t show them splashed onto the grounds…
special visitor 2019

Friday, March 6, 2020

Continuous Creation

The beauty of dawn models the presence shown in each moment of creation as the evanescent, uncapturable essence spins past too quickly to catch. This morning the luscious red tones first glimpsed had already turned orange -gold in the brief time it took to find and focus the camera—and in the thirty seconds needed to turn the Scene dial to “sunrise,” the spectrum shifted into purple-blues. This might be frustrating but perhaps instead can be tuned to reassurance. As we used to say about the “winter” weather in West Texas: just wait, it’ll change soon enough.
     When I searched my recent documents for “continuous creation,” several treasures showed up. A frequent source on God’s revelation through Nature is Ibn al-Arabi. From William Chittick’s rich commentary:
“The cosmos, made upon God’s form, is His unveiling, and He never repeats the manner in which He shows His Face, for He is infinite and unconstricted. The Divine Vastness forbids repetition. The evanescent and changing nature of existence, or the cosmos as ever-renewed creation and never-repeated divine self-disclosure, is evoked by one of Ibn al’Arabi’s best-known names for the substance of the universe, the ‘Breath of the All-merciful’ (nafas al-rahman).” (p. 19, Sufi Path of Knowledge: Ibn al-‘Arabi’s Metaphysics of Imagination)
     Another reference to Ibn al-Arabi comes from an article by Ralph Austin on a poem of al-Arabi, one evoked by the death of a daughter of his. Line 3 of the poem is translated: “Bound to this moment we are in, caught between the yesterday that has gone and the tomorrow that is yet to come.” Austin comments on this line:
"Again, the sense in Ibn 'Arabi's thought of man's situation – man's being in between two enormous realities: the reality of creation and the reality of eternal essence. As a Sufi master once said, "The past is irretrievable – the future infinitely precious". Here is another state familiar to the Sufis of al-hayrah or perplexity, confusion – being in between two realities, being in a state where one doesn't know where one belongs, where to turn. Ibn 'Arabi is very conscious, in relation to the death of his daughter, of time – the way time cuts us down, the way time changes states, the way time often renders our hopes and ideals to nothing – he is addressing the pressure of the moment. Another Sufi idea suggested here is that of being the person of the moment, Ibn waqtihi. Implicit in this consideration of yesterday and tomorrow is the notion that the present moment is the only real time. The past is gone, the future is not yet here so if we don't enjoy or make full use of the present, then yesterday we will never have again and tomorrow perhaps we won't be here. This is the perplexity of time which is brought home to him by the death of his daughter." (Journal of the Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi Society, Vol. VII, 1988.)
     And, while the references could go on and on, here’s one more. From my notes on Lewisohn’s Hafiz and the Religion of Love in Classical Persian Poetry, there are wonderful passages from the chapter by Leili Anvar’s “The Radiance of Epiphany: The Vision of Beauty and Love in Hafiz’s Poem of Pre-Eternity.”
"Utter perplexity is part of the pleasure when reading a Persian ghazal in general, and a ghazal by Hafiz in particular. The apparent disparity of the distiches enhances this feeling of a kind of nuclear aesthetics that lacks unity, giving the deceptive impression that these lines are but ‘orient pearls at random strung.’ [quoting A.J. Arberry] And yet there is unity, but in a very oblique way. In the same way as the primordial vision of beauty and the all-encompassing experience of love constitute the founding metaphysical principles of creation and the secret of the unity of being, aesthetically the same structure presides over the design of the ghazal: it seems complicated to the extreme, upside down, discombobulated, even chaotic like the visible world of multiplicity, but the underlying unifying thread to the paradoxical reality of love and beauty is always there." (p. 133)

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

The Far, the Near & All That’s Between

Near Snake Mountain Range, Nevada, Feb 17
While traveling across the states, a fine companionship came in reading Mingled Waters. An early section tells of “Maya” and its many faces: nature, multiplicity/union, love/desire, and magic.
“Maya is Magic that makes something seem other than it is…Maya is only the means; devotion, gnosis and union are the end… there is hope, as the Bhagavad Gita announces: ‘Composed of Nature’s qualities, My magic is hard to escape; but those who seek refuge in Me cross over this magic.’” (Pir Zia Inayat-Khan, Mingled Waters: Sufism and the Mystical Unity of Religions, pp. 25-27).
        In our journey, we crossed over rivers—Potomac, Ohio, Wabash, Mississippi, Missouri, Gunnison, Colorado, Snake, Columbia, Yakima—and traversed mountain passes—Monarch, Snoqualmie, and many without name. We were breathless in the awe of snowpeaked mountain ranges and in wonder at the rugged yet delicate hues in high desert and canyonland.
Yakima River, WA, Feb 19
Eagle in close-up from tree top in Yakima River photo

   It’s wonderful to imagine the crossing-overs that compose life as the wellspring of moving further in knowing God.
San Rafael Swell, UT, Feb 17 

Saturday, February 29, 2020

Life's an Adventure

Feb 16, near Moab, Utah, looking back at mountains passed
     This adventure, which might be named Life (in “Retirement”), called us to travel cross country the last half of February, not the time of year a sane person would normally choose to traverse the Rockies, Cascades, or even the Alleghenies. However, son Daniel having flown to Seattle months earlier had successfully found employment and consequently was wishing for his car (which he’d packed up and left in our drive). Aware that finding positions in the Northwest, an area favored by many and especially by the IT world, would not be easy, we’d all decided to delay on getting the car there. Now all excited about the new job and realizing this was not a good time for Daniel to take time off, the two retirees decided they’d be able to deliver the car. No great rush getting there and what about trying Amtrak for the return!  O.K. All aboard…
     Now we’re back home. Time to debrief, memory aided by 219 images imported from the main camera along with a few dozen from the cell phone device. 
             But, first, since some friends are asking—a short verdict on Amtrak: 1) great for viewing the landscape, 2) pretty good for photographing (if you can snap quickly and avoid glare on windows), and 3) adequate sleeping accommodations. Would we do it again? Probably, but let’s withhold judgment to allow for recovery time. We are already wondering about taking a trip planned in segments where we could ride the train for a day, get off at an interesting stop to spend the night in a hotel (and then maybe take a day or so visiting the place or something nearby), and then continue on the train for the next segment. 
Meanwhile, we can play with the images from the Seattle trip and share some reflections about travel. What’s the favorite spot between home and there? Moab. An unplanned, unexpected jewel. Due to snowy weather and icy road conditions we scrapped the tentative route that would have skirted Denver to the north then going west through Wyoming. Another option of circling Denver and taking Interstate 70 directly west through the Rockies also looked like trouble due to a new storm promising additional snow and ice. Instead, we settled on a route further south that the incoming storm would miss. This choice would take us to Pueblo, Colorado, and then venture west on Route 50, still taking us through the mountains at Monarch Pass (elevation 11,312 feet)--intimidating but reported as passable. 
        It worked. The only slow-down came on that Sunday morning with a back-up of cars trying to turn into the ski area near Monarch. So we were taking big sighs of relief while rejoining 70 at Grand Junction, and the relief turned into delight as we detoured onto the scenic drive, Highway 128, going south to Moab where we stayed overnight. As Life sometimes offers: not on the plan but available when attentive to the present moment.
Feb 15 along the Colorado River
        Then, early Monday morning, we thrilled with the sunrise 

in Arches National Park taking a couple of hours there 

before returning to Interstate 70 and hours later back on Highway 50 to Ely, Nevada.
One more view from Arches National Park