By Kathy Keary
Part 2. The full series is here: The Contemplative Spirit of Islam.
Of all the beautiful notions that permeate faith traditions, the one that most awakens, enlivens and animates my soul was spoken by the mystics of old. These spiritual seekers metaphorically declared that when we were in our mother’s womb, God kissed our soul before placing it in our body.
As we journey through life, we have a vague recollection of this kiss. In the depths of our soul, we long for an intimate reunion. Before we discover that our longing is an implanted desire for God, it is not uncommon to search for the source of the kiss “in all the wrong places.”
Embracing the analogy of this sacred kiss stands at the heart of my desire to live the contemplative way. (Read my essay “It’s All About the Kiss.”)
My heart was warmed when reading the book, Spiritual Gems of Islam, to learn that the author, Iman Jamal Rahman, also speaks of this pre-birth intimate encounter with God. The Qur’an reveals that before sending us to earth, God brought together all the souls of the unborn and asked: “Am I not your Sustainer? The delighted souls exclaimed: “Yes, yes, we testify!” (7:172). Rahman continues:
This cosmic event constitutes the primordial covenant between God and humanity. But even though the covenant is seared into our souls, our memory of it is faded and muted once we arrive on Earth. Strangely, this forgetfulness is part of the divine design. Life is about the remembrance and realization of this original melody of Alastu bi Rabbikum [Am I Not the Sustainer?].
The 13th-century Persian poet, Islamic scholar, and Sufi mystic, Jelalludin Rumi, eloquently spoke of our desire for the divine:
There is in the core of man [and woman] such a passion and longing that even if he owned a hundred thousand worlds, he would never find peace. Look at how people dabble in every conceivable trade and craft; they study astronomy and medicine and all kinds of other things, and never find peace, for they have not obtained the object of their search. And what is that? It is the Beloved and the Beloved alone that is called “Heart’s Ease.” Where else but in the Beloved could the heart find ease? (Harvey, 34)
The Sufi teacher, Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, Ph.D., also speaks of our longing for God in his book, Sufism, The Transformation of the Heart. He explains that a spiritual seeker begins the journey with an awareness of a desire for a state of oneness that originates from remembrance that our soul came from God. “The soul remembers that its real Home is with God and awakens the seeker with this memory.” The spiritual life leads the wayfarer from a state of separation to union with God.
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Spiritual teachers seem to agree that the search for the One Who Kissed Our Soul is not an easy task. The world deafens us to the gentle voice that relentlessly tries to lure us. Rahman explains that eventually we become aware of our deep-seated desire to connect with something greater than our own ego. In the words of Rumi: “There is some kiss we want with our whole lives.” We ache for “the touch of Spirit on the body” (Rahman, 18).
Eventually the spiritual seeker is awakened to the memory of the kiss and will commence a pursuit of the Sacred One. In Islam, this awakening is called tauba translated as “turning to God.” Rahman describes the road beyond tauba:
We have finally come out of our slumber and are willing to be vulnerable. We make commitments in our own way to strive to become better persons and to be of service to others. We might experience difficulties and doubts on the road ahead, but there is no turning back.
Vaughan-Lee describes tauba in the Sufi tradition as “the turning of the heart.” Similar to the Christian tradition, this state is believed to always occur as the result of grace poured out by our Maker.
Sufism offers practices that will foster the awareness of the soul’s love for the Creator. One such technique is called dhikr translated as the repetition of one of the names of God. Vaughan-Lee elaborates: “Through the practice of the dhikr the attention of the lover is turned toward God and the whole being of the lover becomes permeated with the joy of remembering the Beloved.”
Next week our exploration of Islamic spirituality will take us to another topic that stirs the soul: the Indwelling Spirit of God. Stay tuned.
NOTE: The Renewal Center staff will be leading a book discussion on Rahman’s book Spiritual Gems of Islam on Saturdays and Tuesdays in June.
Harvey, Andrew. Teachings of Rumi. Boulder, Colorado: Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1999.
Rahman, Jamal. Spiritual Gems of Islam: Insights and Practices from the Qur’an, Hadith, Rumi and Muslin Teaching Stories to Enlighten the Heart and Mind. USA: Skylight Path Publishing, 2013.
Vaughan-Lee, Llewellyn. Sufism: The Transformation of the Heart. Point Reyes, California: The Golden Sufi Center, 1995
[Kathy Keary, a Precious Blood Companion and spiritual director, holds a master’s degree in theological studies and is a graduate of the Atchison Benedictine’s Sophia Center’s Souljourners Program, an intense study of spirituality and spiritual direction. Kathy believes that the divine is present and active in all of life and encourages others to be awakened to the God in all including the divine within. She enjoys accompanying others on their journey to wholeness discovering the person they were created to be.]
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