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The ‘Sacred’ in America

Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803 – 1882)

To the poet, to the philosopher, to the saint, all things are friendly and sacred, all events profitable, all days holy, all men divine.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, History

In my previous posts, I have tried to point out a secret inherent in the mundane, trivial and unanticipated, an uninvited guest lurking. This was not another form hiding behind the obvious or vividly clear; but rather a blinding visibility and certain obliviousness to the very obvious. As Ibn al-‘Arabi explains in relation to the divine, His “Hiddenness is naught but His Immense Immanence”.

“What is this obsession you have with Ibn al-‘Arabi?” To obsess is to sit opposite to, from the Latin ‘obsidere’. But like the Arabic contronym bayn (meaning both distance and in-between), opposition pays homage to apposition; a certain closeness and proximity. In other words, to sit opposite Ibn al-‘Arabi is to at once face him and find ourselves in his mirror. He is a translator and transliterator of paradox in all its forms, of that which cannot otherwise be uttered.

James Morris’s description of Ibn al-‘Arabi, that “the history of Islamic thought subsequent to Ibn ‘Arabi might largely be construed as a series of footnotes to his work” is merely a dress rehearsal in preparation for Ibn al-‘Arabi’s crucial spiritual performance in modernity, as the representative of the Divine’s love for humanity in all its forms, not only Muslims as a collective.

From a much different time, and yet not so distinct a place, Ibn al-‘Arabi gives advice for those of us living in America. We hear of his travels through the Iberian countryside and his first encounter with sukr (drunkenness). Bewildered by the trees in the countryside, how their leaves dance with the wind and are sacrificed at the altar of destiny; and yet, behind that veneer of incessant alteration is an incessant manifestation. This paradox of change and constancy is, for Ibn al-‘Arabi, a glimpse of the divine essence captured fleetingly through the relentless waves of theophanies.

Thus, it is on the footsteps of this predecessor that we also seek this drunkenness, not through the strictly religious forms of the sacred, but instead in that not deemed as sacred. As much as the ‘profane’ designates a pro fano, that which is before - or creatively prior to - the temple; there is also a sanctity in that which is not immediately apparent as such. If the profane is, in the very veil of its profanity, sanctified then all else, all the more, participates in the Sacred.

America, since its designation as a ‘New World’, has been the most vivid performance of knowledge produced through prodding and contention. As Ibn al-‘Arabi informs us, theophanies are like waves of the ocean; as soon as one appears it dies and gives way to another lurking behind it. Likewise, suffering and sacrifice has permeated the soil of this ‘New World’. America has been very authentic to this description and in harmony with its designation as a stage where the waves turn into apparitions swiftly and constantly.

Black Elk perceived a vision whereby the wave of sacrifice is inter-weaved with another consisting of healing and growth, where “the people would begin to heal. The Elders have told us that we have now entered the time of healing and the ‘coming together time.’  The Sacred Hoop is the symbol of that time of healing”. It is precisely this ‘sacred hoop’ that Black elk perceived in a vision where he was “standing on the highest mountain of them all , and round about beneath me was the whole hoop of the world. And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell and I understood more than I saw; for I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mighty flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father. And I saw that it was holy.”

From Ibn al-‘Arabi in 13th century Iberia to Black Elk in ‘New World’ America, we are serenaded by the sacred and paradoxical between life and death, suffering and healing. The sanctification of Black Elk’s sacred hoop hearkened and left its trace, as a grace of divine power, the very heart of this emerging New World. This overwhelming presence of the sacred hoop would lead to many redemptive acts clothed in ‘sacred music’. As Johnny Cash tells us, country music at its core was born out of the sacred gospel experience. Sacred music would substitute therefore the mediation of saints and remain as the ‘amazing grace’ to an embodied suffering of a people.

We are in need of reviving this sacrality through the heritage of Ibn al-‘Arabi, whence we can begin to, once again, appreciate the constant unfolding of this divine treasure. If that does occur, we can also fulfill Black Elk’s vision of the ‘coming together’. However, this can never occur from the standpoint of an observer or even another sufferer; but rather in the form of a suffrage of love, a genuine supplication and divine plea for the coming together of all the sacred hoops of this ‘New World’. Like Ibn al-‘Arabi’s or Black Elk’s suffrage of love with the trees of Iberia or American soil, we are also in need of fulfilling our role as seekers of the distinct forms of American sacredness. For as long as the seeker seeks to become the sought after, injustice will remain.

America, I do not invoke your name in vain

Pablo Neruda, Canto General

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