A Sufi spiritual manifesto for the twenty-first century

It’s easy to become addicted to a bad news story of the state of the nation, or church, or society. I know how easy it is because I used to be deeply, and uncritically, addicted. I’ve read a number of stories this morning, about how dreadfully bland the Archbishop of Canterbury’s New Year message was (I might agree) and threads bemoaning the Church of England’s paralysis over LGBTI inclusion (I certainly agree).

But addictions in general are unhealthy. I’ve never been addicted to smoking or drugs or alcohol. I’ve been slightly unhealthily addicted to particular people at times in my life. And I’ve been somewhat unconsciously addicted to moaning – to bewailing the state of my life or the life contexts that depress or anger or impact on me. I’ve spent many years gradually weaning myself off this addiction, knowing it isn’t congruent with creative energy and practice.

Thomas Merton

This introduction was sparked after reading a quotation from Thomas Merton this morning: “negative thought gets nowhere.” He admitted that he needed to learn the capacity for an almost infinite tolerance and compassion but then conceded that in our time we will correct almost nothing, and get almost nowhere. That’s a pretty bleak outlook. He balances it by saying: “. . . if we can just prepare a compassionate and receptive soil for the future, we will have done a great work.” Well – Amen to that!

I need to engage with people and read material that moves me from the negative of despair to the positive of hope and enthusiasm and passion for creative life. It is never easy being human, negotiating the winter equinox, Christmas and the turn of the year, and encountering news reviews which remind us of the terrible tragedies that occurred over the last 12 months.

In these conditions, it isn’t easy, as Thomas Merton also commented: “There is no way of telling people that they are all walking around shining like the sun.” But God … She … the Beloved Other … calls, and calls us into expanding relationship and a vocation to live and if possible teach the Gospel message that we are indeed, in our potential, walking around like the sun.

Islamic Contemplative Practice

I moved on from Thomas Merton to read an article in the book Contemplation Nation (yes, I think it’s going to provide material for several more blogs) about Islamic and Islamicate Contemplative Practice in the United States. This article would give the person who blamed the ABC a lot more material to be concerned about – syncretism and all that jazz.

Zia Inayat-Khan, the author of the article, is the spiritual leader of the Sufi Order International. He writes about those western Sufis who play down their Islamic moorings and emphasise the mystical unity of all religions. They tend to be more receptive to new ideas in the fields of science and psychology, with the result that their contemplative methods have become informed by the insights of quantum physics, cell biology, ecology, object relations theory, transpersonal psychology, etc.

Inyat-Kahn says human societies across the world are likely to experience increasingly significant disruptions in this century due to the effects of climate change and the continued degradation of Earth’s living systems. The religious and contemplative groups that will have a relevant and constructive voice in the flow of events are those that are able to frame these profound changes within a coherent cosmological story and provide useful contemplative tools for navigating shifting structures.

A spiritual manifesto for the twenty-first century

He has participated in a larger interspiritual and transdisciplinary movement for the transformation of consciousness. From this, he identifies four areas that represent his understanding of what is needed at the present time. They are:

  • Cosmology. The task here is to assimilate the monumental discoveries of modern science within a living cosmological narrative that speaks meaningfully to the spiritual imagination and awakened conscience of contemporary people, enabling nature to function as a meta-scripture.
  • Revelation. The task here is to explore revelation as a planetary phenomenon in which all religions have a share but of which none has a monopoly. The perspective that emerges honours all faith traditions as historical expressions of the ongoing human encounter with the divine, and seeks to make place for them all at the table.
  • Mysticism. The task here is to responsibly explore faculties of perception beyond the ordinary diurnal range, and on the basis of this widening vista of experience, to promote awareness within public discourse of the authenticity and accessibility of contemplative states of consciousness. [In Sufism, contemplation and meditation mean the opposite of the meanings we give them. Contemplation refers to the process of deepening reflection while meditation refers to awareness without thought content]
  • Chivalry. The task here is to translate consciousness and conscience into direct action at the individual and collective level by creating and enacting a contemporary chivalric code premised on the virtues of justice, forgiveness, generosity, courage, and hope.

These four areas are entirely congruent with my Christian contemplative, mystical vision – and that’s no surprise, because globalisation, and the God of evolution who is immersed in the dynamics of globalisation, is offering humanity the potential to melt barriers and prejudices and create a future in which we may not only survive global warming but live to flourish in a more healthy society.