From Beauty To Divine Love
The universe is like a magnificent book adorned with embroidered meanings page by page, line by line, and word by word. It is an exhibition ground of the divine art; it is a palace. All things and the totality of events of every kind in their enchanting harmony, fascinating order, dazzling beauty, and their arrangement and richness more perfect than the best-tended gardens make you say, “There could not be anything more beautiful.” All of these constitute an immense and colorful resource for sensible souls to refer to and benefit from. For these souls the universe becomes a poem to be composed with the most immense sensations; those who refer to it are neither tired, nor is that resource or the remarks and stories about it ever exhausted. To put it truly:
Say: “If all the sea were ink to write my Lord’s words (the acts, decrees, and manifestations of all His Names and Attributes), the sea would indeed be exhausted before my Lord’s words would be exhausted, even if We were to bring the like of it in addition to it.” (Kahf 18:109)
Whenever we turn our gaze from the macro-cosmos to our inner depths, from our scale of human values to the constellations, the meanings flowing into our hearts through different channels of sensation, pluck the strings of our hearts just like a plectrum, its every touch, making our spirits hear such beautiful melodies from the love of Truth. And they make our senses take wing with a thirst for knowledge by waking all our senses to the will to explore. And several times a day, in our consciousness we feel faith turning into knowledge of God; then we feel this knowledge ascend to the horizons of devoted love and joyful zeal, and physical considerations become completely dependent on metaphysical ones. Then a person senses more profoundly that they are becoming completely otherworldly and are reaching into the depths of their own potential, and that many a thing previously concealed is becoming more obvious than the most obvious things. Then they mark their place and position within existence by saying, like Niyazi Misri, “There is nothing more obvious than God, the Ultimate Truth; He is only hidden to those without eyes,” and keep proclaiming loudly what divine Providence blessed them with.
Souls so eager for verity and so full of yearning for truth mobilize all their humane feelings and attempt to feel the immense blessings of the One of infinite mercy in a more comprehensive and lucid way. They sense and recognize His Essence through the luminous rays of His Names and see the artful designs of His lacework more clearly and vibrantly in their own inner dimensions. They remain in constant remembrance of Him in a master-slave relationship with the bounteous guidance of the divine favors they are involuntarily blessed with at every moment. As well as constantly remembering Him, they try to express themselves with the consciousness of having gained supreme value thanks to His immense blessings despite their own nothingness. That is, within their own pettiness they proclaim their honorable status and relative grandeur coming from their attachment to God. They use their own impotence and neediness as a key to an otherwise unreachable power and inexhaustible treasure, and then discern and contemplate the fact that there are others who also are aware of this potential. Quite simply, they become experienced divers of their own depths. Later, in proportion to their inner progress and growth, they try to convey every meaning they grasp, and every truth they comprehend and appreciate to others as well. They pronounce their faith in their servanthood to God. They feed their knowledge of the divine through reflection and searching. They transform their interest and curiosity inside into an ever-deepening yearning. All their considerations and observations are pervaded by amazement and appreciation, which they constantly refine with heartfelt gratitude, and they turn their world of feelings and reflections into a waterfall of love of the divine. So they think only of God all the time, walk on in dreams of reunion with Him, and seek Him. They watch out for opportunities to turn to Him and find him. They take every sign as an invitation to start imploring Him again. They orient their life to being in His presence, and whenever they wish to open their mouth and say something, they speak about Him. As well as speaking about Him, they converse with Him almost continuously. We can even say that they sometimes completely become feeling, consciousness, comprehension, and the smiling face of every object offers such beautiful feasts to their senses that they surpass human imagination!
In fact, human beings, who are created on account of God’s love for His Essence (muhabbat al-dhati), will be acting in accordance with the purpose of His creation only by behaving this way. That is, when God’s love for His Essence and His Attributes is manifested in human beings as love for God, then human beings fulfill the purpose of their creation. Thus, everything just fits in its place.
Love is an inner identity, peculiar to humankind among all creatures. They walk confidently toward their own origin and reference with this identity, without becoming entangled in the multiplicities around them. Thanks to the light of the love always blazing deep inside them, they keep watching their target without diverting their gaze, without being distracted by other considerations. We can even say that it is as if they are constantly fixed on their target. Neither impenetrability of meanings, nor greatness of distances can make them hesitate or slip. Although the path of love is so hard and full of sufferings, once having embarked on this path, sufferings turn to pleasure one by one, Mercy overwhelms hardship, and poison turns to sweet honey. And if the eye of the heart thoroughly opens, in every object they see, view, and embed into their hearts, they start seeing the traces, signs, messages, and lights of different frequencies of divine manifestations. Then all the relative lights fade away in from their sight, suns become invisible, moons are eclipsed, and stars are scattered and buried in darkness like prayer beads with a broken string. As the verse reads:
All that is on the earth is perishable, But there remains forever the “Face” of your Lord, the One of Majesty and Munificence (Rahman 55:26–27),
beyond physical measures, the One and Only God fills the horizons of their hearts. Such a heart, although it is a small thing wrapped in the body, extends to contain its wrapper completely. We can even say that it reaches the capacity of universes in their entirety. So such people constantly feel Him in everything. Interventions caused by their corporeality—which we can compare to lunar eclipses—are as horrifying for them as death and they seek different routes to be able to maintain their awareness.
A person who truly loves God sometimes feels the intersection point of love and reunion so deeply in their world of feelings that everything about the physical world disappears from their sight; they perceive all of existence from one end to the other as torches blazing over the paths stretching before them, pointing beyond the horizons, ablaze. And sometimes, when their yearning is more overwhelming than their hope for reunion, as if holding a hot ember inside, they burn like a furnace and say:
“Even if I burn like a furnace, I do not express any grief,” ( M. Lutfi of Alvar7)—
Given that no other fire falls into my heart—and they keep on track in a mixed mood of hope and enthusiasm.
As a matter of fact, love is what it is; it is neither simply fire, nor light. Both fire and light are melodies rising from the strings its plectrum touches; both are cries, cheers, and deliriums. Love is such a matchless pearl that only the expert jewelers who have made a bid for pearls at least fifty times in the market appreciate its true value:
“Only an expert on jewels appreciates the true worth of a jewel.” M. Lutfi of Alvar
Indeed, one who has not truly loved cannot know what love is, and those who know do not tell or cannot tell. Even if they tell, those who are not in love cannot understand what they say.
Within the frame Providence determines for the lovers, all they can feel is the excited palpitations of their yearning and love for the Beloved. Every hue in that atlas is a sign of condescension from the Beloved, every line and every point is a symbol of infinity, and every motif is a call to reunion. Every time lovers gaze on the course of their lives, they say, “O God, I do not know how to express my gratitude that You have created my heart and brought love into existence. Even if I keep following the track for years, like Majnun8 did, and lie in wait for Your manifestations—my distance from You is a shortcoming of my own. If only I could feel this distance deep within and wander through valleys raving about reunion all the time….” At every object, living or non-living, they say, “This is also a shadow of His light,” and wish to smell all of them and holds them so dear. And they strive to feel Him with all of their senses, in every faculty of their being, separately but from a single source. Indeed, this kind of behavior is the only way to fulfill what that pure love requires.
The lover who wishes to see the beauty of the beloved in so many faces,
should break into shards, like a shattered mirror… (Anon)
In order to fulfill the requirement of this deathly love, the lover continuously tracks God on the slopes of the heart. He pursues every sound, hue, or sight which he considers as belonging to Him. Sometimes skipping, sometimes crawling, or sometimes flying, but in every station sensing a welcome from Him inside, he puts his eyes at the command of his heart and keeps on tracking as majnuns do. And despite the cruelty of distances, with the most transcendent thoughts he orients all his inward and outward feelings towards being on the path and runs toward the reunion in the realm of the soul. Since he experiences love and union simultaneously, he takes every station as a separate bay of reunion and shakes like a leaf, fearing that one day this reunion will end, and saying, “I neither wish love to end, nor hope, nor the wish for reunion. If one day, the promised reunion will take away all of these, let that not happen either….”
What the lover likes is being in love, being on this path, living with the signs and signals of reunion and continuing this flood of feelings forever. Yes, ablaze with the love of the divine, catching fire at every sign of reunion, and while catching fire, being content with this very condition and saying, “The reward is the love itself.”
This is what true love is!
Look at this poor beggar,
A slave, even to a single strand of the beloved’s locks
In the honey of love, I dip my finger
On and on I dip, give me some water! (Ghedai)
A love which is not within this frame cannot be called love in the Sufi sense; it can only be idle gossip about love. Love should not be sought where there is talk about love; it should be sought where flames and embers alternate. For love is an ember secretly burning its bearer from within, or it is such an unbearable condition that when it falls into one’s heart, its flame is felt everywhere. It is such a flame that its wick is sheltered by its secrecy. The love which is stripped of its discretion and has become a matter for conversation or a subject for philosophy is not love; it is just a lifeless picture of love. Murmurs of love which take their place in compositions and become their slave are just a reflection of true love, and those narrated in books are just rough definitions. Those who know to keep it concealed in the home of the heart say:
If you say you are in love, do not complain about the suffering,
Do not groan and let others know about your groaning. (Anon)
They try to keep this inner storm secret, even from themselves. Yes, love is like a dimensionless fire in someone’s heart, incinerating everything which belongs to them. We can call it neither heavenly nor earthly. If a heavenly love is for Paradise, then the lover considers it as faithlessness to the Beloved, for worldly love—or metaphorical love as it is called in Sufism—has absolutely nothing to do with true love. Metaphorical love sets its throne on physicality, and all its tricks appeal to the eye; it is considered a deception on the path of love with respect to the balance between what is demanded and its true worth.
True love is a heavenly light or ember which is ignited from the torch of infinity. It transcends the earth and the sky, east and west, and is beyond time and space. Its manifestation is radiance, and there are wisps of peace inside it, giving off the smell of love like incense perfuming all around. Yes, hearts burning with the fire of love keep smoking like an incense holder that makes the scent of the Beloved felt all over the inner world of the lover; and of course, also to their confidants around them who understand the secret. Such people sometimes say,
O friend, you have put a burning ember into the ship of my heart
And you call out, “Look, there is a fire on the sea,
and they try to breathe thus with these inner cries; and sometimes they sound out their suffering on the strings of their heart:
O, inn-keeper, I keep burning with the fire of love, give me some water
! On and on I dip my finger in the honey of love, give me some water!
And they groan at the calls to reunion, but they never refrain from devoting their lives to love; in the eyes of the lover everything other than love is futile, and all cries other than cries of love are meaningless noise.
Love is the most truthful witness of being spaceless within space, and timeless within time. It is a chain of fire lowered from beyond the heavens into the heart of a person, and the people who are bound with this chain are the voluntary slaves of love. Even if they burn, they burn bound with that chain and when they are to die, they dream of dying on the hook of love. They do not consider living without love as life, and they see days which pass without love as autumn leaves drifting on the winds of fancy. Actually, the lover is so merged with spirit that one day, springs yield to autumn, colors darken and laments are sung for the dead. Youthfulness bends double and sits on the benches of the old. All beauties fade like old paintings on a wall and turn into the frames of memories. But that spirit gives fresh life to all other souls. It sets autumn ablaze with the colors of fire; it becomes the elixir of youth against senility and becomes life for spirits which were decaying.
True love is the love which finds its profundity in the immensity of loyalty. If we compare a love which has not yet reached the horizons of loyalty to a good window display of a shop filled with all kinds of riches, then a love which has matured with loyalty can be compared to the valuable stock of a store whose windows are kept closed despite the infinite riches inside. Yes, a love which has not deepened with loyalty is like a stormy sea revealing the churning below, whereas love which has found its true depth through loyalty is like an ocean into which hues or sounds merge and fade away. In the depths of that ocean you neither find a hue nor waves, nor do you hear the sound of churning. Such people are silent as befits their depth and are clear—a clearness which includes all colors within it—as befits their richness, and they avoid all pomp and show in accord with their magnificence.
This very point is where beauty turns into perfect love and becomes a part of one’s character, nature and feeling of responsibility; at this point, the integrated harmony, the integrated meanings, and the integrated beauties within existence are distilled through the sensitive filters of feelings, and consciousness, and comprehension combine with the faithful appreciations in the heart; they become a ground for love for God, yearning for Him, and a feeling of being attracted toward Him (ashq, ishtiyaq, jazba, injizab). Also, through these powerful relations, the lover devotes his or her entire being to the divine and comes under His command. Rumi expresses this feeling in the following words:
I have become a slave, a slave, a slave, a slave…
Slaves feel glad when they are emancipated,
I am joyful and glad for
I have become a slave to You.
Those who do not adorn their faith with knowledge of God cannot avoid spiritual weariness. Those who do not feed their knowledge of God with love for Him get entangled with formalities. And those who cannot associate their love for God with servanthood on the path toward reaching the Beloved One cannot be considered to have expressed their loyalty. Let us conclude with the words of the Sufi saint Rabia al-Adawiya, the great woman who represented a peak of divine love and worship:
You talk about loving God while you disobey Him;
I swear by my life that this is a great surprise,
If you were truthful in your love, you would obey Him,
For a lover obeys the one he loves.
By M. Fethullah Gulen
7 A famous sufi scholar and poet of twentieth century eastern Turkey.
8 In Sufi literature, the character Majnun symbolizes an initiate. He falls desperately in love with Layla. In the long run, the initiate’s transient love turns into divine love.