Peace, one and all…
Seeking Divine forgiveness (known as Istighfar) is the first element in the Mevlevi daily zikr. After a reading of the Quran’s opening chapter, our opening litany is to say ‘Astaghfirullah‘ (‘I seek God’s forgiveness’) one hundred times. From there, we then move on to an invocation of La ilaha illa Allah (‘There is no god but God’) and Allah, before concluding with Hu (referring to the Absolute Itself). It is a profoundly beautiful zikr, and one that has helped open this poor one’s heart – God’s grace is overflowing. It is both a means of remembering God, and a means of inward travel.
I used to experience Istighfar merely as saying sorry. My forgiveness-seeking was initially an external practice, saying sorry as though I were a naughty child facing an angry parent. Being a parent myself has allowed this poor one to see the games that children play. Being a (faulty) dervish has allowed this poor one to see (to some small extent) how these childish games continue into adult life. The spiritual path (tariqa) is a means of exploring the workings of the self, of uncovering our childish games and of allowing God’s grace to resolve them.
As I have wandered along Mevlana’s path, my sense of Istighfar has changed. I first noticed this change about 3 years ago, during our family trip to Pakistan. I am afraid of heights and dislike flying because of that. The only way I have been able to cope is zikr. My fears allowed my invocation of God to come alive, and I found myself constantly invoking Allah’s forgiveness. As I travelled, I saw this Istighfar change from a simple ‘sorry’ to a deeper reconnection. Since this time, I experience Istighfar as a dissolving, a melting into light. This sense has become especially strong in our weekly communal zikr. Our Merciful Allah has allowed this poor one to see forgiveness-seeking as a subtle golden thread, linking heart to heart to heart. Seeking God’s forgiveness has become an embrace, a holding of hands, remembering that ‘God’s hand is over theirs’ (Quran 48:10).
Forgiveness washes away the sense of separation that sits beneath our faults, our sins and our shortcomings. What remains after this other than connection, an intimate sense of communion? Forgiveness heals that separation and begins the process of journeying to God. Dissolution of our conventional self, of all that we mistakenly think of as ‘us’, is the first necessary step in our unfolding journey. A hadith qudsi underlines this beautifully:
‘I am present in My servant’s thought of Me and I am with him when he remembers Me. If he mentions Me in his self, I mention him in My Self, and if he mentions Me in an assembly, I mention him in an assembly better than that. If he approaches Me by a hand’s breath, I draw near to him by an arm’s length; and if he draws near to Me by an arm’s length, I draw near to him by a fathom. If he comes to Me walking, I come to him running’
(Quoted in Ibn Arabi’s Mishkat al-Anwar, 27)
Zikr is a journeying to God, in God. It cannot be undertaken in separation. We can’t go to God with only half of ourselves, we can’t be half-present. Our whole being must come. Our whole being must be dissolved in tender, overflowing oneness.
And praise be to God who maketh it so.
Ask olsun! May love increase!