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24 July 2011

Rabia and Birgitta: Inquire Within!

This story about the famous mystic Rabia al-Adawiyya (717-801) is told among the Sufis: One evening, the sun was setting and the neighborhood found Rabia searching for something on the street -- an old woman, everybody loved her; of course everybody thought her a little crazy, but she was a beautiful person -- so they all rushed to help her and they asked, "What has been lost? What are you searching for?" She said, "My needle. I was doing some needlework and I have lost my needle. Help me! You are so kind!" So they all engaged in the search.

 Rabia al-Adawiyya

Then one man, seeing the fact that the street was so big and the needle was such a small tiny thing and that unless they exactly knew where it had been dropped it would be almost impossible to find it, came to Rabia and said,"Tell us exactly the spot". Rabia said, "Don't ask that because in fact I have not lost it outside my house, I lost it inside". 

They all stopped searching and said, "She is truly a crazy woman!" And they said to her, "Then why are you searching here outside in the street when you have lost it inside the house?" Rabia replied, "There is much darkness. Here is a little light, how can you seek when there is darkness? And you know I am poor, I have no lamp. How can you seek when there is darkness? So I am seeking here because still a little sunlight is left, and still something can be done to search".

The people started laughing. They said: "You are really crazy! We know that in darkness it is difficult to search, but then the only way is to borrow a lamp from somebody and search for it there". 

Rabia chuckled softly and said: "I never thought you people were so wise. Then why do you always seek outside? I was just holding up a mirror to you by doing what you always do. But since you are scolding me for looking outside, there is hope.  If you are so understanding why don't you borrow a lamp from me and search inside? I know there is darkness."

The Lutheran Calendar of Saints marks July 23 for another female mystic, Birgitta of Sweden (1303-1373). Birgitta, the most beloved and well-known Swedish saint, is unusual among medieval mystics for having had a husband and children. She had eight children before founding a new religious order, and writing a book based on her spiritual visions that became one of the foremost spiritual texts of its time.

Birgitta of Sweden

Like Rabia, Birgitta was straightforward when she spoke to people, and wasn't shy to get involved with the political affairs of her day. Later in her life, as a result of her visions, she took an active role in urging the Pope, living in Avignon, to return to Rome. She wrote to church leaders about her visions urging them to end corruption and sin within the church hierarchy. From direction given to her in these visions, she started the Birgittine order of nuns which her daughter Catherine would later lead.  To see Birgitta in the context of her contemporaries, take a look at my map of 13th and 14th century mystics, located here.

Much as she got involved in the outside world, it was Birgitta's inward journey that held her life together. Like Rabia demonstrated with her little practical parable, most people rather search outside. There is a reason for this -- because inside everything is so dark, and because outside at least there is light.

Where have you lost your truth? Where have you lost your being? Where have you lost your God? Where have you lost your happiness, your bliss? If you go to the infinite maze of the outside world to find the answer, you will search in vain. It's on the inward journey that the answers come. Whoever has looked within has always found -- because it is already there!  

Only a look is needed, a conversion, a returning to the Source. Just a deep look. But people are reluctant and fearful, as the prophet Jeremiah writes, 

God's Message yet again: "Go stand at the crossroads and look around. Ask for directions to the old road, The tried-and-true road. Then take it. Discover the right route for your souls". But they said, "Nothing doing. We aren't going that way".

Jeremiah 6:16 (quote from Message Bible)


PS The writer of this blog will take a brief hiatus from writing weekly, as he is moving from the mainland (the Bronx) to the island (Manhattan). Due to work, telephone company and vacation schedules, it may actually take a few weeks until computer and writer are up and running again. Thanks for understanding.  

Until then I am 
Your Fritz.

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