This week, ReadTheSpirit welcomes Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee, a British-American Sufi mystic and teacher who is known to many Americans through his books, lectures and appearances in documentaries about interfaith unity. For most Americans, understanding Vaughan-Lee’s work is challenging. After all, the majority of us call ourselves Christian—between 7 and 8 out of 10 Americans according to Gallup. Yet, more than half of Americans can’t name the four Gospels when pollsters ask. In America, George Gallup famously said, religion is “miles wide and inches deep.”
So, this week, we are introducing Vaughan-Lee to our readers in the U.S. and around the world—and we are drawing connections between his teaching and those of other religious voices we have featured in our pages. Come back later this week for our interview with Vaughan-Lee about his efforts to promote peace between the world’s religious traditions.
We asked readers what they know about Sufis, and many responded: “Wasn’t Rumi a Sufi?”
The answer is: Yes, and we have published stories about that famous poet, like this one featuring Rumi translator Coleman Barks.
Others asked: “Are Sufis the people who dance and whirl?” The answer: Yes, some Sufi traditions encourage dance and ecstatic whirling. But, Vaughan-Lee represents a “silent” branch of Sufism that practices quiet contemplative prayer perhaps closer to Catholic Father Thomas Keating than to Whirling Dervishes .
Today, we are recommending Vaughan-Lee’s new book, Prayer of the Heart in Christian and Sufi Mysticism. In less than 80 pages, he packs a concise and sturdy guide to global approaches to prayer that welcome everyone to pray—whatever your religious tradition may be. His teachings remind us of the work of Keating and Celtic Christian mystic John Philip Newell as well.
LLEWELLYN VAUGHN-LEE’S QUEST TO HEAL THE EARTH
A good example of Vaughan-Lee’s convergence with Newell is the chapter called Prayer for the Earth.
A brief excerpt from Vaughan-Lee …
In whatever way we are drawn to pray, there is a vital need to include the earth in our prayers. We are living in a time of ecological devastation, the catastrophic effect of our materialistic culture on the ecosystem. Our rivers are toxic, the rainforests slashed and burned, vast tracts of land made a wasteland due to our insatiable desires for oil, gas and minerals. We have raped and pillaged and polluted the earth, pushing it into the dangerous state of imbalance we call climate change. Creation itself is now calling to us, sending us signs of its imbalance, and the soul of the world, the anima mundi, which the ancients understood as the spiritual presence of the earth is crying out. … Those whose hearts are open may hear it too, the cry of the world soul, of the spiritual being of our mother the earth. …
We are the children and the inheritors of a culture that has banished God to heaven. Early Christianity persecuted and ultimately largely extinguished any earth-based spirituality, and the physical world became a place of darkness and sin. Then after the Age of Enlightenment, the prevailing world view that grew out of Newtonian physics framed the world as an inanimate mechanism we could easily master, indeed were meant to master; we simply needed to discover its laws to tame it to our own ends. As a legacy of that view we have developed a materialistic culture that treats the earth as a commodity that exists to serve our own selfish purpose. Our greed now walks with heavy boots across the world, with complete disregard for the sacred nature of creation. …
Our Western culture no longer knows how to relate to the world as a sacred being. Now the world needs our prayers more than we know. It needs us to acknowledge its sacred nature, to understand that it is not just something to use and dispose of. It needs us to help I to reconnect with its own sacred source, the life-giving waters of creation that can save it from destruction. It needs us to remember it to the Creator. We are needed now to reclaim our sacred duty as guardian, or vice-regent, of the natural world. …
There are many ways to pray for the earth. First it is essential to acknowledge that the earth is not “unfeeling matter” but a living being that has given us life. It can be helpful to ask ourselves: How would we like to be treated? Just as a physical object to e used and repeatedly abused? Then perhaps we can sense the earth’s suffering: the physical suffering we see in the dying species and polluted waters, the deeper suffering of our collective disregard for its sacred nature. Perhaps, if we open our hearts and souls to the being we call the world, we will be able to hear the cry of the anima mundi, of its soul. For centuries it was understood that the world was a living being with a soul, and that we were a part of this being, the light of our own soul a spark, a scintilla, of the light of the world soul. As a culture we have forgotten hat, but this understanding is foundation of the prayer that is needed now. Through it we make that connection conscious again; we help bring our light back to the world soul.
JOHN PHILIP NEWELL FROM CHRIST OF THE CELTS
What’s the connection with Celtic Christian writer John Philip Newell?
Read our earlier interview with Newell, or consider re-reading his book Christ of the Celts. Here are a few lines from Christ of the Celts that echo Vaughan-Lee’s writing, but approach the same theme from Newell’s Celtic-Christian perspective. From Christ of the Celts …
I heard within me what the ancients call “the music of the spheres.” The Celts were familiar with this music. In the Hebrides of Scotland, it was common practice well into the 19th century for men to take off their caps to greet the morning sun and for women to bend their knee in reverence to the moon at night. These were the lights of God. They moved in an ancient harmony that spoke to the relationship of all things. And they witnessed also to the eternal rhythm between masculine energies and feminine energies that commingle deep in the body of the universe. …
Not only is creation viewed as good, as coming out of the goodness of God, but it is viewed as well as theophany or a disclosing of the heart of God’s being. Eriugena, the 9th century Irish teacher, says that if goodness were extracted from the universe, all things would cease to exist. For goodness is not simply a feature of life; it is the very essence of life. Goodness gives rise to being just as evil leads to nonbeing or to a destruction and denial of life’s sacredness. The extent to which we become evil or false is the extent to which we no longer truly exist. Eriugena and the Celtic teachers invite us to look to the deepest energies of our bodies and souls and to the deepest patterns and rhythms of the earth as theophanies of the goodness of God. And they invite us to see Christ as the One who speaks again this forgotten goodness, the Word that comes to us from the Beginning. He is the memory of the first and deepest sound within creation. It is an invitation to listen for the sacred not away from life, but deep within all that has life.
Read More: Enjoy our interview with Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee.
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Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.