Jan 21 2009
/ Photo by jurvetson /
It’s a new year. The winter weather has already turned surprisingly warm and sunny, hinting at spring. Valentine’s Day is on the horizon. It’s natural for thoughts to turn to love.
That flush of first infatuation. A glance, a smile, a turn of the head. Yearning, hope. Preparing yourself to attract the notice of that special someone. A shy invitation. Perhaps a secret tryst. Surrender. Sometimes sacrifice. Maybe the heartbreak of separation. Or maybe marriage.
These images have been the foundation of sacred writings long before they filled romance novels and pop songs.
It’s surprising when you first notice just how passionate sacred poetry is. At times it verges on the erotic. All this talk of lovers and longing…
Love: The Universal Religion
We find this language of lover and beloved throughout the world, in the holy writings and sacred songs of widely diverse peoples, cultures, and spiritual traditions. When that happens on such a universal level, you know something deeper is being expressed.
/ Photo by lepiaf.geo /
My heart has become capable of every form: it is a pasture for gazelles and a convent for Christian monks,
And a temple for idols, and the pilgrim’s Ka’ba, and the tables of the Tora and the book of the Koran.
I follow the religion of Love, whichever way his camels take. My religion and my faith is the true religion.
- Ibn Arabi ( 1165 – 1240, Spain )
English version by Reynold A. Nicholson
|The Mystics of Islam
by Reynold A. Nicholson
Although we tend to think of romantic love as a modern and decidedly secular pursuit, the surprising truth is that we find these themes in the sacred writings of all the world’s religious and spiritual traditions. The Sufis endlessly sing of love. Christian saints, too. The great bhakti poets of India. Jewish psalms. Open any sacred book, and love is in the air.
But why? At its most basic level, the fundamental human instinct for connection and relationship gives us a shared language all the world can comprehend. You don’t have to be one of the religious or educated elite to immediately understand words of love, passion, and marriage.
But there is something much deeper being expressed by all of this sacred love imagery.
And from this mystic marriage are born
the poets’ songs, inner knowledge,
the language of the heart, virtuous living,
and the fair child Beauty.
And the Great Soul gives to man as dowry
the hidden glory of the world.
- Mahmud Shabistari ( 1250? – 1340, Iran/Persia )
English version by Florence Lederer
|The Secret Rose Garden: Mahmud Shabistari
Translated by Florence Lederer / Edited by David Fideler
Let’s explore. Let’s dare to fall in love.
Romance: Modern, Secular Mysticism
/ Photo by nattu /
Listen to any song on the radio. Watch a movie. Pick up a popular novel. They are all about love.
Yet the minds of old and young
Are enlightened by a song of Love…
- Hadewijch ( 1210? – 1297, Belgium )
English version by Mother Columba Hart
|Hadewijch: The Complete Works (Classics of Western Spirituality)
by Mother Columba Hart
We have an obsession with love, romance and, of course, sex in modern culture. Why? Romance and eroticism, even in their most superficial forms, induce trance. It gives us a taste of pleasure and freedom from the burden of self, even though it is often brief. It brings us a momentary awareness of connectedness and sometimes self-transcendence. At its best, it drops us into the thrilling current of life and purpose.
Although it is not often understood this way, the modern culture of love is a form of mysticism. It is a cult of eros. Romance is a sort of secular mysticism. I would assert that it is the dominant mysticism in our world today.
Love songs and stories are a watered down expression of the same sacred impulse that has motivated saints and sages throughout history. The surface instincts of love and desire are simply a blunted form of the deep impulse for divine union that permeates the universe. Erotic language is, therefore, the natural language for the soul seeking to merge with the Eternal Beloved.
Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse — and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.
- Omar Khayyam ( 1048 – 1131, Iran/Persia )
English version by Edward FitzGerald
So, in the coming weeks let’s explore this more deeply – the poetry of lover and Beloved, how it fits within the world of sacred poetry. We’ll look a little at its history in various traditions and begin to decipher the esoteric double-meanings used by mystics throughout the world.
Curl up on the couch, let your eyes stare longingly out the window, and let’s see if we can draw the attention of our Beloved…