Longing is the gravity of desire, the gravity that pulls the divine toward us.
In 1021 C.E. in Andalusia, a blue-eyed young man of European bloodlines received a letter from a distant friend. This friend asked Ali Ibn Hazm al-Andalusi to compose a treatise on love. Ibn Hazm was grieving the destruction of his home through war. He was grieving the death of his young love, a girl named Nu’um. He was also grieving the deaths of his father and his mother. Grief often allows us access to great love, and the friend believed that the work would help Ibn Hazm through his grief.
Ibn Hazm responded to that request and wrote The Dove’s Neck-ring, which is probably the first Islamic treatise on Love and its various emotional modes. In his grief he plumbed the mysteries of love’s many variations. His prose treatise included almost 200 poems. Many were written when he was a teenager.
However, after his own political failures as a 29 year-old, idealistic vizier for a young idealistic caliph, (the son of the caliph for whom Ibn Hazm’s father had served as vizier,) Ibn Hazm grew to be a misanthrope. He knew exile. He wrote and spoke of his hatred for other men, especially Persians, Jews and Christians. In his lifetime he had watched war and devastation overtake his homeland, war between Islamic sects, and war with Christians attempting to re-conquer the Iberian Peninsula. If I read this correctly, his heart and his love contracted so that he could only hold to the narrowing contexts of his language, his strict religious sect, and a rationalist’s certainty. Later in his life he wrote. “Language only is for communication. It should be clear, not built on undertone and not be a mystery.” This is a rigidifying combination that so often leads to hatred.
Yet, when he wrote his love poems, his heart and mind were filled with possibility, imagination, and mystery. (Remember the word Possibility) Let me give you this poem from The Dove’s Neck-ring.
ARE YOU FROM THE WORLD OF ANGELS?
Are you from the world of angels,
or are you human? I can’t tell.
My weary eyes are stunned.
I see a human form, but,
as I look more deeply,
your body seems from another world.
Blessed be the God who puts
balance and grace into creation.
You are a beautiful, natural light.
I don’t doubt that you are a spirit
drawn to us by the earthly mingling
of our like-minded souls.
We don’t have proof, so to speak,
that you are flesh and blood,
except—you are visible!
And if we don’t see
a real person we have to say
you are True, Sublime Reason.
This is a poem by a true lover—Ibn Hazm as a young man. His commentary on love spread across the Pyrenees and inspired the first European Troubadors. After returning from the First Crusade Guillem of Poitiers in France, who is considered to be the first Troubador, began his most profound work in the style of Ibn Hazm, Ibn Quzman and other Andalusians. Fed up with the Christian Crusade mentality, Guillem went in the opposite emotional direction of Ibn Hazm. Guillem wrote poetry until his death. As far as we know Ibn Hazm did not. (Guillem was the grandfather of Elinor of Acquitaine and great-grandfather of Richard the Lionhearted.)
The Troubador poet often expressed his love for a Noble Woman, usually one of his social betters or someone he could not have, someone on whom he would ‘have a crush and flatter’. In a time of arranged marriages this practice lent inner excitement to both the woman and the poet. When unfulfilled physically, this kind of love was often used for spiritual practice and was called fin amor, which meant a refined love. The Troubador wrote so that this love would be both spiritual in the soul and adulterous in the imagination. It was extremely dangerous for him to proceed to a physical relationship.
In Islamic Sufi thought, of which Ibn Hazm may have been aware, there is the state of Ordinary Love, which is the perception of impalpable Beauty and/or grace. The Sufis say that Ordinary Love beautifies existence.
Beyond this there is Special Love, which occurs when the experience of Ordinary Love changes us to the point where one views the beauty of essences, not just the beauty of form. While Ordinary Love beautifies existence, Special Love refines existence.
Before the Troubadors, European poetry was not written about love. The subjects of poetry were lust, lore, conquest, dirges, heroics and religious matters. European consciousness evolved to a new level, thanks to the Troubadors, Ibn Hazm, and the chivalry and minstrelsy that followed them. The ambiguity of the poetry of fin amor changed Western emotional thought forever. Dante, Petrach, Chaucer, Shakespeare and many other Europeans acknowledged their debt to the Troubadors, and thus Andalusians such as Ibn Hazm. Suddenly, romantic love, could be an experience of spiritual practice.
About 150 years after Ibn Hazm’s death, another Andalusian, wrote poems about spiritual love for a young Persian teenager, named Nizam, or Harmony. He was the great Sufi, Ibn El-Arabi, one of the world’s greatest masters of spiritual thought. Scholars refer to his poems as Sophianic Poetry—the expression of the spiritual experience of love with the divine Feminine. Because his poems describe imaginative desire for Nizam through metaphor and language that describes physical love, Ibn El-Arabi, who was over 40 years old, was accused of perversity and heresy. Leading clerics issued a fatwa which threatened him with execution. His subsequent commentary and his acquaintance with political leaders in Damascus kept him alive. Ibn El-Arabi transcended the paradox between physical and spiritual love. Ibn Hazm could not.
Here is my version of Ibn El-Arabi’s poem The Special Love, which gives us a sense of his meanings of love.
THE SPECIAL LOVE
As a full moon appears from the night
so her face appears amid tresses.
From sorrow comes the sense of her,
eyes shedding tears on a cheek,
like the black narcissus weeping onto a rose.
Mere beautiful women are silenced,
so overwhelming is her fairness.
Even to think of her harms her subtlety.
Thought is too coarse for knowing her,
for her fleeting wonder eludes thinking.
If this is so, how can such a clumsy organ
as the eye correctly see her?
She’s beyond the rainbow of seeing.
Cease these attempts. Such trying is futile.
Yet if someone seeking her lowers his aspirations
to feel ordinary love, there are always others
who continue through the night,
across the sea, with eyes longing for her.
Ibn El-Arabi understood the role of the divine Feminine. As a teenager his spiritual teacher, Fatimah of Cordova who was over ninety years old, told him, “I am your spiritual mother and the light of your earthly mother.” (Ibn El-Arabi also understood and lived a mundane life. He married and raised children.)
Ibn Hazm withdrew into misanthropy and fundamentalism. Ibn El-Arabi wrote of the expanding heart, and he understood that “poetry was an appropriate instrument for the transmission of essential truths.” He was able to love the Divine as the Feminine Mother, not only as the Masculine Father.
The Special Love of El-Arabi, the fin amor of the Troubadors, Dante’s love for Beatrice, Petrarch’s love for Laura, even Shakespeare’s love as expressed in his sonnets, could be love for God’s Feminine Divinity, often called—Sophia—the complex divine, feminine essence.
The psychologist, Robert Sardello, tells us that Sophia has a three-fold nature.
1–Sophia as the creation of the elements that condense into Earth
2–The Heavenly Sophia—or—the Wisdom of the World
3–The Sophia who remains in the Realm of Chaos—the underworld not Hell.
In mythic language we have heard of these three as virgin, mother and crone.
Here is a poem that I wrote trying to express the first of Sophia’s three-fold nature.
AN EVENING SO BEAUTIFUL
An evening so beautiful even the moon has envy.
She throws off her see-through gown
and so begins our love affair in the garden.
Where the rainbow faded at sunset
new stars emerge the way
lavender sprouts from the soil.
Cottonwoods whisper. Fireflies,
those love darts from the stars,
dance over the hidden meadow.
Their codes twinkle and catch our eyes
then our hearts spin, slowly,
in the shadow of a blooming catalpa.
Its white petals drop
like warm pearls from the lips
of our private goddess.
A wide-eyed doe, slender to her flank,
flicks her tail, flutters her lashes,
then bounds away with the grace of a swaying lily.
When we use the language of love, we always include the word beauty. But we also use words such as longing, desire, hope, anxiety, anticipation, need, want and even despair. These have strong inner references to the Future. The Soul has an intense interest in the future.
The Austrian thinker, Rudolf Steiner, said that there is a second current of time that comes to us from the future, then flows into the present and toward the past. Sardello says that this current is Sophia.
When people are “in love” they are in this current from the future—the past is forgotten. It does not exist in this current, and one forgets the inbuilt limitations stemming from the past. EVERYTHING IS POSSIBLE. This is a gift of LOVE. Possibilities come to us from the future as gifts from God-the Mother. We feel her presence as longing, as the safety of the moment, as a loved being. The effort to “Live in the Moment” is to live where the current from the past, and the current from the future intersect at the human heart. A heart that is “In Love” with life, a heart that is throbbing and pulsing, is seeking God through the Divine Feminine principle of Possibilities.
Of course, none of this contradicts or excludes the traditional beliefs of a God the Father. Rather, those traditional beliefs are expanded and enhanced with the addition of the Feminine priniciple. Ibn Hazm seems to have run from this possibility while Ibn El-Arabi ran toward it.
I will finish with this, my own poem, which tries to describe how, sometimes, I think I get a glimpse of the Divine Mother, but such glimpses are difficult to know for sure.
THE GLASS BRICK
I was dreaming.
I was so happy.
I knew your love
would hold me forever.
Now I can’t remember you.
My mind is a glass brick.
Light and shades enter,
but not your face.
My heart knows you,
but it’s pierced
by my forgetfulness
and I can’t stop aching for you.
by: Timothy Young