Tuesday, January 4, 2022
The Reverend Dr. Katie Snipes Lancaster
My Neighbor’s Prayer: The Vocabulary of Blessing as Common Bond
I know just enough about Islam to know I know very little about Islam, but you won’t be surprised to find I’m drawn to the Muslim mystics. Today’s prayer comes from Sufi mystic Bistami who lived in the Iranian region of Khurasan and died around 875 c.e. about 200 years after Muhammad. Muhammad of course, was not one to shun the physical or social world, marrying and having children, as well as participating actively in military action and government. He made sacred the work of engaging in the world. The mystic, ascetic Sufi movement came about in the second century after Muhammad in response to what some saw as religious corruption within the growing Islamic empire. No surprise, wealth and empire expansion were complicated, and came with critique. Rumi is probably the most well known mystic Sufi in western Protestant Christian circles (I appreciated this 2017 article about Rumi’s rise in popularity). I also have come across Rabi’a’s mystic poetry and prayers.
Within Sufi thought is a desire for liberation from the material world, or at least a desire to transcend the physical, even as the aesthetic tendency toward fasting or other forms of abstinence paradoxically seem to lead to embodied encounters with the divine. When Bistami was asked “How have you experienced this knowing [of the divine]?” he replied “With a hungry belly.”
I was drawn to the prayer below because I sense that at the root of prayer is that longing to know and understand. We long to know God. We long to know ourselves. We long to understand those we love most dearly as well as those who live worlds away. We long to understand the hardships and worries of this world. Our longing to know and understand touches the divine.
My Neighbor’s Prayer
let me understand you.
I cannot understand
Abu Yazid al-Bistami
From the book Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Qur’an, Mi’raj, Poetic and Theological Writings