Friday, January 19, 2007

Sufi Reflections Podcast No. 16 is now available for downloading

This edition of the Sufi Reflections Podcast (No. 16) includes music, poetry, an essay entitled Kun, a story entitled Building Rome, and a commentary entitled Idols, A Response to a Listener.

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Saturday, January 13, 2007

A Story -- Falling Upwards

A saint lived in a city by the ocean, but, as is often the case, almost no one knew of his existence. With many friends of God, oftentimes the only ones who know about them are other, like-heartedfriends, and, sometimes, Divinity even keeps some of these hidden from view, much like a rich connoisseur of art locks away the most precious pieces of workmanship in a vault that is never open to the public.

Sometimes, people gather together just to spend time recounting the amazing stories of these companions because of the sense of awe, peace, hope, inspiration, and happiness that hearing about the lives of such marvelous exemplars of human potential bring to one’s soul.

For example, one story making the rounds with respect to the aforementioned, relatively unknown saint involved the time that a man, who was in search of truth concerning the purpose of life, had been told by someone that if one wished to learn the secret of life then one should try to locate a particular person who lived in a certain city, and, fortunately for this story, the person for whom the man was told to go in search of was none other than the saint about whom we are talking.

Following some hard work, the seeker after truth finally tracked down the saint about whom he had been told. He found the sought-for man sitting in a small garden, just off the main square of town. The saint appeared to be meditating on something or engaged in some other silent form of remembering the Friend, for his eyes were closed. Although there seemed to be an aura of peaceful contentment about him, at the same time the countenance of the saint seemed to glow with a sense of focus and concentration that radiated outward from whatever was going on within the saint’s consciousness.

The man who had been looking for the saint sat down on a bench across from the penultimate dimension of his quest. Knowing something about the etiquette observed by the friends of God, he sat in respectful silence, waiting for an opportunity to address the saint.

Morning turned into afternoon, and the afternoon began to merge with the evening. Still, the saint had not moved nor opened his eyes – at least as far as the truth seeker knew, none of this happened because there were a few times when the visitor had grown weary of sitting or had become hungry or had to answer another of the calls of nature and, therefore, took a few short breaks before returning to the garden and resuming the vigil once more.

Finally, as night began to prevail and the town lights had been turned on, the truth seeker noticed a slight change in the body language of the saint. Shortly thereafter, the saint’s eyes opened. He rubbed his calves a bit, as if to restore a little circulation or to let them know they hadn’t been entirely forgotten and glance dover at the man on the bench.

“How are you?” the saint asked. The man smiled and nodded his head, and, then, said: “Good, thank you. And you?” “Wonderful!” he replied, “just wonderful.”

The saint scratched his head slightly and inquired: “So, what brings you to our fair city?”

“You,” the man said. “I have been told you know how to realize the purpose of life, and judging by the great concentration I havebeen witnessing in you throughout the day, I would say what I have been told about you may be correct. Where did you learn to concentrate like that?”

“My cat taught me,” the saint replied. “One day I was watching him, and I was amazed that his eyes never left a mouse hole for hours on end, and, suddenly, I understood what needed to be done if I were ever to have even the faintest hope of discovering Divinity.”

The foregoing vignette is actually only a prelude to something else and helps to establish a context of sorts. More specifically, there was a time when the saint was returning home from his place of employment, and the hour was rather late. The streets were fairly deserted. The saint had a bag of groceries in his arms and had just turned a corner, ready to head down a long set of steps leading down the hill to his house when he was surrounded by three thugs demanding his money. Because he had spent what little money he had on the groceries which he was carrying, his wallet and pockets were empty. When the thieves found out the man had no cash or valuables, they became enraged by the man’s poverty and began to beat him.

Eventually, their anger subsided somewhat, but before coming back under complete control, they gave the saint one last shove, and the saint lost his balance and started to fall down the stairs which were nearby. Head over heel he went down the long flight of steps.

Scared by either the turn of events or the racket it was making, the would-be robbers ran from the scene. Lights began coming on in different houses in the neighborhood, and people looked out of windows and doorways to try to figure out what was going on.

The saint was now at the bottom of the stairs. Someone who had been walking in the street near where the saint lay rushed over to him.“Are you all right?” the passerby asked.

The saint was conscious, and he blinked a few times, as if to reassure himself that he was still among the living. His eyes focused in on the woman who was standing above him. He smiled and said: “Yes, I believe God has pulled me through this in remarkably good shape. In fact, I’m sorry there weren’t more stairs.”

A worried look spread across the woman’s face. Undoubtedly, in view of the man’s comment, such possibilities as concussion or head injury were dancing through her mind. She gave the man on the ground a reassuring smile. She looked up, saw a neighbor standing in the doorway, asked her to call for medical assistance, and the neighbor raised her hand in acknowledgment before disappearing into her home.

Returning her attention to the saint, the woman kneeled down and began trying to comfort the man as best she could. Hoping to gain further information which she might be able to pass on to the emergency team when they arrived, she inquired: “What did you mean when you said you wished there had been more stairs?”

The saint struggled to rise to a sitting position despite the woman’s counsel that, perhaps, he should remain in a prone position until the medical people got there. He patted the woman on the shoulder and said: “No, really, I don’t believe there is anything seriously wrong with me, but I will wait for the emergency people and let them look me over.”

He was quiet for a moment, as if acclimating himself somewhat and regaining a degree of physical equilibrium. He looked at the woman and responded to her question: “Believe it or not, as I was falling down, each time my head hit one of the stairs, God elevated my spiritual condition and showed me a new realm of Being. By the time I reached the bottom, what I was being shown through these states was so incredibly beautiful and filling with such joy and awe,I was wishing there were more stairs left on which to hit my head.”

The woman’s gaze froze on the man in a ‘Houston, we’ve got a problem’ look. Surely the man was suffering from hallucinations or something similar. The woman chose not to believe what she was being told.

But the friends of God know otherwise.