The one and only test

The one and only test of a valid religious idea, doctrinal statement, spiritual experience or devotional practice [is] that it must lead directly to practical compassion. If your understanding of the divine [makes] you kinder, more empathetic and impelled you to express this sympathy in concrete acts of loving-kindness this [is] good theology. But if your notion of God [makes] you unkind, belligerent, cruel, or self-righteous, or if it [leads] you to kill in God’s name, it [is] bad theology.

Karen Armstrong, The Spiral Staircase

Secret places inside this violent world

Time for some more of Rumi’s poetry, again in the translation of Coleman Barks, from Bridge to the Soul: Journeys into the Music and Silence of the Heart.

I am sure I have said this before, but Rumi has been an amazing discovery for me. There is profound spiritual insight in the words of this Sufi master, and there is so much here that speaks to me at such a deep level. Some of it puts into words my own recent journey in ways that I could never have managed myself. Other parts express some of my deepest hopes and longings. And then there are many wonderful insights about God, love, friendship etc.

If only more people would read Rumi’s poetry. It would open their eyes to quite a different side of Islam. But then, he apparently is the most widely read poet in America today. There is still hope then …

We must die to become true human beings.

From gardens to the gardener,
from grieving to a wedding feast.

We tremble like leaves about to let go.
There is no avoiding pain,
or feeling exiled, or the taste of dust.

I can truly relate to those reflections on dying, grieving, letting go, experiencing pain and the taste of dust.

When someone feels jealous,
I am inside the hurt and the need to possess.

When anyone is sick,
I feel feverish and dizzy.

This I find comforting: that God is inside the hurt of those who need to possess others. And that he is inside our sickness.

For the grace of the presence, be grateful.

Imagination cannot contain the absolute.
These poems are elusive
because the presence is.

‘Imagination cannot contain the absolute’. Quite. No point to even try!

No more holding back. Be reckless.
Tell your love to everybody.


Stand up. The prostrating
part of prayer is over.

the beloved is absence
as well as this fullness.

I love that attitude to praying and loving God.

Be a helpful friend,
and you will become a green tree
with always new fruit,
always deeper journeys into love.

Worth aspiring to …

Learned theologians do not teach love.
Love is nothing but gladness and kindness.

When you see a scowling face,
it is not a lover’s.

Rumi really does understand true love.

Lovers find secret places
inside this violent world
where they make transactions
with beauty.

Reason says, Nonsense.
I have walked and measured the walls here.
There are no places like that.

Love says, There are.

Lovers feel a truth inside themselves
that rational people keep denying.

This is just brilliant stuff, so true and so well expressed. Secret places in a violent world where you make transactions with beauty – that’s truly wonderful and how I wish to live.

About a changing universe, real relationships and avoiding the will to power

Looking for something else, I stumbled across some quotes I copied from Wm. Paul Young’s The Shack some time ago. This book had a profound impact upon me at a time of the most intense inner turmoil. Rereading the extracts many months later, I was once again touched by the deep wisdom found in these lines.

On forgiveness and kindness:

Every time you forgive, the universe changes; every time you reach out and touch a heart or a life, the world changes; with every kindness and service, seen or unseen, [God’s] purposes are accomplished and nothing will ever be the same again.

And again on forgiveness, but also on relationships and how forgiveness, while important, is not the whole story:

Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their mind and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release them from judgment, but without true change, no real relationship can be established.

The next thought follows on from the previous reference to change:

Growth means change and change involves risk, stepping from the known to the unknown.

Some further reflections on relationships – and the problem of power:

Each relationship between two persons is absolutely unique. That is why you cannot love two people the same. It simply is not possible. You love each person differently because of who they are and the uniqueness that they draw out of you. And the more you know another, the richer the colors of that relationship.

Relationships are never about power, and one way to avoid the will to power is to choose to limit oneself – to serve.

And, moving on to different issues, some interesting observations on law, control, superiority and certainty:

Trying to keep the law is actually a declaration of independence, a way of keeping control. … [The law] grants you the power to judge others and feel superior to them. You believe you are living to a higher standard than those you judge. Enforcing rules, especially in its more subtle expressions like responsibility and expectation, is a vain attempt to create certainty out of uncertainty. And contrary to what you might think, [God has] a great fondness for uncertainty. Rules cannot bring freedom; they only have the power to accuse.

There is no choice then

Love is patient;
love is kind;
love is not envious
or boastful
or arrogant
or rude.

It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice in wrongdoing,
but rejoices in the truth.

It bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.

Love never ends.

These words from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (13:4-8) have to be among the most challenging but also the wisest and truest comments ever made about love, true love, that is, love that fully deserves that name.

In ‘Decreation: How Women Like Sappho, Marguerite Porete and Simone Weil Tell God’, an essay I have referred to before, Anne Carson offers her own reflections on love, self and God in connection with the mysticism of Sappho, Marguerite Porete and Simone Weil. She notes, rightly, I think, that almost everything that passes as love is little more than self-love.

True love is characterised by patience and kindness. It cares for the Other, whoever that Other may be (love does not discriminate between who is, and isn’t, lovable), and does not insist on its own way. It bears, believes, hopes and endures everything; and it never ends. Now that is a challenge!

Yet, says Paul, I can have all knowledge and understanding, all faith even, but if I ‘do not have love, I am nothing’. There is no choice then, is there? It also is the most worthy of goals.