I propose that all aspects of religion make sense in the context of a soul’s love for God.
First is the way that all virtues appear spontaneously when a person falls in love, with regard to their beloved: patience, kindness, fidelity, understanding, forbearance, etc. Next is prayer: The lover begs his love, “Please let me do this or that for you, let us walk together, let me serve you today.” Fasting: What lover has any stomach for food or drink while in the throes of love? He even forgets to sleep. Alms: He willingly gives away his time and money. Teaching: How can he stop from mentioning her, from communicating his enthusiasm or telling everyone of her beauty and virtues? Service: It goes without saying!
Studying her letters, memorizing her words; offering gifts; writing paeans of joy and adulation; praising her from the first moment of waking until the last before sleep. He barely remembers his own name.
So, if the activities of religion describe the life of a soul who has been smitten by God, why are these things made duties beforehand? Why mandate what is certain to become the natural expression of the soul – in fact, the only way it can live? It seems a bit like commanding people to fall in the presence of gravity. Why the contradiction? Demanding of people the very thing their souls would long for if only the Beloved were known. Once the heart falls in love, commands become superfluous, like telling a thirsty man to drink or a tired one to go to bed. When children are commanded to do what they already desire, it sometimes causes them to rebel against their wishes! Why does God compel the actions of love before love has appeared?
If religion exists to facilitate the love between a soul and God, perhaps this contradiction also serves that end. Once love appears, the duties of religion become natural, even inevitable; before it appears, they go against our natural impulses. The spiritual laws – laws of love – seem ridiculous in a purely material context. This conflict provokes consternation in the heart and the question, “Why should it be so? If I have physical desires, why should I repel them?” Fasting makes little sense to the body. How can deprivation add anything to one’s life?
By its absurdity, religion acts as a grain of sand in the believer’s mind. Rather than offering joy, it seems to take away every available comfort: sex, drugs, money, power – even food and water on occasion! This agitation forces the individual to chew on the problem and struggle to resolve the dilemma in his heart. How can these two worlds be reconciled? If religion is the cause of peace and amity, it must ultimately make peace even with the mortal life it seems to reject.
As a believer ponders these issues and how they never really make sense, a pearl of wisdom begins to form, slowly, as the result of combating this agitation of mind and heart. The purpose in commanding us to act like a lover is not an imitation of the lover’s acts, but for hearts to ponder until they discover the Path leading to resolution.
For example, with fasting the natural question is, “Why fast?” For the majority it is a battle of wills, pitting commitment against the demands of the body. In this, success is measured by the dominance of the will and suppression of natural instinct. Love is nowhere in evidence, except for the kind of love that drives such commitment.
Because a battle of wills indicates an internal war, and since the promise of religion is lasting peace, the believer is faced with a contradiction: How can war lead to peace? The question gnaws at the edges of thought, seeking a heart-satisfying answer. The common response is that the intended peace comes later, after the war is won. This delays the question – yet the dilemma remains, and again and again the heart returns to it. In order that the question be faced by everyone, the deeds of religion are compulsory, even adamant. It is critical for everyone to wrestle with this issue if the soul is to come alive.
Ultimately, this problem cannot be conquered by the mind. There are no sane answers to give. The mind is not meant to be satisfied – rather the sleeper awakened! His agitation pushes him and compels him, until finally he must admit that the answer lies beyond him. As one thinker wrote, “I believe because it is absurd.” Yet even this is no answer, merely an acceptance of the contradiction. Further one must go, penetrating the heart of religion’s mysterious absurdity. There must be a way for peace to replace war – or else its promises are false.
Finally, the seeker admits defeat and turns to God, leaving the question to better minds but still perplexed in his heart. It eats at his notions of sanity. This is when, perhaps, he will look to insanity for answers. If fasting cannot make sense to a normal mind, what sort of mind will grasp it? For what mind does the command lead to peace and not internal strife? The questioner weighs each alternative: madness, rebellion, solitude, destruction – until perhaps he hits a vein. The wild heart of the lover. Even in the believer’s own life, in childhood, examples can be found of a spontaneous, unconscious and peaceful fasting: Whenever there is love for something, or a deep interest, food and drink are completely forgotten. Who hasn’t skipped a meal or two when intensely occupied?
This sort of mind, the condition of a lover, makes perfect sense of fasting. Thus the truth of religious observances can be found only in the experience of falling in love with God. Then fasting becomes not only natural and automatic, but unnoticed. Furthermore, by this “grain of sand”, the believer possesses a sure litmus to measure his love by, which cannot be considered complete until his conflicts with religion have ceased and the long-promised day of peace is reached. Then his love transports him and he makes his dwelling-place “in the shadow of the Essence,” which is to say, in the Kingdom of God.
When the grain becomes a pearl, when his torment ceases, when the outward is a natural expression of the inward, then the sense of religion becomes clear. It exists as a spiritual challenge, saying to the soul: “Conquer my mystery; untie the knot of my difficulties; put to rest this engine of war in your breast.” Then it becomes the springboard by which we leap into the Unknown.