I want to speak really about five things this evening, like the five pillars of Islam. The first is mysticism, which in every religious tradition implies for the individual a desire, a wish to achieve a kind of oneness in his or her relationship with God, an intensity of relationship that everyday religion does not achieve. This is the goal of the mystic. The word mysticism comes from a Greek word “mysterion”, which means something that is hidden. So it implies that there is center of God that the mystic wishes to access that everyday religion does not manage to access. And one of the features that define the mystical tradition in every religious tradition is that the mystic has to empty himself or herself of ego.
If I am to be filled with God I need to be emptied of myself because if there is too much of myself there is not enough room for God. And one of the consequences of this is that on the one hand most of the major mystics in Islam, in Christianity, in Judaism have first of all also been jurists. They have also had very intimate understandings of their respective faiths because each of them understands as the primary means of gaining a relationship that is so intense and so deep with God, is to go through the particular faith, which they are part.
So a Sufi is going to seek God through Islam, a Jewish mystic is going to seek God through Judaism; a Christian mystic is going to seek God through Christianity. So a Sufi is going to start with the Qur`an and a Jewish mystic is going to start with the Torah, and Christian mystic is going to start with Jesus in the Gospels. So on the one hand a mystic is likely to be well versed in his or her form of faith but on the other hand, and this is what is so important for this evening`s discussion, a mystic recognizes that there are an infinite number of paths to the one God who created the universe with an infinite number of aspects, a God that created human beings that are infinite in our diversity. And a true mystic understands that if I believe that the only way to God is my way then that`s my ego speaking and not my connection to God succeeding.
So it isn`t surprising for example to Sufism, that if one looks at the work of ibn-Arabi in the 12th Century that he was both an important jurist for Islam and an important mystic for Sufism and it`s not surprising that while he wrote on Islam, he also could write words like these:
”My heart can take any form, a medal for gazelles, a cloister for monks, for the idols sacred ground, Kabe for the circling pilgrim, the tablets of the Torah, the pages of the Qur`an, my creed is love, wherever its caravan turns along the way, that is my belief, my faith.”
So ibn-Arabi is both an intense Muslim and he is also in a way, that is way ahead of his time, a universalist. He thinks both in Islamic and interfaith term. And like him, Rumi, who as you know ended up not far from here in Konya, a refugee from Persia in the 13th Century, in the face of Mongol invasions, who came to what is now Turkey, someone who is a native, as it were, of two different lands of two different languages of two different cultures and who is above all an intense Muslim, who was an intense Sufi and who introduced an altogether radical and new method of beginning the process of intense contact with God, where in Arabic is called “Zikir”, that instead of it being verbal, it became as you all know with him physical, so that his tarikah become known eventually for the manner in which its practitioners not only entered into a spiritual state in the mental sense, but rather than by meditating on a word in the physical sense, that they would spin and spin. One hand pointing down toward the earth one hand pointing up toward the sky, so that every practitioner himself is as it were a connection between earth and heaven, that not only is this part of Rumi`s legacy from the 13th Century but he is credited with words like these:
“I go into the Muslim mosque and the Jewish synagogue and the Christian Church and I see one altar”
or words like these:
“Not Christian or Jew or Muslim not Hindu, Buddhist, Sufi or Zen, not any religion or cultural system, I am not from the East or the West, not out of the ocean or up from the ground, not natural or theorial, not composed of elements and all, I belong to the beloved, my place is the placeless, a trace of the traceless, first, last, outer, inner, only that breath breathing human being.”