Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The mark of the divine

Sometimes I frequent the Christian cloister 
And sometimes the mosque,
But it is Thou whom I search for from temple to temple.
Thine elect have no dealings with heresy or orthodoxy,
For neither of these stands beside the screen of Thy truth.
Speculation to the heretic, theology to the orthodox,
But the dust of the rose petal belongs to the heart of the perfume-seller.
(Abu ’l-Fazl)

I have worshipped in many different contexts and faith communities – with Baptists, Sikhs, Anglicans, Hindus, Methodists, Catholics, Pentecostals, United Reformed Church congregations, Quakers and Anglo-Catholics.  I have sat in meditation with Buddhists and people of New Age spirituality and Reiki Masters, and listened in mosques, gurdwaras and synagogues to the perspectives of those communities of faith.   I have travelled along with monks and nuns, and heard the wisdom of teachers of different traditions. 

In every place where I go, listening to wisdom, to the story these people in this place can tell of the tracks of the divine discerned along the ways of humankind, there is something I am looking for, listening for, sniffing for. 

Hebe told the other day of passing a man in the street and stopping, arrested by the smell distinctive in his aftershave, of oak moss.  Right there in the street she stopped – “Oak moss!”   She loves it.  We collect it to burn on our fire or place on the hot surface of our woodstove.  We pick up those fallen twigs it clings to in abundance and bring them home.

I love also the smell of frankincense . . . of lavender . . . of roses . . . of patchouli . . . of black spruce.  

A man said to me once – “I can always tell when you’re in the building; I can smell you!”  It was the patchouli oil I often dabbed on my skin.

In the same way I scan the world, read it, watch it, for the sign of the thing I am looking for, the whiff of the divine, the mark of salvation, the thing that opens a human heart to the purposes of God.


Nowhere have I seen kindness more consistently anywhere than in the faces of Orthodox monks.

The church I go to now, I attend because it is drenched in kindness “like the precious ointment upon the head, that ran down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard: that went down to the skirts of his garments;  as the dew of Hermon, and as the dew that descended upon the mountains of Zion: for there the Lord commanded blessing, even life for evermore.”

In the face of our parish priest is the beautiful sign of kindness.  Our church is a place for binding up the broken-hearted. 

The Buddhists cherish wisdom and kindness; but kindness is wisdom all by itself.

When my father died, I stood and looked down on his face, searching for signs of his state of mind when he died.  Had he been anxious or afraid?  I looked for the peace that so often rests on the faces of the dead.

He had been an anxious and uneasy man who fled human company, restless and solitary.  But in his dead face I saw only the deepest and most abiding characteristic of his life; kindness.   It was, I think, in my father’s face that I learned as a child to recognise the look of kindness.  He was allowed to keep it when he died.  It went with him to Heaven.  I am not kind as he was; but I know what it looks like because of his face.

God is not tame.  He cannot be secured by doctrine.  Burning and beating and shunning to secure acquiescence to church doctrine will not snare Him.  To cut off the hand of a thief, the nose of an adulteress is only dull stupidity, the mark of a leaden religion that has misused its imagination to work life into a twisted filigree after its own gnarled and knotted image.  You cannot punish people into goodness.  And there is no net of righteousness, no creed in which human rectitude and dogma can catch God.  But here and there in a gesture, in the look on someone’s face, in an action or word, you see pure kindness.  Look well, for that is the presence of God.

This is my simple religion.
There is no need for temples;
No need for complicated philosophy.
Our own brain, our own heart, is our temple.
The philosophy is kindness. 
                                                     The Dalai Lama


a soulful life said...

Such a beautiful post!
Kindness is the heart of everything that has worth. Every connection, every true word, every religion.
It seems somehow not profound enough but I think there is more true divine power in simple kindness than anything else.
I love that story about your Dad, how he was allowed to keep the purest expression of his heart "his kindness" at the moment of death.

Ember said...

:0) Thanks, friend. x

Anonymous said...

This is wonderful Ember. I might learn it by heart. Love the quotes, especially the first. Off to read it again now.

Hawthorne said...

Yes, yes, yes!! I look for Love wherever I am, in everyone and everything I meet because that is God's mark. As I end my morning prayers I pray that I may be God to all whom I meet that day, and that I may see God in all whom I meet that day. (And not just humans!) x x

Ember said...

:0) Hi Daisy - yes, I came across that poem when I was a teenager, and have loved it ever since.

Hawthorne - indeed not just humans:
"You save humans and animals alike, O Lord." (Psalm 36:6 NRSV)

San said...

So apt, the focus for our Monday night prayers this week was that we are ALL children of God and that there are many rooms in His Father's house
We can learn so much from each other if we would only dialogue together.


Ember said...

Yes indeed. Anyone who thinks they are wise enough to disregard the wisdom of others is not as wise as they think.

Sandrajay said...

Ember, Many thanks for your words which ring so true. My heart leapt in agreement to those kindred feelings which I could never find words to express!

Ember said...

:0) xx

Ember said...

Connie - thanks so much for writing to me. If you'd like me to write back, post another comment with your email address. I will delete it not publish it, but it will allow me to establish contact with you in a less clunky way. x

Sandy said...

Beautiful and inspiring words!!

Pen Wilcock said...

:0) xx