Sabbath for the Soul

Scripture: John 10:30, “In My Soul” by Rabia of Basra (8th c. Sufi Mystic)
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
July 10, 2016

Larry Rose posted a moving story on the RUCC Facebook page yesterday.  The story is about an African-American woman who walked into a convenience store to pick up a Power bar.  There were two white police officers and a white clerk behind the counter. They were discussing the shootings of the past previous days.  As soon as the African American woman entered the store, they became silent.  The African American woman continued on with her business and walked down one of the aisles.  One of the police officers followed her.  He said to her, “Hi, how are you?”  She said, “Okay and you?”  He said, “No, how are you really?”  She said, “I’m tired.”  He said, “Me too.”  And then went on to say, “I guess it’s not easy being us right now, is it?” “No, it’s not,” said the woman.  The police officer then went and hugged the woman.  She began to cry.  She said this, “We were just two strangers – we had never met each other before, but we shared in an absolutely beautiful moment.  No judgments, no justifications, just sharing in a moment together.”  What a wonderful story!

I have to admit, though, I am tired, too. And I imagine that after this week, you are tired, also.  Even those of us who are not African American or police officers, we are tired and deeply grieving for our country.  It’s been a rough week, a rough month, a rough year.  We are tired.  We are hurting.  And so I appreciate Wendy’s words this morning of God speaking the words of the 4 year old in the car immediately after the shooting in Minnesota, “It’s o.k.  I am here with you.”  I need those words today from God:  “It’s o.k. I am here with you.”

This month, our sermon series, is focused on Sabbath.  Last week, I talked about Sabbath for the Body.  Today, I will focus on Sabbath for the Soul. If there was ever a time that we need Sabbath for the Soul, it is now. What is Sabbath for the Soul?  St. Augustine put it this way, “My heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”  In the midst of turmoil, injustice and grief, Jesus knew how to find his “rest in Thee.”  If there is any group of people through the centuries who know how to find “rest in Thee”, it is the Mystics.  I believe Jesus was a Jewish mystic.  

There are several characteristics of mystics.  First, mystics feel intensely the wonder and mystery of life.  The person who once saw the “ho hum” everyday world now sees the presence of God, the dance of the world everywhere.  Secondly, mystics seek communion with God.  In our scripture passage, Jesus says, “The Father and I are one.”  Jesus also says, “I am the light of the world.  You are the light of the world.”  “The Kingdom of God is within.”  “I am the vine.  You are the branches.” – that is, God, is not portrayed as a distant deity, but intimately connected to our lives, like branches connected to the vine.  Mystics tend not to be theistic (that is, God is outside of us – somewhere in the sky), but panentheistic (pan = all, en = in, theos = God, that is, God is within all).  Jesus was one who saw God in all.  Thirdly, mystics are people who have decisive and typically frequent firsthand experiences of the Sacred.  For Jesus, the Sacred was a firsthand experience rather than a secondhand belief.  Finally, mystics are defined by love.  John writes, “God is love.  Everyone who loves is of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God.”  Mystics desire to love unconditionally.  Sabbath for the soul is about finding our rest, finding our union of love in the Divine.  

Jesus was a Jewish mystic, but there have also been many Christian mystics through the centuries: St. Francis of Assisi, St. Thomas Aquinas, Julian of Norwich, St. Theresa of Avila, St. Catherine of Sienna, Thomas Merton, Meister Eckhardt, St. John of the Cross.  There have been many Sufi mystics from the branch of Islam:  Rabia who says, “In my soul, there is a temple, a shrine, a church, a mosque where I kneel.  Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist.”  Hafiz affirms the interconnection between divinity and humanity.  Hafiz writes, “And God said, ‘I am made whole by your life.  Each soul, each soul completes me.’”   As if we complete God.  And my personal favorite Sufi mystic is Rumi.

I spent a three month sabbatical studying mysticism.  During that sabbatical, I took a class on Rumi alone.  Rumi led a fascinating life.  Rumi was born in the 13th century in Afghanistan.  At age 8, due to a Mongol invasion, he and his family were forced to move to Turkey, where he remained for the rest of his life.  His father was a scholar and a mystic who became the head (sheikh) of a dervish college (a divinity school).  Rumi succeeded to that position upon his father’s death and was the founder of the whirling dervishes.  Then, Rumi met the man who would change his life:  a wandering dervish named Shams.  From the moment they met, Rumi and Shams became inseparable.  They spent months together lost in a kind of ecstatic mystical communion.  Rumi’s students, however, became jealous – and Shams disappeared.

Eventually Rumi found out that Shams had gone to Damascus. He wrote letters begging Shams to return. Legends tell of a dramatic reunion. The two sages fell at each other’s feet. In the past they were like a disciple and teacher, but now they loved each other as equals. One account says, “No one knew who was lover and who the beloved.” Both men were married to women, but they resumed their intense relationship with each other, merged in mystic communion. Jealousies arose again and some men began plotting to get rid of Shams.

One winter night, when he was with Rumi, Shams answered a knock at the back door. He disappeared and sadly, was never seen again.   Rumi grieved deeply.  Rumi danced, mourned and wrote poems until he formed a new consciousness. Rumi believed that his soul fused with his beloved and now they were all One: Rumi, Shams and God.  As an interesting side note, The Turkish government refused to help with translation of Rumi’s last volume, which was finally published in 2006 as The Forbidden Rumi: The Suppressed Poems of Rumi on Love, Heresy, and Intoxication. It was forbidden both because of its homoerotic content and because it promotes the “blasphemy” that one must go beyond religion in order to experience God.

One night during my sabbatical I was reading a book of Rumi’s poetry.  I was so moved by his words that I felt like I had achieved union with God.  It truly was a mystical experience.  I was in such ecstasy I felt as though I was levitating 5 feet off the floor.  (There are few congregations with whom I would share that experience – but I think I am probably in a sanctuary full of mystics.)

Listen to Rumi’s wisdom and let these words wash over you. (Lara plays zikr music in background):

Rumi’s thoughts on union with God

“You are not a drop in the ocean.  You are entire ocean in a drop.”

“They say there is a doorway from heart to heart, but what is the use of a door when there are no walls?”

“With passion pray.  With passion work.  With passion make love.  With passion eat and drink and dance and play.  Why look like a dead fish in this ocean of God?”

“If God said, ‘Rumi, pay homage to everything that has helped you enter my arms,’ there would not be one experience of my life, not one thought, not one feeling, not any act, I would not bow to.”

Rumi’s thoughts on wonder, mystery, and love

“Sell your cleverness and buy bewilderment.”

“It’s rigged – everything is in your favor.  So, there is nothing to worry about.”

“Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.  They are in each other all along.”

“In my vertigo; in my dizziness; in my drunken haze.  I saw my Beloved’s flower garden.  But now I am sober.  There is only the hangover.  And the memory of love.  And only the sorrow.  And the Beloved says:  I will soothe you and heal you.  I will bring you roses.  For I, too, have been covered with thorns.”

And my personal favor, “Come, come, whoever you are.  Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.  It doesn’t matter.  Ours is not a caravan of despair.  Come, even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.  Come, yet again, come, come.”

Yes, I know this week we are tired and we are grieving.  Jesus grieved deeply, too.  As did Rumi.  Yet, in the midst of their darkness, they discovered light.  In their grief, they found their rest, healing and hope in Thee.  May we do likewise.  My prayer for us is that for this week we will stop in the name of love, delight in the Sacred, rest in the arms of the Divine.  For God says to us, “It’s o.k. I am here with you.”