Mr. Chodos: I’d like to begin First of all Idrisa is going to hand out some sheets which i’ll be referring to during the presentation. I’d like to begin with a quote from one of our great Rabbis, Hillel, who said “The shy person does not learn”, so in other words, don’t be shy! If you have questions please ask them; if you have
something to add, please add it. And i’m going to make sure your not going to be shy by sort of starting by throwing this out to you: One of the questions we’re supposed to be talking about this afternoon is, what is mysticism? And I’m going to ask you that. You all signed up for a session on mysticism What is that you thought we were going to talk about this afternoon? We’ll see whether what I have to say and what my other contenders have to say corresponds to that. So does anyone want to begin? Go ahead. (A man): That which we can’t talk about *laughing in the crowd* Mr: Chodos: Okay, well now we can all go home.
*laughs* Mr. Chodos: Okay. Anyone else?
(A woman): The inner experience of spirituality. Mr. Chodos: Okay, good. Anybody else? (A man): Practise. Searching for that inner spirituality. Mr.Chodos: Okay (A woman): A feeling of hiddenness or mystery.
Mr.Chodos: Okay Any others? Now I think you’ll find in the history of Jewish mysticism, the hiddenness and mystery are definitely there. The inner spirituality is there too, although perhaps not as much as in some of the other traditions And ,
(Mr.Chodos to someone: Did you want to say something?) a couple of features of Jewish mysticism that I’d like to mention: The first is that it’s, as compared to other forms of mysticisms, it’s largely text based. Now we don’t think of mysticism as text based necessarily. That kind of inner spirituality, the emphasis that mystics have on experience isn’t as prevelant in Jewish mystism, although it’s certainly not entirely absent. Another feature – now, the description of what we’re talking about this afternoon said that it would be through stories, lives, and a couple of other things And i’m going to do it primarily through lives. I’m going to talk about five figures in Jewish history who played a role in the development of mysticism; sort of represented through various periods and there’s a sixth person that i’m also going to mention who played a somewhat different role. Now it so happens that all six of those people are male. I think if, certainly in Christian mysticism, the women mystics of the middle ages are certainly to me a very big part of that story. And in Islamic mysticism you have figures like Rabia who played a big part in the founding of the Sufi tradition. There’s nothing comparable in Judaism and I don’t really know why that is but the fact is that it has been – the history that I’m going to be talking about which sort of goes from, roughly the 2nd century to the 18th century, the major figures in it are all male. So our first figure is Rabi Akiva and he was a rabi of the late 1st – early 2nd century; one of the major figures in the development of the Mishnah and Talmud. He, and (along with their legal and scholarly work) many of the scholars at that time also engaged in what was known as Merkavah; the word Merkavah means ‘chariot’. Now if you look at the first page of your handout you’ll see an excerpt from Ezekiel’s vision in the first chapter from the book of Ezekiel. Merkavah mysticism developed because certainly in the Hebrew Bible there’s not much that is actually about the nature of God. I mean, if you look at, for example, the first works of the Bible which is usually translated in the beginning, “God created Heaven and Earth” There are other translations but in all those translations, the word “God” is just sort of taken for granted. It doesn’t tell us where God came from or what God is. We find out certain characteristics of God: God can create, God creates through speech, and then there are other things that develop in later stories but our sense of what that God is, is very thin. And one of the few places where there’s more of a developed sense of what Heaven looks like, what you see there and God’s throne and the chariot in which God rides, is in that first chapter of Ezekiel. It’s a very different character from most of what you find in the Hebrew Bible. So, the mystics – I mean people wanted to know, what is this God? What is Heaven? What does God look like? What do we find around God? So the first chapter of Ezekiel provided an object to contemplate and think about all those things. So, now as I mentioned, Rabi Akiva was one of the rabbis of the Talmudic period and I chose him for essentially three reasons: the first reason is that he is, unquestionably, one of the most outstanding personalities in Jewish history because his story is fascinating. How much of this truth and how much of it is legend is sort of hard to say but I think scholars generalize recognize that there is at least a kernel of truth, that he was, in his youth, an illiterate shepherd. And he worked for a wealthy land owner. He and the land owner’s daughter fell in love with each other. And she recognized in him, intelligence and potential as a scholar, even though he was illiterate and had contempt for scholars. So she agreed to marry him if he would go and study. Her father was opposed to the match and cut his daughter off. So they were very poor but she sold her hair so that he could go and study. And it was initially very difficult for him but he spend years studying. And first mastered the alphabet, and then mastered the Torah and eventually became one of the great scholars of his age. The second thing about Rabi Akiva, if you look at the bottom of the fisrt page you’ll see the story of the four who entered the Pardes gates. ‘Pardes’ – it’s the Hebrew word for orchard but it comes from a Persian word and it’s the same word from which we get the English word ‘Paradise’. So the Rabbis taught four entered the Pardes. They were: Ben Azzai, Ben Zoma, Acher, and Rabi Akiva. Ben Azzai gazed and died;
Ben Zoma gazed and was harmed; Acher cut down the plantings;
Rabi Akiva entered in peace and left in peace. So, the Pardes is the world of mystical speculation. These four rabbis, all of whom were sort of great rabbis of their time, engaged in this speculation One of them, Ben Azzai died as a result;
Ben Zoma, it says, was harmed and he went mad. Now Acher cut down the plants and who was Acher?
The word ‘acher’ in Hebrew means ‘other’. So, this is from the Talmud and the people who wrote it didn’t even want to mention his name. His name was Elisha ben Abuyah and he became an apostate as a result of his speculation. There’s a novel about him in which he becomes a student in Greek philosophy and rejects everything Jewish. So the only one of the four who was, sort of, spiritually whole enough to be able to withstand the effect of this kind of mystical speculation was Rabi Akiva. And this will give you some idea of the way the mystical tradition has been regarded by mainstream Judaism. It is certainly part of the Jewish tradition but it’s regarded with considerable skepticism and weariness. There is a tradition that no one should study the mystical tradition until they are 40 years old and have a thorough grounding in the standard sources. Now the third, reason for singling out Rabi Akiva: There’s a book by Abraham Joshua Heschel, who’s one of the great scholars of the 20th century, and it’s only within the last few years that it’s been translated in English.
The English title is “Heavenly Torah: As Refracted Through the Generations” And what Heschel does, is he takes two strains in Jewish thought that he traces it back to Akiva and to his contemporary Rabi Ishmael. And the two, the Ishmaelian tradition is rational, measured, moderate yet Hebrew tradition is passionate, extravagant and sometimes extreme. And from the Ishmealian tradition, as that sort of develops into the Middle Ages, you get the philosophical tradition identified with Maimonides and from the Akivan tradition, we get the mystical tradition. So just to give you an example of the difference between the two, and a lot of it centers on interpretation of the Torah. So for the Ishmaelians, the main principle was: the Torah is written in the language of human beings. So in other words, while this is our sacred text, we sort of analyse it and treat it as we would any other text. For Akiva, the main principles – that every word, and in fact, every letter of the Torah, has meaning. So even if a letter is written larger in the Torah scroll or written smaller, or if there’s a small letter there where you don’t need it, that can have meaning. Another difference would be in terms of the sacrifices: For Rabi Ishmael, the sacrifices are there because human beings need them as a way of getting close to God. For Akiva, the sacrifices are there because God really wants the sacrifices. And this is like an 800 page book that sort of raises all kinds of dualities of that sort. So it’s from the Akivan tradition that the mystical tradition develops. Okay. Now to move onto our second personality, we go ahead about a thousand years, to the Middle Ages in Spain And our personality is Moses de Leon. (pause) And the book that he’s associated with is the Zohar. Now when I say it’s the book he’s associated with,
exactly what his relationship to it is, depends on who you talk to. If you talk to a Hasidic Jew, they will tell you that the Zohar was written by Simeon bar Yochai, who was a disciple of Rabi Akiva’s and one of the great scholars of the next generation – so in other words, he lived in the middle of the 2nd century – but that it was hidden for a thousand years until somehow made it’s way to Spain and was discovered by Moses de Leon. Modern scholarship and especially the greatest modern scholar of mysticism, Gershom Scholem, regards Moses de Leon as being in fact, the author of the Zohar, who attributed it to Simeon bar Yochai but in any case. Now, at that time, Spain was the center of the Jewish world – this is like late 13th, beginning of the 14th century. So Moses de Leon was a writer, bookseller in Northern Spain who began circulating these tests. It wasn’t like – a whole Zohar is a hugely sprawling work,
there’s like 22 different pars of it. To call it a book is a bit like calling the Hebrew Bible a book; it’s much more than that. So he didn’t, sort, of circulate it all at a time. So he circulated little bits of it, saying that it was a recently discovered text from Simeon bar Yochai. Now to add to the authenticity of it, the text was in Aramean, which was not a language that was used at all in Spain at that time, except for studying, sort of ancient texts of Babylonian Talmuds in Armean. But nobody spoke or wrote in Aramaic. Jews mostly spoke in Hebrew or if they were writing for a general audience, in Arabic. So the story goes that in around that time, the Mamluks conquered the town of Acre, in Northern Israel. And, the story goes that, a man named Isaac,
who the many Jews were massacred as a result of the conquest, Isaac escaped and found his way to Spain. He heard about Moses de Leon and this text that he had supposedly discovered, which you know Isaac was from Israel and he had never heard of this text which had supposedly been written in Israel. He wanted to find out that. And he met Moses de Leon and Mosese de Leon said “come to my house (which is in a different town) and i’ll show you the text”. But as it turned out, by the time Isaac was able to do that, Moses had fallen ill and died. So he met Moses’ wife instead and when he asked about this text, the response of Moses’ wife is worth meaning: “Does and more may God do to me if my husband ever possessed such a book. He wrote it entirely from his own head. When I saw him writing it, and nothing in front of him, I said to him: “Why do you say that you are copying from a book when there’s no book. You’re writing from your head! Wouldn’t it be better to say so, you would have more honour?”
He answered me: “If I told them my secret, that i’m writing from my own mind, they would pay no attention to my words and they would pay nothing for them. The would say it was invented out of his imagination, but now that they hear that I’m copying from the book of Zohar, composed by Rabi Simeon, son of the Yochai through the Holy Spirit, they’d buy these words at a high price.”” (laughing) So whether it was for such crass reason or whether Moses de Leon really believed that he was sort of, channeling Simeon bar Yochai, this we don’t know for sure. But in any case, the idea that Simeon bar Yochai was the author, sort of, took root and as I say, is still believed in the Orthodox circle. Now what is in the Zohar? The main contribution of the Zohar is the system of Sefirot. And if you look at the second page you’ll see the diagram of the Sefirot. So in this system, it’s this essence of God that is called “Ein Sof”, which means ‘no end’. And Ein Sof is not something that we can perceive, but there are emanations of God that sort of go into the world and these are the Sefirot. And there you see – they’re always in some type of a diagram – and if you do a Google image search you’ll see hundreds of different diagrams of this sort and sometimes it’s in the form of a tree, sometimes it’s in human form but it sort of basically takes this form. And as you sort of proceed downwards in the Sefirot they become more concrete and more perceptible
(5 minutes, OK) So then we come to Malkuth, which is the one that we perceive most directly. Malkuth is also called the Shekhinah, the presence of God. In any case, I’ve got to sort of go over the other personalities very quickly But that’s the sort of system of Sefirot.
Okay, so our third personality is – we go another couple of hundred years later to the town of Safed, in Northern Israel. Now during that period in 1492, a very traumatic event happened which was the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, which had been the centre of Jewish life for nearly half a millennium. And the Jews of Spain sort of scattered through the Mediterranean world. And the Kabbalists, the mystics, they gathered in Sefad.
So there was a whole school of kabbalists, whom most famous is Isaac Luria. And he sort of, he was in Sefad for only 3 years until his death at the age of 38. He wrote no books and yet his influence was huge. He was constantly bubbling with ideas all the time, many of which were written down by his followers and colleagues, and they gradually spread from Sefad and became very influential. The primary way in which Luria further developed the ideas of Kabbalah that he had inherited from the Zohar and other Spanish texts, was that in his system all Jews became ‘actors in cosmic drama’. Because of that sense of having been exiled, the idea of exile that had always been present but sort of further developed, and the idea of exile of the Shekhinah, that there was a certain alienation between one part of God and other parts of God, were developed. And the way to correct that was through what was called “tikkun olam”, which means repairing or correcting the world and tikkun olam – and the way we did that was through the observance of commandments. So what we did, became of cosmic significance. There was also an infusion of messianism into Luria’s Kabbala. And that leads to our fourth personality, Shabtai Zvi, (pause) who, in the 17th century, many Jews believed was the Messiah. I mean, there have been messianic claimants throughout Jewish history but none have had the impact on the Jewish world that Shabtai Zvi did. It was again, a very – the impact of the expulsion from Spain was still being felt. There were also pogroms from Poland and the Ukraine, so the yearning for a messiah was very strong. Shabtai Zvi was a very charismatic personality. He also had a prophet named Nathan of Gaza, who was a very clever publicist. Shabtai Zvi’s messianic adventure ended with him being put in prison by the Sultan of the Ottoman empire and at a certain point he was offered the choice between death and conversion to Islam, and he chose conversion to Islam. And even this, many of his followers sort of fell away at that time, but some persisted. So, I’ll just very quickly go on to our fifth personality, the Baal Shem Tov; (pause) who was the founder, or at least the sort of inspirational founder of the Hasidic movement in the 18th century. And he was a sort of saintly personality. And he developed the idea that, primarily associated with him, is the idea of the “devekut”, which means clinging to God. So here is where we get that idea of union with God, that’s sort of very common with mystical systems. But his followers sort of developed and transmitted his ideas. And even though Hasidism today – I mean we associated it as being the most orthodox, in some ways, rigid branch of Judaism. Early Hasidism was a sort of flowering of Jewish spirituality that had few parellels. So that brings the story up to the 18th century. The rest is going to be for Rabbi Cohen to develop and complete. Reverend Glenda Meakin:
I’m going to begin with a poem, by a contemporary poet. I expect some of you know of her, Mary Oliver and I particularly picked a poem by Mary Oliver because I would call her a mystic and also because she grounds this sense of the presence of the Divine in everyday life. So this is not a mysticism for a chosen few who are lead at a higher level, but this is for all of us. So she writes – it’s called Thirst – “Another morning and I wake with thirst for the goodness I do not have.
I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons.
Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked And hunched over my books past the hour and the bell.
Grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the Earth and love for You are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent,
Yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which,
with this thirst, I am slowly learning.” The first, earlier Christian mystic than Mary Oliver, I want to mention is from the 13th century, Meister Eckhart. And as soon as I give you this quotation, you will know why I chose it: Meister Eckhart teaches, ‘every choice is a renunciation’. So guess how much material we have all, had to renounce in order to pack this talk into 25 minutes? I know Marylyn will tell me when the time is up. I think I’m close to 25 minutes. So, ‘every choice is a renunciation’. At no time have I experienced the truth of this observation more keenly than in preparing this talk. The Christian mysticism is a great treasure, stretching over more than 2000 years. Add to that it’s deep roots in Jewish thought and writings, the influence of Greek philosophy, especially Plato on Christian mysticism. And you and I would be good for a few years to study together and then to seek to learn the common ground we share with all faiths Well, that you and I could do that, but not today. So here’s a brief overview. I’d first like to give a little bit of historical context because Christain mysticism has tended to flourish when in all the world everything is in turmoil. And that’s the reason you and I are here today, looking at mysticism in these three Abrahamic faiths. Every institution, that you and I know about, is in the midst of massive change and we’d like to call it a paradigm of change. The planet is in jeopardy as our way of living eats up the Earth. Technology is changing the way you and I relate to one another, and to our world, and I could go on about the changes we are in. History shows us that it is in such times that mysticism comes to the fore and flourishes. So that is not to say that mysticism is not always a thread running through these faiths but that it tends to be looked for, inquiries are made, all those things happen. And that was certainly true in the first centuries of the common era; mysticism flourished and continued with the rise of monasticism, through the 5th and 6th centuries. And what was happening then? The rise and fall of the Roman Empire and before that, Alexander the Great, and the Greek Empire, its rise and fall. So an amazing flowering of mystical theology and practise grew out of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. And then we could begin a long list in those first 500 years; Agustin, Origin, Evagrius, the desert mothers and fathers, Haciend, Benedict. Again we see the flourishing of mysticism at the end of the Middle Ages when the contrast between courtly life, remember all those wonderful poems that you and I learned and read about and the way of life, the contrast between the courtly life and the beggars and lepers at their doors was much like our time now. Except we say the contrast is between the 1% and the 99%. Empire and Church, at the end of the Middle Ages, were in turmoil, as well as in competition. There was a schism between the Latin Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church and all of this strive, amazingly, gave rise to such mystics as Hildegard of Bingen, St. Francis, the English mystics: Richard Rolle, Margery Kempe, Walter Hilton and of course, that 13th centrury, Meister Eckhart. As the Black Death and the Hundred Years War moved across Europe, “The Cloud of Unknowing” was written by an anonymous mystic, and Julian of the Norwich reports her visions of God in the divine revelations. So, here we come into modern time or post-modern, as we’re often told. In our time of great turmoil and strive, mysticism is being explored with increasing interest. With all our knowledge and scientific expertise, we humans still long for peace and justice, for meaning and purpose, for a sense of the Transcendent. With the culture around us, declaring that religion cannot help us, we look for wisdom and guidance. And one source of that wisdom and guidance, surprisingly, is actually an element of all religion – that is mysticism. So while many are skeptical and even hostile as Bob mentioned in the tradition he spoke about, we find the same in Christian mysticism. Many are skeptical or hostile even but the books are appearing, the poetry, art and literature are expressing this wisdom. The contemporary path is sought, and the conversation is happening here today. So a little bit about some general thoughts on mysticism from the Christian perspective. The word, Greek word, ‘musterion’, which means mystery is found 27 times in the Christain testament. I think it’s also helpful to note, alongside that understanding of mystery is that the Greek word for truth has a very different meaning than the way we use it today. The Greek word for truth ‘aletheia’, means something revealed. So it’s very different from our use of the word ‘truth, as something verifiable by analysis, or truth as proven, often by science. So we have this mystery and we have this search for truth, but truth is revealed, not proven. Truth is what you and I seek to know as hidden, but can be revealed. But not necessarily, what I call, able to be put in box or containable by the human mind. Mysticism incorporates ancient wisdom tradition, indeed Jesus of Nazareth was known as a wisdom teacher in a long tradition of Jewish wisdom teachers. And some of that was done tradition, the early Church teachers, found in the ‘Songs of Songs’ in the Hebrew Bible, in the Psalms and then in the visionaries of the Hebrew scriptures like Moses, Elijah, Ezekiel, Daniel in the apocalyptic literature. And the early teachers also saw some of the roots in Greek philosophy. So we have a long lineage of spiritual teachings by those you and I describe as mystics. For sure, Christain mysticism in the Christian perspective is experiential. But not everyone, especially writing about mysticism today, likes that word. And prefers to talk about it as a conscious awareness of Divine presence. Mysticism is anchored in values like humility, trust, simplicity, peacefulness. So if a mystic is asking you to go and follow him or her to foment some violence, they’re not a mystic; it’s about peacefulness. Mysticism in the Christian understanding takes place in the ordinary concrete of daily life. Human life is the location of the unitive vision with God. Many in the Church would also say mysticism is subversive because it undermines all our subtle ways of seeing things. Mysticism invites us to a whole new way of seeing everything. And a wonderful story in one of the greatest scriptural resources for Christain mysticism, which is the Gospel of John. But it’s a wonderful story of this whole new way of seeing. And it’s in John (Chapter 9), and it’s the story of the man born blind. People know that story: Jesus and his followers come in to a town and see the man, born blind and he’s begging. And the Disciples say to Jesus, “Who’s fault is this? Did his parents do something wrong? Or did he do something wrong that he was born this way?”
And Jesus says, “That is not the way to look at this, that is not the question” “When you encounter a situation like this, your first question is “where is God in this”?” So always the mystic says “Look for God’s presence” and especially in the very places where you would not expect God to be because of our usual lens that we wear to view the world. And then the whole story goes on to show that the man born blind has more sight; his sight is restored by Jesus. But his neighbours cannot see that he can now see. And they keep saying “Well you look like the same man, but you mustn’t be!” So this story goes on to continue saying, as John’s Gospel says all the time, this is about being in the light and not the darkness; this is about the ability to see what you might not see if you do not look through these new eyes that Jesus shows you. Mysticism is always paradoxical: the more it reveals, the more it conceals. Not very satisfying for us who like to have it out there and be able to say, I’ve got it. Well, you wont be a happy mystic is you’re looking for that. The more it reveals, the more it conceals. The bedroot of Christain mysticism lies in Jesus of Nazareth and his proclamation of the Kingdom of God as a revelation of a mystery, kept secrete until now.
That in Jesus, in proclaiming this Kingdom of God – and remember the Kingdom of God is not a place, it’s a relationship. Not a place, but a relationship – that this mystery, that Jesus is revealing, is for all people. It is revealed to all who will open their hearts and minds. And you often hear Jesus say: “Waken up!”, “Be aware!”, “Take a look!”, “What do you see before you?” “Open your eyes”. So it’s a great contrast to the Greek mystery religions where only a select few could have access to the mysteries. Jesus of Nazareth, through his own mystical experiences, his own experience, consciousness, awareness of the presence of the Divine and all of that, then shows his followers and those who came after, that this is the fullness of human life; that you and I were created by love (a God), for love and to love. And that this is the mystery, the secret that God wants us to realize that is to make real. Some of the early Christain mystics liked to refer to Jesus as our memory, that he came to remind us of something that we already know and that is deep within us, because God is our source. But we forget and we get distracted, or we put God in certain rooms or areas where we go and visit once in a while or we pray but that God is not present in all of life. So mysticism in the Christain perspective is an ever widening, expansive consciousness of Divine presence, as love. It has been open to the transformative tower of that presence. And it is also meant to be shared; so mystics are not meant to say ‘lucky me, I’ve had this amazing experience of God. Aren’t I wonderful?’
Not at all, totally opposite. It is humbling, and it is unspeakable as, Douglas said early, that about which we cannot speak because there are no words to describe it. But it can be shown, much like Bob said, the emanations of God are shown in God’s world. If you want to think about a story, you all know, I’m sure of the transformative nature of an encounter with the Divine, think of Moses at the burning bush. And how Moses was transformed in that experience of Divine. Moses who was keeping the sheep, not with his own people because he was running away from the Pharaoh and knew that he might be arrested. And so Moses, we might call him the fugitive at this point is presented with the Divine, right there present to him. And Moses is transformed into a great leader of God’s people. And if you remember the part in the story where God says ,”I want you, to go to the Pharaoh, and tell him to set my people free!” And Moses says, “Oh, I’m not a good speaker. I don’t think I could do that.” Well guess what? Moses becomes a very good speaker. So much so that even at one point, on the Exodus journey, gets the courage to speak to God, on behalf of God’s people, who are not keeping faith very well, like all of us. So this encounter with the Divine is always transformative. We think of St. Paul on a road to Damascus and his encounter, and his sense of being spoken to by Christ. And Paul took three years to go away, and sit and reflect on what that was all about, and what was God calling him to do. And he came back a transformed person, the bearer of the new vision just as Moses came back to Hebrews in Egypt and put this vision of God’s liberation, before the people. Mysticism is never static, it’s always a dynamic process of ever deeper participation in the Divine life. It is an attempt, only, to express and live a mystery; to live human life, with God at the centre. And to find the goal of human life in the unitive vision that we are all one, in God. Because the Divine is infinite, the mystical journey is infinite. Ever deeper, ever more expansive into the mystery of God. The shape of the journey is spiral, the early mystical teachers tell us. It’s not ‘A’ to ‘B’, but it’s much like the Hebrews, as they went through and became God’s people of Israel in the wilderness; that looked like at times they were walking in circles. Well so is our spiritual journey always. We often pass through the same issues, the same challenges and they’ve been given tidal stages but the tricky part is we have to remember its spiral, its not linear. So the early teachers said, this mystical journey is exploration into life with God in the center; goes through gradation. In other words, there is a lot of baggage you and I have to let of to really be open to God’s presence. Illumination, where once in a while we say, I think I got that, I think I got that much. And then to that experience of union. One other key point in Christain mysticism, is that mysticism is ecclesial. That is, it is Church. That you are nourished and fed in all that is going to help you come into this sense of Divine presence. You are nourished by the Church, in the Church and that Church is supposed to be a sign of God’s love for the world. That Church is supposed to be a presence of God in God’s world. And every member is called to be a manifestation of the infinite love of God. And we always have to add in the finite forum, right? So we don’t get confused. It’s one of the teachings we don’t have time to get into today, that when we talk about union with God, does that mean human becomes God? Obviously not. So, another time we might explore that. Every member is called to be a manifestation of the infinite love of God, but that’s always to be lift out of the concreteness of daily life. And Meister Eckhart again says, “If you find yourself in a state of rapture with the Divine presence and someone comes to your door, seeking food, you are to leave the rapture and give the person a cup of soup. So this is never, ‘isn’t this wonderful’, but always meant to love and serve in God’s name. There is nothing elitist about mystical experience; it is not reserved for the chosen few, not is it an escape from humble service. The more authentic a mystic, the more engaged with the mundane. And Thomas Merton, who was a novice master for Tien monks coming into the Asenema and he was teaching them part of their formation. And James Finley, who wrote a book about Thomas Merton, the Palace of Nowhere, was a young novice. And he came in for his weekly spiritual direction carrying Theresa of Avila’s book, ‘The Interior Castle’ and he said to Thomas Merton, “now it’s okay if you tell me I’m wrong, but I think I’m in the fourth room.” And Thomas Merton said to him, “You are to go out and work in the pig barn until I call you to come in again and then we’ll talk some more.” So it’s always rooted in and it’s one of the authentic ways, you and I, or one of the ways that we understand authenticity in mysticism. Now having said all that I have said, it’s impossible to speak about all of this. There are two strains of thought in Christain mysticism. And one route says, ‘well, all we have is language and symbols and so we should say everything we can’; and one that says ‘we can only talk about what God is not’. In other words, apothatic mysticism – accepts the impossibility of speaking about the Divine. And that knowledges that you and I will only been receptive to the multitude of ways God reveals, God’s self to us. And then hopefully, we read poetry, symbol, ritual. As in, one more poem by a contemporary mystic:
(How’s my time Marilyn? Oh! I’m over, alright, I have to stop then). Alright, this is called, ‘The Inner History of the Day’: We seldom notice how each day is a holy place, where the eucharist of the ordinary happens, Transforming our broken fragments into an eternal continuity that keeps us. Somewhere in us a dignity presides that is more gracious than the smallness that fuels us with fear and force; A dignity that trusts the form a day takes.
So at the end of this day, we give thanks For being betrothed to the unknown and for the secret work through which the mind of the day and wisdom of the soul become one. I’d be happy to talk some more but my time is up. Dr. Gianotti: Have been speaking so much about God and yet none of us has really invoked God, not that we’ve forgotten God, and not that we’ve been guilty of neglect in any way but I – when I’m faced with the obligation to speaking about something important, I always am best served by calling myself, not by calling God into our presence, but by calling myself to an awareness that we are in God’s presence. So we begin (bismillah hir Rahman nir Rahim) In the name of God who is the Loving Nurturer of the creation. Ar Rahman, a word which is derived from the Arabic root for the womb, the ‘rihm’. The Rahman, The Loving Nurturer of creation; The Raheem, The Ever Merciful. And I seek refuge in the light of God’s knowledge from my own ignorance, and seeking refuge in God’s wisdom from words that are born of vanity and short sightedness. And I seek refuge in God’s forgiveness from all of the things that I’ve done: those destructive things to myself and to the environment and to the world and to all those things that I should’ve done but failed to do And I begin by giving thanks for being in a room where Rabi Akiva, and Moses de Leon, and St. Francis, so many other beautiful souls are mentioned in several ways. And Julian of Norwich who’s vision of God, vision of Jesus was that of a mother, suckling at Jesus’s breasts and so the subversivsness of the mystical experience is so powerfully palpable there. And it is indeed ironic that one of the first criteria of mysticism or mystical experience that Jamie Joyce, sorry that Liam James gives us, is ineffability. Like love, something we can’t define, we are driven to speak about it. We’re driven to find words for it. We’re tortured by the power of the experience, so much so that we have to try to give it words. And yet the moment we do so, we realize that whatever we’ve put on paper is not that. And so we will talk about ineffability and mystery and personal experience. I think really, all of us whether we are aware of it or not, have had some taste of mystical experience. If we’ve ever had a moment of prayer which took us outside of our awareness of time; If we’ve ever had a sudden insight in the remembrance of God; If we’ve ever felt a sudden elevation of our spirit or a joy in prayer; if we’ve ever had a sense of profound mystery after we’ve encountered a human being; I think we’ve had a taste of what mysticism really is. And before we get into the noetic, the knowledge or insight, and before we get into the ineffability of these moments for which we’re so desperate to find words for and cannot, I’d like to tell a story. In the Middle East, for those of you who have been and here I include very much those of you who have spent time in Israel, the Middle East is a place where, it’s just a fact that people making it their business to know more about you than you’re normally accustomed to. So usually for me, from the taxi in from Amman you get out from the airport into the main city or anywhere I am, we’ve talked about my religion, we’ve talked about my marital status, we’ve talked about my fertility, and/or my wife’s fertility, how many children we’ve had and if we haven’t had very many, we’re asked ‘why what’s the problem brother?’ Any you know, my financial, how much money do you make? Are you CIA? Who’s paying for your trip? All these kinds of questions that we would have never dared to ask from another in America or in Canada. You know sometimes we’re affronted by the directness of life in the Middle East, and I’ve even seen this. The reason why I include Israel here because there are many which Israel feels in parts; Like very Western place: you know the beached of Tel Aviv are now Middle Eastern right? And there are placed of the Middle East, places of Israel, that don’t feel very Middle Eastern. But I’ve been in Israeli banks when the person at the window, you know we have that line at the pharmacy and the bank, you know even if you’re hearing things your pretending your not – and you know unfortunately with the recent scandals with our mayor in Toronto, we’ve heard things that we didn’t really want to hear – but I’ve been in Israeli banks where the guy in the window is having some kind of financial problem and the guy behind him in line will come up to the window and start getting involved. So these events would horrify us, you know in Canada, really it’s –
And so, in the Middle East when I’ve been there studying, and then even at times when my Arabic got really good, so much so that the taxi driver would ask me where these other people were from. There have been moments where I’ve been in the groove and at this point I’d been taking graduate courses in Islamic law and Islamic sciences at the University of Jordan, I was the only American in any of my classes; all my classes were in Arabic and I just tried to keep a very low profile, right? I just went to class and did my readings, and came home with headaches. And I’ve never been immersed in such powerful and unforgiving Arabic in my life you know because it was just so, the Arabic was so beautifully classical and so much, so abundant in my readings. I’d just you know, often suffer from these Arabic migraines and so one day I was downtown in Amman, and I was in a bookstore. And by here we don’t mean Indigo; this is a warehouse, a one floor of an entire building full of dust and full of books on shelves and most of them on the floor in big stacks. And in the middle of this warehouse floor this this guy sitting at a little table, I think a card table, drinking tea. So you come up to him you say, ‘hey, you know I’m looking for this. Salam alaikum brother, I’m looking for this you know, German edition of the 13th century mystical commentary on the Surah of Light, I don’t know if you’ve heard of it. Could you…?’
“I have two copies left” And he’ll take you through this rabbit ward and move books, and dust is flying and there it is. “Want both copies?”, ‘no it’s…’ So I was in a bookstore like this, miles from the university and I was talking to the guy, you know with the tea at the table, “You’re that American guy! You study with this professor and that professor and this other professor up at the university”. You know and in these moments you can’t hide. So then, I’m like “Well, yeah. That would be me”. And so the Middle East remains a place where people make it their business to know everything they can about you because this is how they place you, this is how they know like, where you fit within in their world. And so if we roll the clock back 1400 years and we take ourselves back to the life of the Prophet Mohammed (upon him be peace), when he was with his friends in his adopted hometown of Medina, the people that were close to him knew everything about him. They knew his manners, they knew many aspects of his private life, they knew everybody who knew. One day, he was just sitting with his friends and a stranger walked up, and this was already a big deal. The stranger they say,was all in white, dark hair, came up to him and greeted him as if he knew him, “Salam alaikum ya Mohammed! (Peace be upon you Mohammed!)”And he sat down, right in front of the Prophet. And the Prophet of course said ‘wa alaikum masalam’ (on you be peace). He sits down and then says'”tell me about Islam” and so the Prophet (upon him be peace) explained to him the different aspects of embodied practice that Muslims do. We call this sometimes the 5 pillars of Islam: prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, the very public bearing of witness; he explained all of these points to the visitor and then the visitor said to him “That’s right.” Of course the companions and friends are just like, who’s the..? They had come with considerable sacrifice to believe that this was God’s messenger, you know, God’s prophet on planet Earth and now someone is telling him whether he’s right or not in matters of religion. And then he (the visitor) says “tell me about that iman, tell me about that faith of which you believe.” “Well, we believe in God of course and in the angels and we believe in all the books and all the messengers”. He went on to explain the very basic nuts and bolts of Muslim belief. So what we might say, after having discussed the physical embodied dimensions of the faith, then he went on to talk about the rational dimensions; those building blocks which Muslims really don’t think of as beliefs so much as they think of them as facts, the sort of basic facts of their world view. Again, the visitor says “that’s right”. Then he said, “tell me something about al-ihsan (tell me about beatification)”. The he (the Prophet) said, “beautification is worshipping God as if you see Him” Of course you can’t see Him, so you worship God knowing that God sees you. And the exchange went on a little bit and then he said, you know, tell me about the end of the world, tell me about the Hour” and Mohammed says,”the person who’s asking doesn’t know any more than the person who’s being asked”. And then they had an exchange and then ‘salam alaikum’, the guy left. Of course the companions were just overwhelmed with their curiosity, because being who they are, Middle Easterners, they’re dying to know who this guy was and how he knew Mohammed (upon him be peace) and all of that. He said, “you know who that was?” They (the companions) said “no tell us.” He said, “that was Gabriel, he came to teach you guys about your religion.” Now whether or not Gabriel was actually physically in Medina, we have no DNA evidence to verify, but what’s more instructive for us is that Muslims believe in the validity of the story. And so they believed in the determinative power of this description of their faith, as a collection, a weaving together of embodied practise, rational beliefs, and this mysterious things that is sometimes translated as righteousness, but it really means the act of making something beautiful or being beautified. And so, those physical embodied practises over time give rise to what we call ‘the madhahib”; that is, the schools of Islamic legal thinking in terms of regulating and optimizing a human beings actions and interactions in the world. We call this ‘the science of fiqh’, right. The human science of jurisprudence which is based upon scholars perception of an ideal – an ideal way of living that we call sharia – an ideal way of living and trying to apply that ideal in the mess of imperfect human life. That’s the science we call fiqh and we have many schools of fiqh within islam. The rational beliefs gave rise to theological discussions and debates and lead to various schools of what we call Islamic theology, or ‘kalam’. And this lead to the working out of the authoritative creeds, both of the people who came to call themselves the ‘Sunni Muslims’ and also those who came to understand themselves as ‘Imani or Shia Muslims’. And then this final dimension without which this, the embodied practise and rational beliefs, cannot be made whole. This final dimension, is always a little trickier. The scholars always understood that this idea of worshipping God as if you see Him and then barring that, if you worship God, knowing that God sees you, lead to a long and introspective process of coming to understand that the beautification of the human being. The restoration of the human being can only ever be discovered or cultivated with an acute and cultivated awareness of God’s ever presence; very close to what my sister here mentioned. And so the idea of cultivating an ever present awareness of God’s ever presence, is more easily said than done of course. And so there did emerge over time from these schools or methodologies for the promotion of this awareness and the beautification that naturally results. I often ask people, if you are aware of God’s presence, your internet surfing changes. If you are actively cultivating an awareness of God’s ever presence your marital argument is going to change. These moments of anger or these moments of spontaneous, impulsive behaviour, everything begins to change or become beautified when the human being is aware of her place in the presence of the Lord of the Heavens and the Earth, The Orchestrator as we say, Rabb al-Alameen. The Orchestrator of old worlds, of all realities, including the realities of this world. And so those different methodologies for the beautification and restoration of the whole human being, came to be called the ‘ways of Sufism’. Tara’iq, the plural of tariqa, or the idea of, these became what we sometimes wrongly call brotherhoods. But they became the lay orders of these different groups which follow different theories, and different methodologies for the cultivation of this sense of God’s ever presense and the beautification that naturally, organically emerges when a human being lives that way. The Quranic knowledge is very clearly, that it’s possible to be a person who prays, and believes, and yet is really a nasty human being. In Surat al- Maun, the Quran says “Woe to those who worship!” And we often worry about whether God is listening to our prayers and I always tell my brothers and sister in the community, It’s not that God – we should never worry about whether God is listening to our prayers; the Quran wants us to listen to our prayers. And so the Quran says ‘Woe to those who are worshipping and yet are heedless of what their prayers actually mean.’ Those who are seen to be doing all the pious things and yet our basic – are neglecting to do basic acts of benevolence, like feeding the poor, taking care of the weak. And so prophetically and Quranically we can say that there is an awareness in our faith; that physical practise and even creedal correctness are not sufficient for this project of restoration of the human being because I think really all these Abrahamic faiths, whether we speak in the language of Tikkun olam , the repairing of the world or when we speak in the language of you know, this idea of beautification, the whole project is about the restoration of the individual, the restoration of the community and the restoration of the world into a state that we can’t even begin to imagine; this Quranic, the ‘ahsanu taqweem’ (the best of all beautiful forms), the best of all forms. So for the human being, Quranically, to be human being is something so incredible that according to the Quran, even the angels were commanded to bow down before Adam. And when God asked the angels, just prior to that command, If they knew anything about the names, they said ‘we only know what You’ve taught us’. And so He tells Adam, ‘Adam, tell them the names.’ And some commentators say, well this was the knowledge of the creation; you know, that’s a tree, that’s a flower, etc But the Quran doesn’t say the names of the things in the creation, and many of our mystical scholars and interpreter say that it wasn’t the names of the things in the creation but it was God’s names. That it was, the incredible thing about the human being is that we were invested with an understanding in a capacity to reflect God’s qualities. And it was because of that the angels were commanded to bow down. And so when we talk about mysticism in Islam, there’s no way for us to talk about this core concept of the beautification of the human being. The restoration of the human being. A restoration which doesn’t bring us back to a place that we remember, but a restoration which exalts us to a level that we can’t even begin to know. And this is not a calling for an elite; it’s the calling of God to all human kind. And so when we talk about, the road map for mysticism within Islam, the idea of that, there is a path of spiritual, of psychospiritual transformation where our vices can become transformed alchemically into beauties and virtues and divine qualities, that that psychospiritual process is noetic as William James said, the mystical experience is, it does impart a kind of knowledge but it’s not a know that can be put in books. It’s only a knowledge that can be garnered or gained through God’s intervention in your life as Al- Ghazali, one of our great sages who has become a very powerful and life long teacher of mine says, it is a light that God illumines in the heart. And it is a light that brings certainty and knowledge and it is not something which can be recorded into books. And even if it could be recorded it is forbidden to even try because it would look like blasphemy to the vast majority of readers. And so mysticism within Islam is really about walking a path of radical transformations and ennoblement and beautification and of course, it leads to a place where the Divine’s qualities become the road map for one’s own education, meaning, using it here in the Greek sense, and also the Quranic sense; of being let out of the darkness’s (which are plural), and into the light (which is singular). And so, the divine qualities then become road maps for our own instruction and perfection. As the Prophet (upon him be peace) is reported to have said, ‘Clothes yourselves with the qualities of God.’ In another tradition he said, ‘who ever comes to know even one quality of God, and puts it into action, that that person will be in the Garden’. And so when we talk about a long tradition of mysticism within Islam, we often are tempted to speak of it in terms of the Sufi orders and the rise of Sufism. And of course you know, Coleman Barks, his renditions of Rumi are I think the best selling poetry in North America right now and so we’ve all had a glimpse of that and a taste of that; and it’s beautiful and it’s powerful, even if in it’s, American free verse translation. But we should also be humble enough to acknowledge that mysticism is at the very heart of what it means to be walking this path, this path of restoration leading to our ultimate home, our ultimate origin, our ultimate place of theologically fulfillment; that is the ultimate purpose of our being here. This is the reason for which we were made. So there’s no way for us to speak about mystical prayer, by which I mean now, personal prayer; prayer that illumines our life and illumines our heart and offers insight which we did not garner from a book or a teacher. And there is no way for us to live our religion without this personal dimension. And so then mysticism within an Islamic practise, I think is not only something that we would regard as being fundamental and essential because, doing the ritual acts and believing, having the right ‘aqeeda’ is so clearly insufficient when we go back to the prophetic descriptions of the faith and the Quranic descriptions of the faith. But there’s no way for us to divorce this from joy; there’s no way for us to divorce this from knowledge; there’s no way for us to divorce this from the kind of personal authority which I think is really one of the most subversive aspects of the mystical experience. Is that is offers a kind of knowledge that is not mediated through the ecclesial, the ecclesiastical power of the local ‘ulamah’ (the local scholars in Islam) or the Church or any other body. It’s a direct experience, it’s a direct experience of knowledge and illumination that the person, when upon receiving it, know that things cannot be otherwise. And so, in order to protect that and acknowledging the danger of this these schools or Sufi lay orders emerge as a way of trying to protect people from all the things that could go wrong within a person’s journey into these realms of psychospiritual experiences. And so there is acknowledgement they say, an acknowledgement of the danger of mystical experience which is isolating from the community. So community is so important because community helps us integrate and understand what we experience in these moments of personal illumination. There’s no way for us to speak of this divorce of joy as we saw so beautifully present in those poems you read (I’ll have to get those names before we part) But all in all I think, the entirety of the mystical experience has to be understood as Islamically, Quranically, Prophetically, as the fundamental process by which we, one soul at a time, one soul at a time, that fundamental process by which we enter into a very personal and transformative relationship, with a God, for her own reasons, His own reasons – as my son likes to say ‘Its’ reasons – a God that is outside of time and outside of gender and a God who, for Its own mysterious reasons has taken an interest in us, a loving interest in us; so much so that we have in this untheopathic hadith, attributed to the Prophet, a hadith ‘Qudsi’ where God is believed to have said, ‘The moment my servant remembers Me, I am remembering him. The moment my servant speaks of Me, I am speaking of him. The moment my servant takes a step towards Me, I am rushing towards…’