Mystics and the Margins
Saturday, October 3, 2020
Summary: Sunday, September 27—Friday, October 2, 2020
Many saints, mystics, and everyday people take their place in the grand scheme of God by living on the edge of the inside. (Sunday)
We’ve tended to soften Jesus’ conflict with the system, or the established powers, but Jesus’ ministry took place on the margins! (Monday)
Desert spirituality is characterized by the pursuit of abundant simplicity—simplicity grounded in the possession of little—and the abundance of God’s presence. —Laura Swan, O.S.B. (Tuesday)
Grounded in the natural world, Celtic Christianity saw God as a deep kind of listening and speaking presence. (Wednesday)
The beguines instigated a seismic shift in the province of the imagination, bringing their embodied experience of God and their spiritual journey into a broadened and deepened inner realm. —Laura Swan, O.S.B. (Thursday)
Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place, a Divine Center, a speaking Voice, to which we may continually return. —Thomas R. Kelly (Friday)
Practice: The Folly of Fear
Not all mystical traditions have practices that are “serious.” Some of the teaching stories of Sufism, the mystical arm of Islam, feature the wise fool Mulla Nasrudin. The Sufis use the humorous stories of Nasrudin’s adventures as an opportunity for contemplative practice. Like one of Jesus’ parables, a Nasrudin story can work on many levels, from presenting a simple premise to initiating profound understanding. We hope you enjoy the following Nasrudin tale about a Sufi dervish (practitioner) who encounters Mulla Nasrudin.
Nasrudin was walking along a lonely road one moonlit night when he heard a snore, somewhere, it seemed, underfoot. Suddenly he was afraid, and was about to run when he tripped over a dervish lying in a cell which he had dug for himself, partly underground.
“Who are you?” stammered the Mulla.
“I am a dervish, and this is my contemplation place.”
“You will have to let me share it. Your snore frightened me out of my wits, and I cannot go any further tonight.”
“Take the other end of this blanket, then,” said the dervish without enthusiasm, “and lie down here. Please be quiet, because I am keeping a vigil.”. . .
Nasrudin fell asleep for a time. Then he woke up, very thirsty.
“I am thirsty,” he told the dervish.
“Then go back down the road, where there is a stream.”
“No, I am still afraid.”
“I shall go for you, then,” said the dervish. After all, to provide water is a sacred obligation in the East.
“No—don’t go. I shall be afraid all by myself.”
“Take this knife to defend yourself with,” said the dervish.
While he was away, Nasrudin frightened himself still more, working himself up into a lather of anxiety, which he tried to counter by imagining how he would attack any fiend who threatened him.
Presently the dervish returned.
“Keep your distance, or I’ll kill you!” said Nasrudin.
“But I am the dervish,” said the dervish.
“I don’t care who you are—you may be a fiend in disguise. Besides, you have your head and eyebrows shaved!” The dervishes of that Order shave the head and eyebrows.
“But I have come to bring you water! Don’t you remember—you are thirsty!”
“Don’t try to ingratiate yourself with me, fiend!”
“But that is my cell you are occupying!”
“That’s hard luck for you, isn’t it? You’ll just have to find another one.”
“I suppose so,” said the dervish, “but I am sure I don’t know what to make of all this.”
“I can tell you one thing,” said Nasrudin, “and that is that fear is multidirectional.”
“It certainly seems to be stronger than thirst, or sanity, or other people’s property,” said the dervish.
“And you don’t have to have it yourself in order to suffer from it!” said Nasrudin.
Idries Shah, The Exploits of the Incomparable Mulla Nasrudin (Simon and Schuster: 1966), 60, 62.
For Further Study:
Mary C. Earle and Sylvia Maddox, Holy Companions: Spiritual Practices from the Celtic Saints (Morehouse Publishing: 2004).
James Finley, Turning to the Mystics (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2020), podcast.
Thomas R. Kelly, A Testament of Devotion (HarperSan Francisco: 1992, ©1941).
J. Philip Newell, Christ of the Celts: The Healing of Creation (Jossey-Bass: 2008).
Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014).
Laura Swan, The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Sayings, Lives, and Stories of Early Christian Women (Paulist Press: 2001).
Laura Swan, The Wisdom of the Beguines: The Forgotten Story of a Medieval Women’s Movement (BlueBridge: 2016).