Welcome to the of Lamp of the Message.
Firstly I would like to share our great joy with you that my wife, Rosalia and I had our first baby together born Nov. 23 at 11:57a.m.,5lbs. 13oz.. Her name is Noor-un-Nisa and she is beautiful!
Secondly I would like to make you aware of a wonderful book that I recently came across. I am sure some of you have found it already but for those of you who haven’t I would strongly recommend you get a copy. The book is titled; “Stories of the Spirit, Stories of the Heart” edited by Buddhist teachers;Christina Feldman and Jack Kornfield and is published by HarperSanFrancisco ISBN 0-06-250300-6, $16.00. A 396 page book of parables from around the world containing many teaching stories from all traditions, it is a wonderful collection of stories both ancient and modern which should be in every Cherag’s library.
Thirdly, I would like to thank Siraj Ahmaddin as-salik abd’allah for the kind gift of address for the nearly 100 Cherags in the S.I.R.S. organization who will begin receiving the Lamp of the Message with the present issue. Welcome S.I.R.S. Cherags! See order form for more information concerning your subscription to Lamp of the Message.
In addition, on the same day from Siraj Prajapati O Neill I received some 78 addresses of Cherags and Candidates in Germany . Howerver, due to the high cost of international postage, and lack of subscriptions from Europe, I will not be sending there at this time.
There are only 41 subscribers who have sent in their subscription money for this volume one. As far as I know, this is the only Church of All publication through which we are all connected together and which is for all Cherags regardless of organizational affiliation. Thus the strength of our global interconnectedness is diminished in equal proportion by each cherag who does not receive the Lamp. Therefore, I am hard pressed to remove anyone from the mailing list and wish to keep everyone on it. Obviously, $12.00 will not break anyone’s budget so if you feel that our staying in contact with each other is important, please show your support by subscribing.
I will continue sending out the Lamp in the hopes that, as I am, many of you are so busy that you mean to subscribe but soon forget, so put this issue in with your stack of bills to be paid and send in your subscription money as soon as you are able.
Also, very few Cherags have contributed any articles, letters or other publishable items. If you have something that you would like to share with the Cherag community, send it in! There are some of you who cannot afford to pay for a subscription. If you are one of these people who cannot afford a dollar a month for Lamp of the Message, you can make other contributions such as articles or other publishable materials that would be of benefit to the Cherag community. This will keep you on the mailing list and current. Of course, the subscription money and an article is the best of all possible worlds.
For those of you receiving this publication for the first time, send in your subscription for volume one and two and note which issues that you haven’t received and I will send you a copy of each. For those of you who have a computer and E-mail address be sure to include it so that we can stay in contact with each other via computer or drop me a line (or better yet, an article) at Compuserve address, 73672,1107
A Unity Prayer
(a contemplative prayer for overcoming
intolerance toward others)
Cherag Hamid Cecil Touchon, 1989
Well, its the deadline and nobody sent in any articles for this issue so I’ve got a couple of pages to either delete or fill in with some off the cuff material. As you can see I’ve decided on the later. So, I think I will just start writing something and keep going until I run out of space.
We (Malik Sanford and myself ) got started with the Universal Worship service here in Pagosa Springs on Dec. 25. ‘94, just weeks ago and are doing the service on a weekly basis. The concept is to see if we can create a ‘stand alone’ Church of All community here in this fairly small town. We have rented an office for 150.00 per month in the building where we are performing the service and have invested some money in books from Omega Press and a number of tapes so that, if people are interested, they can buy some books of Murshid’s lectures and other books on Sufism. Believe it or not, I found no books on Sufism at all in book stores within a hundred and fifty miles of here so I felt we needed to have something available.
Also, we have been running ads in the paper and notices in the community announcements section and putting our local Heart of the Message newsletter around town; the Chinese restaurant, Buddhist bookstore, acupuncturist’s office, grocery store. There is only one grocery store here in town, in fact, there is pretty much one of everything or we don’t have it at all. So far, there has only been one negative response when a local fellow sent me a fundamentalists Christian brochure on which was hand written,’Jesus said the best thing to do with a guy like you is tie a rock around your neck and throw you in the ocean.’ I wrote to him and apologized for being a stumbling block to his faith if indeed he is one of the innocent, childlike believers that the scripture from Matt. that he was referring to was talking about. Then I thanked him for writing and gave an explanation of what the Universal Worship is all about and invited him to write back if he had more questions or complaints; so far no response
Our attendance for the service thus far (including however many breathing bodies are there but not counting the cherag): 12-25-94; three 1-1-95; five 1-8-95; eight 1-15-95;thirteen 1-22-95; ten 1-29-95; fifteen Not bad I am figuring considering it is a small town and the dead of winter with several of these Sunday mornings being snowy and cold. Other than our families and one other Sufi family that moved in recently only two or three of these people have been coming consistently. The rest are one timers so far.
The tough part is coming up with the topics and readings every week. I feel like I am always with my head buried in the scriptures hunting around for something that is close to what I want to talk about that week and figuring out how to give a sermon that is engaging and incorporates the readings and worth people’s trouble to come. This does seriously cut into the home life and work time. I am an artist by profession, so my work schedule is pretty open but I have to be careful not to use up my work time taking care of all of the church details. I haven’t quite got this part figured out yet except that I have devised a ‘readings’ worksheet on each of which is a topic for a future service and room to jot down scriptural verses and notes so that, as I am digging around on one topic I can note scriptures for other services as I happen upon them.
The next thing is what do we do with the kids? We are up to five or six kids already between the ages of seven and eleven. We want to get some kind of Sunday school thing going but are not quite sure what to do or who should do it. What is the next part of creating a viable and vital church community? This is the next big question. While we are not hiding the fact that this church comes out of the Sufi tradition, we are trying to avoid the perception of being a ‘Sufi’ church composed of ‘sufi’ people and are presenting the church as an open ended, inclusive community although, people don’t seem to understand what that means exactly and I am not completely sure how to demonstrate the idea in practice. But I guess we’ll figure it out as we go along.
One thing I have noticed since we got started is that there has been, over the last year or so, a swell in the population of ‘Assensionists and E.T.s in this general area. I thought that the Ascension and ascended masters thing was the Claire Prophet group but no, apparently that group is only a very small group within a much bigger framework of ‘New Age’ Assensionists who seem to believe that we are all headed for the fifth dimension with our bodies or maybe the whole planet is ascending along with the help of all of these ascended masters and Extra Terrestrials whose space ships are hovering around the planet and the entire heavenly population is perched in the higher dimensions in anticipation of some extraordinary event going on here and everything is about to change. Then we all ascend and don’t have to work for money any more or something like that. I have to admit that I guess I have been pretty out of it the last decade or so because I don’t understand any of it or what the basis of it is that is fueling this whole thing. It seems kind of like Obe wan Kanobe meets Captain Pickard and we all beam up and go who knows where. I don’t know, I guess I’m just confused. The whole thing sounds like an invasion from the Jinn sphere to me.
Anyway, some of these people are coming to the service and one of the regulars of our congregation gave me a book to read called ‘E.T. 101’ which will probably be flooding the bookstores within the year as it was just picked up by a major publisher last week (the author lives here in town) as a kind of introduction to some of the ideas going around. I read this book a couple of days ago. It was ‘channeled’ through the author from the Intergalactic Council. Is this the Spiritual Hierarchy? Supposedly. The book is fairly tongue in cheek. But at the same time you can see that it is intended to be more or less serious. Hum...
I had been hearing around town for some months about a woman who is either the author of this book or someone involved with it that went to bed one night last summer as herself and woke up the next morning as a different person; same body, different occupant. This person claims to be the rightful occupant because some ‘contract’ had been made in the higher spheres to ‘timeshare’ this body kind of like a condo or something. This is called a ‘walk-in’. Hum...
I guess my point to this whole story is that I am not quite sure how to address this. The Christian churches here are up at arms about all of these ‘New Agers’ swamping the town from what I hear and about the same time a large Buddhist retreat facility moved here from New York called Tara Mandala along with putting in a bookstore downtown. I have heard that the bookstore has received some threats by phone of someone planning to burn down the building. The owner of a ‘New Age’ bookstore in the next town over told me that a large group of people from a local Christian church there came into the store and started praying for its demise. Hum...
While I was in the office one day, a woman who is a light and color therapist and artist asked me if I wasn’t afraid, with all of these things going on, to be so public with the Universal Worship. The only thing that came to mind really was the scripture from the Upanishads that goes, ‘Seeing all creatures in yourself and yourself in all creatures what is there to fear?’ So I said no, I am not afraid why should I be? But she was.
In fact a lot of people here just seem to be afraid of each other from a distance but not up close. I guess you could call it conceptual fear. Maybe everybody is watching too much T.V. or something. Yet it is one of the friendliest places I have ever been to. Everyone waves at each other and talks to each other even if they don’t know one another and you can rarely get out of the grocery store without one or often several conversations with people. If you are stuck on the side of the road there is no end to the numbers of people who will pull over and see if you need help. It seems to me like a lot of this fear is internal or is stirred up in small groups around gossip. So I guess a lot of my work here will be showing how to overcome fear, how to not cause others to be in fear and how to co-exist, and even respect each other which is what everybody wants to do anyway. But I can see that many are afraid of somebody trying to change or threaten their beliefs and most seem afraid that the world is about to end.
So everyone has this ‘End Times’ mentality whether ‘Old Age’ or ‘New Age’ which serves as the backdrop to everybody’s spiritual beliefs. I admit, I use to worry about this too. But to me it became apparent that it is an act of arrogance to think you know, or should even think about, when the world will end or if it will or how it will or if we will even notice it when it does. It is not our job as individuals. So I came up with a saying for myself in case I ever worry about it again;
“For the Sufi, everyday is his last day; every morning, the beginning of a new world. He lives as though today is the last day of the world. He plans for the future as if the world will last forever. He knows his life is not his own. Living in this manor, he regrets nothing.”
This cured me of even thinking about the end of the world. As I see it, it is not our business to worry about it and it is just a way for people to avoid the nitty-gritty work of everyday life. Instead of worrying about the end of the world it seems more intelligent to consider your deathbed with you on it taking your last few breaths. What will I have wished I had done with my life from that vantage point? What will have been important? What will there have been to fear? What will I regret? That is what I ask myself. This is the end of the world that we know will come to each of us. This is certain and to Allah is the returning. As far as the end of the world goes, its God’s business when He wants to fold up His Tents and call it a Day; not ours. Hum... I see a good sermon in there.
I am sure that many of you are probably aware of this but for those who aren’t, I remember reading somewhere that everybody in Europe was sure that the world was going to end around the year 1000. There was a hushed anticipation across Europe as the time approached and as it passed. So, between around the years 900 to 1200, all of the churches in Europe were neglected because nobody saw any reason to do costly repairs to the churches if the world was going to end anyway. Why bother? After 1200 people started thinking maybe the world wasn’t going to end any time soon and pretty soon there was the renaissance. But ever since there are those who are sure that their generation is the last and this has been a strong period of such fears for the last century. Will the world end around the year 2000? Who cares?
Well, that’s the news from Pagosa Springs. What’s happening in your neck of the woods? Subscribe! and send in an article or something. It doesn’t have to be long or important or scholarly or historically significant. It need not be wise or authoritive, clever or pithy. So fear not! Sendeth it in. Many blessings to everyone, Hamid
If you are a candidate, newly ordained Cherag, or a Cherag who has been inactive for some time, some of the great problems that face you are: not being sure exactly what we are teaching, inertia in terms of establishing a sustainable routine, a sense of being inadequate to the position and a fear of jumping out there into the public performance of the Service. So I would like to say a few words on some of these problems.
Firstly, what is our Message; our teaching? Each of us has to arrive at the answer to this question from our own probings and each of us has come into the world with our own aspect of the Message. We can read Murshid’s writings over and over and still the essence can escape us for many years even when we think that we have got it. But with a life time of efforts we will always come to a deeper and clearer understanding than we had a year ago or a decade ago. For myself, the key is to always be looking for the root of things and not to get caught up in the interesting yet superfluous details like the professor in the Nasrudin story called “My Beautiful Seed” that you will have read in the previous issue. This is to look for what Murshid calls ‘The Religion’ behind all religions.
I was once looking for a book in a rather large library and for a moment I stood back and attempted to realize how many books were shelved there and how many lifetimes of specialized knowledge and effort went into all those books. I realized that, not only could I never personally read, or even page through those books; given a lifetime, I could never even read the one’s that truly interested me! I was confronted with my own intellectual and temporal limitations and it caused me to ponder. As Cherags we are very much in the same position where the religions of the world are concerned. We can never acquire the same level of understanding about each religion as those who are participants in each of them. It is simply not possible. There will always and forever be others more learned and more expert on any given topic than we ourselves and we must accept this fact.
Although, at first, it may seem that we are concerned with comparative religion, with showing a relationship between the religions, this is not our real task. Our real task is to convey the Message that there is only One Reality of which all religions are an expression.There is one Wisdom which can be found in all cultures and times and this one Reality, this one Wisdom, this one Message is our message. We don’t need to be religious experts to spread this message we only need to be deeply rooted in this one reality. In other words, our only authenticity as Cherags comes from our relationship to the Divine Beloved and our ability to express the wisdom gained from that relationship.
There is no question that we are all at differing levels of realization in this regard but if we will accept the fact that we are Cherags, that the Spirit of Guidance will work through us to the degree that we allow it to, then this is what makes us authentic and that is all any of us can do at any given moment. Murshid doesn’t ask us to become religious experts. There is nothing that we can add to ourselves to become better Cherags. Instead we are asked to be empty vessels so that the Spirit of Guidance can fill our hearts and speak through our lips. If we can do this, we have done all that we are here to do. If we know a little something about the religious lore of the world all the better but knowing this lore without an internal connection to the Spirit of Guidance is of little use because we won’t have the thread of Truth that connects it all together and gives meaning to the scriptures.
Secondly, regarding inertia, the best way to put ourselves to the task of developing this relationship to the Spirit of Guidance and learning about the spiritual literature of the world is to establish a regular, sustainable rhythm of performing the Universal Worship Service. I have been a Cherag for 15 years and I am still trying to do this so it is no easy task! But I am committed to achieving this and, as Murshid says, I will succeed even if I fail a thousand times. To my knowledge, which is very limited, there are very few places where the Service is being performed regularly. I and all of us need to start working on this with renewed commitment and fervor.
Thirdly, if we feel inadequate it is not without cause. We are inadequate! We are all limited in all kinds of ways but that is common to all people at all times. If we realize this we can say comfortably, “Yes, I am not perfect but I will do the best that I can.” If you do your best it is enough. Ironically, our only moment of true perfection is when we stand aside and let the Spirit of Guidance work through us. Our desire to ‘do the service perfectly or not do it at all’ will usually end with us not doing it at all. I remember Reverend Sarmad Brody once telling me, “If you wait until you are ready you will never do anything.” This was one of the best bits of wisdom that I have ever been given. Readiness is developed in the context of action. If we do not engage ourselves in the ritual act of performing the Service we can never develop ourselves in the work of being a Cherag.
There is no question that this is hard work. Reverend Kabb in Denver recently told me that the Service that he had just performed took 40 hours to prepare! We all seem to be so busy and that there is little time for us to devote to our work. Nevertheless, if we will make the task of being a Cherag a priority we can usually fit an hour a day into our schedule by stealing time from less important activities. If we can use a few minutes in the morning and/or evening to devote to gathering readings for a service then we can easily perform one once a month.
If there are several Cherags in your city, create a formal association and work together with the intention of having the service weekly and advertise it. Fourthly this will create the context for public performance of the service. The fear of performing in public can only be overcome by doing it on a regular basis. There is no way around it. The more you do it the more comfortable you will become.
Select your scriptures and prepare your sermons with the thought of your friends and the Friend in mind. Do not consider any imagined enemy. Then you will say what is in your heart rather than defending against the fear that is in your mind.This will help a great deal in overcoming fear of the public. There will be those who stand against you. So what? Don’t let the fear of such a confrontation hold you back. You will know what you must do or say when and if the time comes.
There is another thing that I would like to suggest, especially to new Cherags. Present yourself as you are. Do not fall into the trap of attempting to be what you or others imagine a minister or priest should be. We are in the position of creating a new model of what a minister or priest can be so why not be creative? Why rely on older models? Yes it is good to emulate those whom we respect and admire. This is how we grow and improve ourselves but don’t put on a mask or attempt to be other than you are. You will only be fooling yourself. Others may not, at first, see the ‘real’ you but they will know that they are seeing something false. Part of being authentic is in being authentically yourself. Find that authentic aspect of yourself and allow that to shine through. Our truest self will only be found by presenting ourselves as we honestly are. There is no reason to hide behind a facade of piety if we are not truly this way. The spiritual life is difficult enough when we are completely forthright and impossible if we are wasting our energy on a false appearance. Many of those who will be coming to our church will have grown weary of image and facade that only covers over a dead tradition that has lost it’s understanding of the Truth that once gave it meaning. That’s why I am here and all who are reading this as well, I am sure, feel similarly.
One last thing. Try to understand our great privilege in being at the beginning of things. We occupy a tremendously important historical position that Cherags a thousand years from now will envy. We are at the beginning of something very big and far reaching. What we achieve in our time will be the legacy that will be cherished by all future generations. Thus, though our efforts may seem unimportant, just now, our small efforts have deep and long lasting reverberations into the future if we only realized it! What we write and what we do will be studied in the future as we study those from the past but only if we leave documents of our efforts. The Universels that we build will be the ancient shrines visited by countless future pilgrims as we visit the ancient temples today but only if we build them. Or conversely, having contributed nothing, we will be forgotten and buried in the shifting sands of Time. As Murshid says, “Life is an opportunity”. What a loss if we do not understand the opportunity before us and work day and night with each other to take advantage of it!
Oh, and one more last thing. It is time to move past the idea of considering our work done by performing the service. What about the Church of All? How about founding the Church in your area, you know, for the general public to join. We haven’t even begun this work and yet, this is why we are cherags. We, the cherags, are the church at present but what about all those out there from many different traditions who are waiting for the Church of All to be established so that they may come and participate. If we don’t do it who will? Imagine; an office, a phone, stationary, advertising in the local paper, flyers, a congregation, a course on the Art of Personality and Character Building, Church newsletters, Sunday School children’s program, church retreats, the dances, a choir, community work as a church group, weddings, funerals, baptisms, spiritual counseling, hospital visits, sponsoring sacred music performances and other events, brother/sisterhood organizations, sacred scripture study circle, prayer groups, Cherags-in-training program, etc...in short, making a viable and vital presence in the community, and dare I say...planning a Universel... It won’t happen if we’re not planning on it.
“Allow Us to Recognize Thee” 2nd Edition
Rediscover your soul’s heritage in Melchizedek, Rama, Krishna, Shiva, Buddha, Abraham, Solomon, Zarathushtra, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammed... In 1983, Sharif Graham guided a retreat for Cherag(a)s in the Arizona desert, assisted by Arifa Miller. The purpose was to know our spiritual ancestors and to rediscover our soul’s heritage. We concentrated on and attuned to the prophets named in the prayer Salat. Allow Us to Recognize Thee is the manuscript which shares the inspiration of that retreat. Four printings have been sold out in Europe and the United States. The original manuscript conducts us into the atmosphere of the prophets, the times in which they lived, the attunement they embodied and their peronal struggles toward realization. Sharif and Arifa have updated this latest edition which has been expanded to include further practices and inspirations to recreate the being of each prophet in the reader.
ALLOW US TO RECOGNIZE THEE at $12.00 each plus $2.50 for book rate postage (New York residents add 7 percent sales tax.) OMEGA PRESS Abode of the Message RD 1 Box 1030E New Lebanon, NY 12125-9801 tel. 1-800-443-7107
From the Secretariat and School of Universal Worship 26 First Street, Albany, NY 12210
1) New revised Order of Service Booklet available. $5.00
2) Cherag Ordination Certificates ( as well as other Universal Worship Certificates) available. $1.00
3) List of Recommended Scriptures available. Free with S.A.S.E
4) Manual for Cherags available (four instalments per year for 20.00 per year)
Annual Cherag Training.
August 7-10, 1995 The annual national training for Cherags and candidates in the Universal Worship will be held from August 7-10, 1995 at the Abode of the Message. Further details will be available soon. Contact the Universal Worship Secretariat (518-427-1948) or the Sufi Order Secretariat (206-782-2001) for more information.
The first convocation of the Universal Worship will be an opportunity for Cherags and Cherag candidates to exchange ideas, inspiration and experience, and to build community and mutual support. The format of the convocation will emphasize dialogue, sharing and co-creation in an open and empowering atmosphere. The program will feature:
1) Several full group sessions to consider the vision and development of the Universal Worship as we approach the year 2000.
2) Workshops and learning groups on a variety of topics such as: interfaith networking, pastoral counseling, the emergence of the divine feminine, creative forms of the Universal Worship, use of music and art in the service, other forms of ministry work, community building, or other topics of interest.
3) Individual time to inquire into one's personal calling and commitment to the Universal Worship and to explore the practical "how to" of giving this calling a manifest expression.
4) A Saturday evening "open mike / living gallery" sharing of poetry, music, dance and other creative work. The intention of this convocation is to nurture a deep sense of communion together as fellow workers for the vision of the Universal Worship, and to exchange practical ideas on how to make this vision an embodied reality in our challenging modern world.
All Cherags and candidates are heartily invited to attend. Those who would like to propose a theme for exploration or offer a workshop on a specific topic should contact Prajapati O'Neill at (518) 427-1948. Visual artists are invited to bring work to display, poets and lovers of poetry are invited to bring poems to share, musicians are invited to bring their instruments. This weekend will be a sacred time and space to find renewal and rededication, to be inspired by others, and to build a strong community network.
PRAJAPATI O'NEILL, who will be coordinating the weekend, is the Dean of the Universal Worship. He is currently completing a Ph.D. in Humanistic Studies, concentrating on the expression of the Message in Our Time in contemporary religion, philosophy and literature. He is also an active writer and poet. Registration will be done by Aegis at the Abode of the Message. Cost and other specific details will be available soon.
Contact the Universal Worship Secretariat (518-427-1948) or Aegis (518-794-8095) for more information.
Call for Universal Worship Readings
As you are aware, a well planned Universal Worship service requires many hours of preparation. Much of this time is spent researching the sacred texts of the world to find just the right reading. When conducting the Universal Worship on a weekly basis there seems to be no end to this search which can discourage many cherags from performing the service on a weekly basis and may be a major factor in keeping Cherags from maintaining weekly services.
I would like to propose that when you have gathered an especially striking set of readings, don’t let them go to waste, send them in to us and we will begin to organize a Readings Cooperative! If every Cherag who performs the service will send in their readings stating the exact source of each, date the service was given, theme of the readings if any and explanatory notes or a transcript or recording of the sermon given, and perhaps one of Murshid’s lectures that most closely fits the attunement of your readings, we will edit and collect them into cycles of fifty two services so that Cherags may have a resource to draw on in order that weekly performances of the service becomes more feasible and hopefully more common. This project could lead to an interscriptural concordance so that the scriptures can be organized into an index which would be organized by subject this could also serve to aide Cherags in locating thematic readings in a timely fashion. So send them in!