THE LAMP OF THE MESSAGE
A Journal for the International Community of Cherags
“ Things that are of less importance will rise soon, will develop soon, and will finish soon. But things that will remain, will slowly grow and will remain longer, and it will take a long time for something that succeeds it to come. The Sufi Message therefore is now in its beginning... Today we are not stoned, today we are not flayed. But today we have other difficulties, perhaps greater difficulties. And our difficulty is the lack of response.”
Hazrat Inayat KhanIn the most recent issue of the magazine GNOSIS there are some excellent articles on Sufism and Sufism in America. One article is by Ibn Yusuf who is a frequent contributor to GNOSIS.
In the article Yusuf asks the question, “ Do you have to be Muslim to be a Sufi?” He refers to the “Universal form of worship” which Inayat Khan introduced to the world and then says, “...if I were looking to select a form of worship I would choose the power and focus of the traditional form of Islamic prayer over the bland idealism of Inayat Khan.”
I was disappointed to read these words, not only because I respect the author and what he has to say but because others that I respect have reflected similar thoughts to me including some Cherags. I value my own experience and intuition and try not to react to the opinions of others but I must say that it forces me to examine the quality and meaning of what I am trying to accomplish as a Cherag who wants to improve and bring this aspect of the Message into the world and have some impact. I want to have a deeper worship experience for myself and those who attend the Service. I am committed to what has been given to us by Hazrat Inayat Khan but perhaps there is some truth that the Service has yet to reach its full potential that, as Pir Vilayat has mentioned, it is still in its infancy.
Many of us have been reminded of Inayat Khan’s words that his most important work was done on the inner planes. This is essential and should always be a part of our focus. The pattern, however, seems to be that effort is put into preparing a service and only one or two people attend or perhaps no one comes. For myself, it is just not satisfying to hear how the inner planes are more important every time there is no response to an event.
Despite the truth of these remarks, it doesn’t feel genuine to be reminded of them every time something doesn’t work or there is a minimal response. It sounds like, “...well, you tried... it’s not important... what matters is what happened on another level...” Yes, but isn’t it possible that a few of us have used this formula as an excuse for not concentrating on seeing new ways to be more effective and making the service even more wonderful. We need to look more closely at our approach, studying how things have evolved in putting the Service together, the format, examine every aspect and attunement and make adjustments, become more competent.
I’ll bet a lot of active Sufi Order people have had enough of being ineffective and at least would like to see the Universal Worship recognized more as an important contribution to the spiritual landscape of our time. I don’t want to see the Service marginalized. The key factor we are interested in is the quality of the Universal Worship and though more is not necessarily better, I am interested in sharing the Service with more people.
I have taken the comments in GNOSIS as an inner challenge to make the Service more real and to try to find ways to be more creative and take a fresh look at what I am doing in the service. It isn’t enough to just intend the Service to be more real. I think I have to be more skillful and raise my level of attunement. I have to admit that when I was first exposed to the Sufi Message about twenty years ago I never looked forward to the Universal Worship Service. I wasn’t attracted. Over the years, I have grown to love and appreciate the special gift that has been given to the world through the form and have had the opportunity to experience the Service with some very gifted Cherags.
My outlook on the Service has obviously changed and continues to change. Recently I have noticed in talking to Cherags on the phone that a new inspiration is coming through. I talked to Rev. Amina Stockton in Atlanta and she is feeling a surge of new energy and enthusiasm for the Universal Worship.
I recently called Murshida Vera Corda and discussed some of the ideas being talked about by Cherags in Colorado. She shared with me some of her vast experience over the years trying to implement the Universal Worship. I found our talk very refreshing. If anyone knows a Cherag, like Murshida, who has paid their dues and done their homework, it would be an excellent idea to tap into their store of knowledge and use their experience to help develop your own work.
The editor of this journal, Rev. Hamid Touchon, is doing some inspired work and he has a vision. How can we as Cherags make the service more vital and dynamic? How can we make it an event that will inspire and help us undergo transformation? It’s not just an intellectual exercise or a theological history class. There are questions worth asking and I encourage others to look closely at their own feelings about the Service.
Our special challenges are that there is not much of a support network and our training has not been extensive. While there have been improvements and progress there is still a long way to go. We are asked to take responsibility to make the needed adjustment to give the Service force.
It is very possible for us to draw on each other and even other clergy from local sources. I recently asked a visiting minister from an Esoteric Christian mystery school to comment honestly on my performance of the Service and his comments were very valuable to me.
I would like to say one thing about passion and enthusiasm. I always feel a little hesitant about being enthusiastic. I do feel it is in my nature to be enthusiastic but I have had a poor relationship with evangelists and promoters of religion that I often choose to be a little reserved in the role of outreach. I am also very aware of scriptural references such as in the Gita about detachment. On the whole, however, I think it is OK to be passionate about the Service if one knows how to channel the energy wisely.
Besides this tentativeness about enthusiasm I have also noticed that some new Cherags feel fearful or apprehensive about approaching the Service. That’s pretty normal. I know I felt a lot of fear until I encountered a hostile situation at one service that I led.
I remember clearly doing a service when eight Iranian fundamentalists publicly challenged me during the service. I asked them to let me finish the service and afterwards we talked for five hours about the Message and the Service at one of their homes. Contact continued with them into the future and a friendly relationship developed. This was a turning point for me. What worse could ever happen? This experience gave me a deeper connection to the service that would have ever been possible if those ‘intruders’ had not interrupted what I was doing.
Slowly I am learning to trust more and honor my abilities and my own resources. When I think about what a good Cherag might look like I would have to include a deeper understanding of oneself and one’s uniqueness. To make the service more complete and alive we should allow the strengths of our own personalities to be used to infuse the Service with our own issues and questions that we are facing in life. We do not always need to answer these questions but seek the powerful underlying questions. People appreciate that. They aren’t looking for simple answers and they are hungry for what the Service offers. I feel people want truth and not formulas or simplistic sermons. The Universal Worship can withstand challenges and these can help the Universal Worship emerge as a powerful force in our communities.