1) ANNUAL DUES FOR CHERAGS AND CANDIDATES
At the Universal Worship Board of Directors meeting in August 1994 we decided to institute annual dues of $ 25.00 (or more if your can increase your support) for Cherags and Candidates. The funds generated from dues will aid the Secretariat in continuing to develop materials and programs for Cherags and to help promote the Universal Worship. Our primary goal for this year is to be able to employ a part-time administrative assistant to help with the increasing level of work. In return for your annual dues you will receive a coupon entitling you to a reduced price on selected versions of the scriptures ordered through Omega Press. With the activity of the Universal Worship grows, and as the demand for more information and services increasing it is time to begin moving from a purely volunteer effort to one which can support some paid staff assistance. Your support will be greatly appreciated. Please send your annual dues to the Secretariat (26 First St., Albany, NY 12210). Make checks payable to the Universal Worship Fund.
2) NEW REVISED ORDER OF SERVICE BOOKLET AVAILABLE
A new Order of Service booklet is now available from the Secretariat. This booklet contains the detailed instructions on how to perform the many types of services (e.g., marriages, house blessings, baptisms, funerals, receptions into the Universal Worship, etc.) which can be done as part of the Universal Worship. This edition includes all the latest approved changes to the service, the addition of helpful instructions in performing aspects of the service, and the revision of the language to be gender inclusive. This edition retains the 6" x 9" format for use with the white binder covers. We recommend all Cherags obtain this revised version. Order your copy from the Secretariat (26 First St., Albany, NY 12210). Cost is $ 5.00.
3) CHERAG ORDINATION CERTIFICATES AVAILABLE
We now have a Certificate of Ordination available. If you would like one please send your name (as you would like it to appear on the Certificate) and the approximate date of your ordination to Amina Stockton, 2121 Hunters Cove Drive, Lawrenceville, GA 30244. Your completed Certificate will be mailed back to you. We request a donation of $ 1.00 to cover postage and costs. We are now also have Certificates available for baptism, reception of an infant into the Universal Worship, and reception of an adult into the Universal Worship. To receive copies please contact Amina Stockton at the above address.
4) MANUAL FOR CHERAGS AVAILABLE
The first installment of the new Manual for Cherags is now available. Additional installments will be issued quarterly. The Manual will include information on all aspects of the Universal Worship and will be an invaluable resource for Cherags and Candidates. The cost of an annual (4 installment) subscription is $ 20.00. Please order through the Secretariat.
5) LIST OF RECOMMENDED SCRIPTURES AVAILABLE
An up-dated list of recommended editions of the scriptures used in the Universal Worship is available from the Secretariat. Please call or write to obtain a copy.
6) DIVINE FEMININE CANDLE
The candle for the Divine Feminine honors both an ancient and an emerging aspect of humanity's religious experience. Since this work is still very new and unfolding we have felt it is not time to make final decisions on how to present this candle in the service. At the Universal Worship Board of Directors meeting in August 1994 we discussed the options for this candle. This is what we concluded:
1) We cannot yet determine a final name for the candle. The name "Divine Feminine" has become widely used and is favored by some. Other names we feel comfortable in experimenting with are: "The Tradition of the Great Mother," "The Tradition of Gaia," and the "Feminine Spirit," and "The Great Goddess Tradition."
2) "Love" has emerged as the general consensus regarding the attribute for the candle.
3) The placement of the candle on the altar has resulted in a great deal of discussion. It has generally been placed after the Zoroastrian candle and before the Jewish candle (as is done with other additional religions). The Board recommended experimenting with placing the candle in front of the God candle and behind the Spirit of guidance candle (creating a "trinity" of candles perpendicular to the other candles). This candle would be lighted first and then the Hindu candle (in its normal place). This arrangement seems to honor both the historical antiquity of the tradition and the fact that it also represents a divine principle which is found within all the traditions. (The Board felt that placing the Divine Feminine candle before the Hindu candle is less satisfactory since the arrangement of the candles is not strictly historical and since this breaks up the flow of the original inspiration of the Eastern-Western arrangement.)
Since this is still an emerging candle we suggest Cherags experiment with the forms mentioned above and let us know what feels and works best. Over time a general consensus may emerge. In the meantime we feel it is best not to prescribe a specific form. For more materials on the Divine Feminine prepared by the Chrysalis Connection, including a wonderful sample Universal Worship service on the theme of the Divine Feminine, contact Haqiqa McDowell, 109 Blake Hill Road, Van Etten, NY 14889. 7)
CHERAG TRAINING - 1994-1995
The recent leader’s training and retreat in Sierraville, California was truly a memorable experience. I last was able to attend this annual event in 1990 at the Abode and at that time I attended as a Cherag candidate. This year, though, there was a very wonderful feeling circulating through the camp. There seems to be such a surge of energy within the Sufi Order as a whole. Our dear Seraj, Most Reverend Prajapati O’Neill began the leader’s training with presentation of a paper that stimulated a great deal of desire for an open dialog. Unfortunately, this format was not built into the week, but I did notice as I travelled from table to table at mealtimes, that there was much dialog going on. I saw such beauty in people! As I reflected upon the different concentration leader’s presentations, I could really feel this sense of a revitalization going on. The healing order is moving ahead now under the guidance of Himayat Inayati, and there is a Healing in Our Time Symposium scheduled in North Carolina in May 1995. The retreat concentration is looking at new ways to offer retreats that answer the need which Pir Vilayat feels for a “rehearsal for life” rather than a retreat from it. Ziraat has also been experiencing an increase in inquiries and membership.
The Universal Worship training was one of the highlights of the week for me. Ten people participated in the training. Some were Cherags already, some were candidates, and some came because of a deep longing in their soul to see if this was their next step. We built a beautiful altar using pine cones for candles (due to the extreme fire hazard in California, no flames were allowed) and stones for the sacred scriptures. These “substitutions” seemed so perfect. Oftentimes in wilderness living, certain pine cones are used to start fires because of their heavy resin content. Rocks have always felt to me to be sacred keepers of the history of our existence. Every time I have participated in the sacred ceremony of the sweat lodge, I have always felt that when the rocks are brought in I am welcoming my grandmothers and grandfathers. How appropriate that our altar contained all these living beings!
It was interesting in that the first day of our training we met in a place in the woods which was located downhill from the path and most everyone was unable to get comfortable. The second day we were blessed to be able to share in the Dances of Universal Peace training as Prajapati had to participate in the esoteric training that afternoon. I was so happy that we had this opportunity, as I feel there is a very special affinity between the Universal Worship and the Dances of Universal Peace. Reverend Tasnim Fernandez is an incredible teacher and when Prajapati joined us it felt so right for us to all finish the training session together. There was a special sense of sacred camaraderie between all of us. The third day of training Prajapati found an exquisite site located uphill from the path that gave us a great view of the area, and in many ways lifted us up. We had reached a new vista! The winds could be felt blowing through the trees as if whispering Quddus, Quddus, over and over again.
Our last day of training was so full and we all shared from some very deep creative places within us. We touched each other’s hearts and lives in such authentic ways. To me that is what this path, this journey in my life is all about. Such beauty! Such heartsoulfullness! Al- hamdu-Lillah!! May you be blessed and be able to attend this event next year.
At the recent leaders’ training and retreat I spent some time talking with Suhrawardi Gebel, who is a Retreat Guide, Cherag, and Northeast Regional Representative, about retreats for Cherags. He related to me that he has led a number of these retreats and recently sent me a copy of the format he has used for a 3 day retreat for Cherags. The format is rich in practices, wazifa’, zikr, readings, and attunements to several masters, saints, and prophets.
As Cherags we spend a great deal of time studying the sacred scriptures of different religious traditions, but how much time do we spend attuning to the great beings in whose steps we follow? In the Addresses to Cherags, Murshid reminds us: “And when he(she) raises the book and mentions the name of a certain message, to think at that time of the messenger who brought that message, and to feel and realize that he(she) is at one-ment with that messenger.” (p. 5) What better way to nourish this at one-ment than for us to take a retreat with this very focus! If you would like some more information about the structure of this retreat you can contact
Suhrawardi at 29 Sherman Street #2, Cambridge MA 02138, phone 617-547-2579
or myself, Amina Stockton at 2121 Hunter’s Cove Dr, Lawrenceville, GA 30244, phone 404-963-5042.
As Cherags we have before us a work every bit as difficult as did the first Cherags. The work is still in its infancy. But we are fast approaching the time when the work of the Universal Worship will begin to proliferate. This will be achieved by the longing for a concrete form and an independent structure; a Universel where we can create the atmosphere wherein the Message might be spread.
As a child grows steadily in the womb, not yet brought before the view of the world, so the Universal Worship has been growing in the minds of the last two generations of Cherags. Where Murshid’s first vision of the Universal Worship was the conception and the building of the Universel in France the birth of the physical expression of the Universal Worship, it is now before us to renew our commitment to refining and giving form to our sacred vision; to begin to dream on a grander scale.
Now is the time to begin to expect an emergence of a new Sacred Aesthetic and a new Sacred Tradition. We can begin to think on the designs for our alters and candleholders; our robes and altercloths and scriptures, the desire for which will help to bring them into manifestation; A manifestation unique to the vision of the Universal Worship. People have a great love and respect for art and craftsmanship and the level of importance of our work and the depth of commitment to our task is communicated to others through our attention or lack of attention to these issues. We need to begin looking at every detail of our presentation. While the central aspect of beauty and power is the Universal Worship itself, the physical presentation via our implements and environment is the frame which amplifies the viewer’s experience and understanding of the service. Thus these are issues of great importance which should not be treated lightly.
I think of the Traditions which have preceded us and how they have expressed their commitment and devotion through the great sacred art and architecture which are now the sites of pilgrimage to devotees from all over the world and I wonder to myself, “When will we, the custodians of the new Message, recognize the incredible privilege with which we are entrusted and our special and powerful position in history to help to unfold and give form to the Light of Truth here in our own time, our own generation?”
How can we go about it to move the Universal Worship out of our homes and into a Universel which none of us can afford to build? How can we afford the incredible expense in time and money and commitment to see such a project through and to maintain it? I suppose a better question is, “How can we afford not to?” When we look at all of the churches around us we have to ask ourselves, “How can they build a church and we cannot?” True, that it is easy to build a church when there is a set organization and large congregations and it is a church that is tried and true, everyone can understand it and the minister thinks nothing of it to build a church because a thousand others just like it already have been build and have been successful. The minister expects to build a church and there is no question about it.
We, on the other hand, are presenting a new idea though its truth is ancient and eternal, one which has not yet taken hold nor has it been proven by the test of time which so many people require. One which is not fully understood even by us who are advancing it. There is no big organization to back us up, no huge congregations to fund our project, no history of numberless churches already built to give us confidence of success. Like artists we must reinvent the world anew, start from scratch, carefully imagine and design every detail of this future church and at the same time overcome the pitfalls and shortcomings that have beset the message in previous times. What a task! As murshid has said,”We must each have the courage of a thousand priests.”
So where do we begin? How do we go about the work of bringing concreteness and physical form to Universels in our various communities?
Firstly there must be the desire, the longing in our hearts to see our beautiful service presented in a space designed and dedicated exclusively to the Universal Worship and such activities as are conducive to our work in the communities where we live.
Secondly we can begin to consider the objects used in the presentation of the service; envisioning what shapes and materials they are to be and to look around our communities for such artists and craftsmen who can create those items for us if we are not suited to the task. When we are envisioning we need not concern ourselves with the limitations of our finances, Visualization is free so dream on a grand if that is your vision. It is better to think big and settle for a little less than to think small and accomplish nothing. Talk around town to these people about your ideas all the while identifying yourself as a minister. In this way you will be impressing upon your self the position that you have been entrusted with. Little by little you will feel perfectly confident in identifying yourself as a minister and this will be a great benefit at later stages.
Third, go down to your local city planning office and find out what the regulations for building a Universel (or as it is referred to by the city planning office, a place of worship) as if you are about to build one. Again this part of the process is free. It cost nothing to do this research. Often the zoning restrictions are less stringent than for other commercial buildings. Doing this will help to make the idea more and more real as you engage yourself in the process. You may even find that it becomes conceivable that a Universel might be built. Taken as a whole the process is quite overwhelming. But when we take each step, one at a time, it starts to seem more and more possible. Think of the building of a Universel as a lifetime project and wait on God’s time; when the Harmony is right yet, prepare for that time to come.
Fourth, establish the Universal Worship as a non-profit organization in your city so that income is tax-exempt and donations tax deducible.
Fifth, open an account at the bank under the Universal Worship and start a Universel Building Fund then, when those who are waiting to contribute to such a project as yours find you, you will have already established a fund. This way people will take you more seriously. In addition, you may even begin to realize that you are raising money for the sacred cause that we represent and have been entrusted to unfold rather than feeling that you are canvasing people for your own pet project. When we have come to this realization our work will attract those who will help us to fulfil our mission.
Sixth, build a little model or have architectural drawings make of your dream Universel so that others can dream your dream with you. This becomes a physical form of prayer.
Seventh, take a long hard look at who is coming to your services. If you are only drawing in initiates from the local Sufi Center then figure out ways to draw more people from the general public. This is, after all, the purpose of the Universal Worship and the Church of All, “To gather together the followers of different religions in the understanding of the one truth behind them.” We need to consider this purpose which is our work. Broadening our vision to include all of humanity and thus avoiding sectarianism and the tendency toward exclusiveness is at the very root of our work. Run ads in your local newspaper, put out flyers and notice where around town you are avoiding to go. Offer the service in the poor and ethnically diverse parts of town. Find places that you can occasionally rent to hold services. If you are only able to hold services once in a while, make an event out of it with a pot-luck dinner in a rented hall and offer the service when people are inclined to go to church like Christmas or Easter or the change of the seasons. Look for opportunities to sponsor other’s events like sacred music concerts or inter- religious workshops. There are many things which can be done to make the Universal Worship more widely known. Our work is not merely to serve the community of Sufi initiates. If this is all that we are doing then we have not embraced the full scope of our mission; of our work. What a shame it would be if we withheld the Message from our communities only because we are afraid to present it publicly. And if we do not present it publicly then how will anybody benefit from our work?
Eighth as you build a congregation around the Universal Worship. begin to offer workshops or bar-b-ques or something as fundraisers for the Universel Fund.Include everyone in your congregation in helping to raise money and to spread the word about the Universel , this creates community spirit which is sadly lacking in most places.
All of these steps help to create the foundation for the Universel and will inspire the desire to continue forward. Then you will be well on your way to building a physical structure, a Universel for the Divine Message of Love, Harmony and Beauty. If you are so lucky as to have other Cherags in your city, state, or region, start a formal association among yourselves and meet on a regular basis to discuss your schedules and dreams and work together toward a common goal. Draw on the diversity of resources that you all hold jointly and each work according to his/her talents to the benefit of the whole. You can be sure that if several Cherags can develop a strong bond of mutual support and respect something big is going to happen!
Rev. Hamid Cecil Touchon