Spiritual Dialogue 1: Devotion & Obedience

Peace, one and all…

In our first readings the interconnected themes of devotion and obedience emerged very strongly.  I’d like to offer a few thoughts on how these two themes might be connected, and to do that I’d like to start with a verse of the Quran.  In Surah al-Baqara we find the following passage:

‘The Messenger has believed in what was revealed to him from his Lord, and [so have] the believers. All of them have believed in Allah and His angels and His books and His messengers, [saying], “We make no distinction between any of His messengers.” And they say, “We hear and we obey. [We seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the [final] destination’ (2:285)

In the opening sentence of this passage, we encounter the Prophet of God (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) and his complete openness before the Divine.  His devotion and obedience to God had rendered his heart capable to accepting all that the Beloved chose to reveal therein.  It also rendered him fully open to all the wisdom of the prophets of old (alaihim al-salam).  The following saying of the Prophet (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) is important in this light:

‘Seek knowledge, for it is the intimate friend (khalil) of the believer.  Moreover, forbearance is the minister of knowledge, intellect its guide, action its pivot, benevolent character its father, gentleness its brother, and patience is the general of its armies’ (Related by al-Hakim)

Elsewhere, the following saying is recorded:

‘Pursue knowledge even to China, for its pursuance is the sacred duty of every Muslim’ (Related by Ibn Abd al-Barr)

Although the outward details of their respective revelations differed, the same inner reality permeated all of them – a complete stillness in God’s presence.  By referring to ‘the believers’ this verse also shows that this openness in God is not just the preserve of the prophets: we are all potentially capable of such a relationship, and devotion and obedience are the means of achieving it.  Indeed, if the prophets represent the true spiritual potential of humanity, such openness is our human birthright.

Our verse then proceeds… ‘We make no distinction between any of His messengers’.  To truly live in oneness, we must be open to whatever wisdom comes our way.  We must be ready to make use of, to  integrate,  the collective spiritual wisdom of humankind.  Moreover, though we can all be rightly proud of our respective traditions, insofar as they lead us out into His infinity, there is a sense here that the path to God requires us to be fully open.  Furthermore, not only do we have to be open, we also have to rid ourselves of our common tendency to exclusivity, of saying ‘my way is better than his way’.  Of course, to follow a tradition we need to believe in it as our way to God, but we also have to understand that God’s way is broader than our human minds can imagine. In other words, we have to be devoted to, and obedient to, God Himself.

The last section of this verse is particularly significant:

And they say, “We hear and we obey. [We seek] Your forgiveness, our Lord, and to You is the [final] destination’

This sentence categorises the true believers as those who say: ‘we hear and we obey’, or sami`na wa a`tana in Arabic.  To truly hear the voice of God within the depths of our soul, we have to be present, we have to be fully there in each new moment.  In other words, hearing implies a devoted listening, a patient waiting on God, for all that He might choose to reveal within our souls.  Devoted listening is a form of obedience, and the more we obey, the more we engage in conscious relationship with the Divine.  This verse concludes with a prayer for forgiveness.  Devoted listening and active, human obedience to the Truth are means of asking for forgiveness.  The more fully we enter into a relationship with God, the deeper we come to understand our human shortcomings.  A Dervish is someone who waits at His door, in each new moment and circumstance.  It is no accident, therefore, that today’s Evrad-i Serif passage contains this prayer:

9. I ask God’s forgiveness for my mistakes (literally, ‘shortcomings’).

More deeply, from the perspective of oneness, our prayers for forgiveness are given to us by the Divine.  In other words, devoted listening and obedience are a kind of ‘virtuous circle’ in which an ever-increasing spiritual charge can be built up.  And it is this charge that Meister Eckhart goes on to examine with such subtlety.  True obedience is an emptying of our will in His, a forgoing of our sense of control in the Hand of His greater working:

‘In true obedience there should be no trace of ‘I want it so, or so,’ or ‘I want this or that,’ but there should be a pure going out from what is yours’

Although we should take all of our worries and anxieties to God, just as we should take all of our hopes and joys to Him, true and complete obedience is an emptying in Him, a complete giving-over of ourselves to Him.  Those who are able to give themselves so completely to God are thus enabled to stand with the Prophet (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) and to say they have ‘believed in what was revealed to him from his Lord’

May the Beloved give us all the ability to turn to Him truly, in work and in rest, in need and in safety.  Ya Rahman!

Related Posts:

Ask olsun,
Abdur Rahman

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