Zaman Stanizai Headshot

Zaman Stanizai Become a fan 

Professor of Mythological Studies at Pacifica Graduate Institute, Santa Barbara

In Response to a Letter From a Christian Friend

Posted: 01/11/2016 11:42 am EST  Updated: 47 minutes ago

Recently I received this message, in essence an invitation to a new faith, from a Christian friend of mine that sent me deep within for a contemplative response. The thought echoed through the landscape of my imagination and dialogued through reason with the message that began this way: 

Hi Zaman,
I think of you from time to time and wonder how you and your children are doing? I know the death of your dear Jahan has not been easy for you and your family. I wonder if you have heard of the book Seeking Allah, but Finding Jesus written by a Pakistani-born former Muslim now living in the U.S. who through dreams and comparing the Koran and the Bible came to know Jesus as his Savior and God. I covet that for you, Zaman. You can buy it on God bless you, (name withheld to respect the sender's privacy).

Dear ...,
Thank you for the invitation and for your expression of sympathy. I hope all is well with you. I read your invitation with interest and found a few loose ends in your proposition. As a Muslim I already believe in Jesus as I do in Muhammad, Moses, Siddhartha, Lau Tzu and virtually any divinely inspired living being who was/is graced with a wholeness (or holiness) who helps span the distance between our human and environmental nature and the metaphysical in the totality of being. This is my scripture -- creating a 'context' for the profane from the 'text' of the Divine.

If I accept Jesus alone, the way you would want me to, I will have to deny all the other minds and souls who tried to save humanity from the pitfalls of greed and grief. This concept of giving up all for one doesn't make sense in the win/loss column of my spiritual calculation.

Then you might say that my understanding of Jesus is not the same as yours, implying that I must accept Jesus the way you do. If I accept your interpretation instead of my own, that makes your proposition a coercion or a conversion, but not a conviction. Is there faith without conviction, especially if one has not arrived at such a conclusion independently?

You may argue that it is possible for two individuals to arrive at the same conclusion independently. This may be relatively true, but absolutely impossible. In absolute terms it is not possible because we each have our own heads on our shoulders, each wired for independent multi-tasking for its own physical survival and spiritual fulfillment. One person does not and can not think for another or like another unless one of them is not thinking. A non-thinking person is legally dead. In order for my thought to be exactly the same as yours I would have to turn my thought process off, so to say. 

I respect your opinion. If you respect my opinion, you would have to let me have one in the first place. If you agree, it goes without saying that we should just allow ourselves to reach the Divine in our own different ways. If so, your initial presumption doesn't hold water.

Consequently, if faith is an individual conviction, one would ask politely, "What difference does it make to you what I belief?" If you have an interest in my adherence to a particular belief system, that sounds like a business deal and raises the suspicion of a 'commission' or reward for you: "Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins." (James 5:20) If, on the other hand, you don't have any personal interest in this, it defeats the whole purpose of your persistence.

It seems that for you there is one and only one way to the Divine, where as for me there are as many as there are living and sensing conscious beings who seek the Divine through their own perceptions. And let me quote Jahan on this with her favorite quotation of Rumi where she stresses that, "The spiritual search for the divine is common to all faith communities even though there may appear differences in the form." From the following poem the highlighted parts are quoted in Jahan's speech delivered at the Skirball Cultural Center a few years before she left us:

The lamps are different, 
But the light is the same.

So many garish lamps in the dying brain's lamp-shop, 
Forget about them.
Concentrate on essence, concentrate on Light.
In lucid bliss, calmly smoking off its own holy fire,
The Light streams towards you from all things,
All people, all possible permutation of good, evil,
thought, passion.
The lamps are different,
But the Light is the same.
One matter, one energy, one Light, one Light-mind,
Endlessly emanating all things.
One turning and burning diamond,
One, one, one.

Ground yourself, strip yourself down,
To blind loving silence.
Stay there, until you see
You are gazing at the Light
With its own ageless eyes.

At a more personal level I have another problem with your proposition. My dear wife Jahan has transitioned to the other side of reality as a Muslim. Now, if I convert to your version of Christianity that does not allow for any alternative salvation, I would end up in heaven with you, whereas my Muslim wife would be in hell. Now, no offense ma'am, but I would rather be in hell with her any time.

Did I mention that your proposition raises a moral predicament too? The fact that if I end up in heaven because of you and my wife is in hell, in essence, wouldn't you be breaking up a marriage and a family?

Some feel comfortable inside the box, others love to smash the box and think outside of it. I am of the latter. I tend to worship God differently through an evolving perception at least every day if not more frequently. I don't expect my understanding of this to be acceptable to any one, not even to everyone in my own faith community. 

With this understanding shall we proceed to seek the ineffable in our own ways, without coercion or conversion, but perhaps with a sense of reversion to the archetypal human nature that constantly seeks the Divine? That would certainly be the shortest short cut making the longest journey through the self to the Self. I believe it's best we close our eyes on the outer forms and seek the Divine within.