Ramadan: Remembering Our Utter Dependence on the Unutterable One

by Khaleelullah Chemnad

Our Muslim cousins are in the season of Ramadan, from the first glimpse of the new moon on July 19 until the next new moon on August 18. A chance for all of us to remember our creaturliness and our utter dependence on the Unknowable and Unutterable One.

During this season consider reading The Illuminated Prayer: The Five-Times Prayer of the Sufis by Coleman Barks and Michael Green or The Heart of the Qu’ran by Lex Hixon to explore the beauty and grandeur of Islamic spirituality.

Below is an excerpt from Rabia Harris’ excellent short essay on Islamic Nonviolence. Rabia is the founder of the Muslim Peace Fellowship at the Fellowship of Reconciliation.

“… The Arabic term for that which is truly in charge in the world, upon which nonviolence depends, is ALLAH. You can hear that name in your heartbeat. In English, we generally refer to God. There’s only one.

The Muslim Peace Fellowship holds that nonviolence is the core social teaching of all the great religious traditions, and has been carried by all of the Messengers of God.

An Islamic approach to nonviolence will, however, differ in important ways from other understandings. Every religious community takes its distinctive quality from the Messenger who founded it. It follows that the community of Muhammad is perfumed with the perfume of Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. And Muhammad {peace and blessings be upon him: PBBUH}, like all of us, possesses both a worldly and a spiritual dimension.

Continue reading “Ramadan: Remembering Our Utter Dependence on the Unutterable One”

Julia Jack-Scott: Spiritual Practices for Keeping Greed in Check

Artist Julia Jack-Scott

Julia Jack-Scott has launched Searching for a Sacred Economy exploring the work of Charles Eisenstein on “sacred economics.” Julia is a tremendous writer and gifted thinker and artist. Here’s an excerpt from one of her posts:

I have a minister friend who told me about a sermon he preached about our relationship with money. He told everyone in his congregation to take out a dollar bill from their wallets and rip the bills up then and there. He asked them to do it again, this time with a larger bill if they could stand to, and to pay attention to what emotions and attachments they were encountering. I am guessing probably a bit of reluctance, some panicked thoughts about what it could have been spent on, or perhaps even inability to cooperate. I am not sure I could bring myself to tear up a twenty dollar bill. Or fifty. Or one hundred. Probably few of us could. But given a similar size piece of scrap paper, it would be no problem. You begin to see through this exercise how much power we assign to money. It is not hard to make the mental leap to an image of Golum in his cave stroking “his precious,” the ring. Golum is hopefully an exaggerated character of the sense of constriction, scarcity and greed we can sometimes feel around money, but we need collective practices to stop us from becoming so imbalanced in what we truly value.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that many world religions have teachings and practices around money, to keep greed in check. In Islamic tradition, the Quran condemns riba, or interest: “O, you who believe! Devour not riba, doubled and redoubled, and be careful of Allah; but fear Allah that you may be successful.” This is followed by Muslims to this day and serves as a check against greed and wealth amassing. In Buddhism, the practice of dana or voluntary giving, was one of the Buddha’s essential teachings, the very foundation of spiritual growth and self-transcendence. When I lived in Thailand, I loved seeing the early-morning ritual of dana unfolding, people giving a bit of food, a donation of money, or other gifts (like soap), to monks who would walk through the villages with their begging bowls. Setting aside something to give was built into the everyday consciousness of the Thai people, and also a daily joy of connection with the monks. [Read more.]

“Thou Shalt Not Live for Punishment or Reward”

Isa ibn Maryam

“Love God and do what you will,” John of the Cross wrote. It’s only when I got old enough, experienced enough and wise enough in the ways of mystics that I knew what John really meant. It’s not what we do that makes us holy. It’s what we love that makes the difference between being simply a spiritual virtuoso and being a saint.

The Sufi understood the paradox very well. They tell a story about Isa ibn Maryam: Jesus, Son of Mary. One day Isa saw a group of people sitting miserably on a wall, moaning out loud and full of fear. “What is your affliction?” he asked. “It is our fear of hell,” the people complained.

Then Isa came upon a second group. They were emaciated and wan and full of anxiety. “What is your affliction?” Isa asked them. “Desire for Paradise has made us like this,” the people cried.

Finally, Isa came upon a third group. They were scarred and bruised, wounded and tired but their faces were radiant with joy. “What has made you like this?” Isa asked. And the people answered, “We have seen the Spirit of Truth. We have seen Reality,” they sighed. “And this has made us oblivious of lesser goals.”

And Isa said, “These are the ones who attain. On the Last Day, they will be in the Presence of God.”

If we live our spiritual lives only in fear of punishment or in hope of reward, rather than in the awareness of the One because of whom all life is worthwhile, we can be religious people but we will never be holy people. Then life is simply a series of tests and trials and scores, not the moment by moment revelation of God who is present in everything that happens to us, in everything we do.

Sanctity is about how we view life. It is not about spiritual exercises designed to evaluate our spiritual athleticism or a kind of spiritual bribery designed to win us spiritual prizes we do not deserve.

Coming to know the sacred — the energy of air, the possibility in children, the beauty of regret, the value of life — is what makes us holy. –Joan Chittister

From Becoming Fully Human by Joan Chittister