"Poem Postmarked for the Middle East"
Plus a JJB reflection offered in appreciation
There is an inversion of relative values. It is primarily a trust in the efficacy of beauty.
There are perspectives of the universe to which morality is irrelevant, to which logic is irrelevant, to which religion is irrelevant, to which art is irrelevant....No one of these specializations exhausts the final unity of purpose in the world.
This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.
There comes a time in the life of a believer -- Jewish or Muslim or Christian, for example -- when he or she realizes that "life" is more important than religion. Not life in general but life in particular: this moment, these people, this relationship, these longings, these hopes, these fears, this suffering, this kiss. The realization is a form of embodied cognition, first revealed through emotions and the senses.
The revelation is indeed a revelation, but it is not textual in nature. It transcends rules and texts, principles and ideals. Words become less important than experience, and life becomes both more beautiful and more complicated. If the believer remains religious, the aim of religion is no longer certainty but rather trust -- trust in the efficacy of beauty.
Prior to the awakening, the believer may have been devoted to his religion as an end in itself. He would live and die, argue and maybe even kill, for his religion. In truth he had made a god of his religion, and thus confused God with religion. Call it the fallacy of misplaced allegiance.
The fallacy of misplaced allegiance is a form of idolatry. It occurs when a person confuses ideology with life and feels more allegiance to ideas than people. Held captive by the fallacy, the idolater is afraid of the body and feeling. The world is all about ideas and principles and causes, but not about experience. He cannot really accept the world of feeling and vulnerability; he has not yet come to his senses.
Nevertheless, there's hope. In time, with grace, there's a softening, sometimes evoked by a kiss, or a sadness, or a simple weariness of battle. He realizes that the One he seeks to serve -- the Soul of the universe -- is more interested in love than doctrine, in tenderness than principle, in empathy than hatred. He notices the wind caressing his cheeks, the laughter of children, the songs of sorrow, and it is almost as if he falls in love with life in all its poignancy. It is hard to separate God from Life with an upper-case L; they seem like the same thing.
He begins to hear a calling which says "Choose life" and becomes more apophatic, trusting feelings more than slogans. The spirit of the universal Soul has found its way into his heart or, to say the same thing, his heart has awakened to the spirit of the Soul of the universe.
The poem by Usman Hameedi is an invitation to feel the spirit. Of course, if we have been thinking of God in a more abstract way, we may need to become atheists first, because the very word “God” will feel like blasphemy, a sin against life. The word may not be redeemable.
But still we will know that, in the touch of intimacy, we are experiencing something divine. There lingers in our minds the idea that the reality to which the word “God” best points is not ideology at all, but rather the Eros of the universe as a lure to life and love, tenderness and care. The One we loved will be in the ones we love. And also in the ones we have failed to love but decide to love. We will be humbled anew by the beauty of Faith.
The beauty of faith is also a faith in Beauty. Beauty is the intensity of life as lived in empathy with other people, the natural world, the surrounding universe, and ourselves. In the empathy there is a beauty that is satisfying and in some sense eternal, even if it lasts only a moment. In this moment we experience "the final unity of purpose in the world."
In Islam this beauty is called the fitra. It is an intuition of oneness within, beneath, and beyond all plurality and yet in the plurality itself. Awakened to the fitra we open our hands and choose life, rediscovering our old religion in the splendor of a kiss and in the longing for a return of Faith. In the longing itself we feel the Eros of the spirit and we say Bismillah ir Rahman Rahim. Or maybe Baruch Ata Adonai. Or maybe I have missed you so much, it is good to be home. And the truth of the matter is, we are home, having never completely left. Even our idolatry was based in a longing for beauty; and the Soul of the universe, the merciful and compassionate, fully understands, welcoming us to a home that never left us.
-- Jay McDaniel
Poem Postmarked for the Middle East
We were two-state solution complex.
She, Star of David necklace
Me, Keffiyeh around neck.
But some things were simple:
when I glanced from across the room
Faith smiled, radiance of Mecca.
Adonai and Allah ask our people for Friday prayer
so I attended Shabbat services and
Faith was the only Jewish woman at Jummah.
While Abraham’s children fought bloody,
we parted red seas,
exodus to smooth lands of milk and honey.
Our Bodies intertwined like messages in Torah and Quran.
Beneath the starry splatter paint masterpiece of God,
I held her answered prayers thankful.
Our moaning drowned out the war cries,
harsh Hebrew and Arabic
Our orgasms were our resistance
When your lover is the target
political terms have their face,
bullets aimed at their skull.
In Conflict, Dialogue is survival.
It is necessity, despite its difficulty.
Yes, we poached the elephant in the room.
Words like sharp ivory tusk:
Zionist. Apartheid. Hamas. Hitler.
were jagged rocks thrown at tanks.
Learning is an ugly experience.
Faith pissed me the fuck off
I tried her patience.
Still, we knew an angry fist
is just wilted fingers, flowers fallen in drought
Our hands were open invitations
Kisses silenced rockets
Muted those that told us
Our Holy Books cannot coexist.
I am Terrorist and Faith is Occupier.
With peace treaties on our tongues,
we exhaled new scriptures into the walls of Mosques and Synagogues
hoping to purge asbestos animosity.
We knew it was temporary.
I forgot the expiration date.
Before leaving, she said:
“Habibi, please share our story.”
Dead Sea trickled from her emerald eyes
And I mourned, sat shiva for months
I wanted to reconstruct my collarbone into Jerusalem
so you could breathe prayer onto the Western Walls of my chest.
Even from Israel,
I hear Assalamualaikum
spoken in your accent, carried on wind whisper.
I respond, press my hands into The Atlantic, Shalom,
my rippling affection crossing continents.
Will I ever see you again?
If I do, I will be an atheist
rediscovering his former religion.
Baruch Ata Adonai
Bismillah Ir Rahman Rahim
I’ll hold you like prayer beads
humbled by the beauty of Faith.
Follow Usman Hameedi on Twitter.