A Sufi Story for the Christian Church (Disc. of Christ)

Sufism is a branch of Islam that is more contemplative. Sufis are famous for their poetry and their story telling. The following made me think about a cunundrum for the Christian Church (Disc. of Christ). While some denominations like the UCC and United Methodists have come out in support of gay rights, the Disciples are slow to do so. That is because our church has a strong tradition of being open to all viewpoints, and we don’t want to exclude the anti-gay viewpoint. Well, I think we should not exclude any PERSON, but we are as called to denounce the anti-gay viewpoint as the anti-Black or anti-woman viewpoint. I believe the following applies to us:

A Stream In the Desert

A stream, from its source in far-off mountains, passing through every kind and description of countryside, at last reached the sands of the desert. Just as it had crossed every other barrier, the stream tried to cross this one, but it found that as fast as it ran into the sand, its waters disappeared.

It was convinced, however, that its destiny was to cross this desert, and yet there was no
way. Now a hidden voice, coming from the desert itself, whispered: “The Wind crosses the desert, and so can the stream.”

The stream objected that it was dashing itself against the sand, and only getting absorbed: that the wind could fly, and this was why it could
cross a desert.

“By hurtling in your own accustomed way you cannot get across. You will either disappear or become a marsh. You must allow the wind to carry you over, to your destination.”

“But how could this happen?”

“By allowing yourself to be absorbed in the wind.”

This idea was not acceptable to the stream. After all, it had never been absorbed before. It did
not want to lose its individuality. And, once having lost it, how was one to know that it could
ever be regained?

“The wind,” said the sand, “performs this function. It takes up water, carries it over the desert,
and then lets it fall again. Falling as rain, the water again becomes a river.”

“How can I know that this is true?”

“It is so, and if you do not believe it, you cannot become more than a quagmire, and even that could take many, many years; and it certainly is not the same as a stream.”

“But can I not remain the same stream that I am today?”

“You cannot in either case remain so,” the whisper said. “Your essential part is carried away and forms a stream again. You are called what you are even today because you do not know which part of you is the essential one.”

Huston Smith brought the story to me, but I found it on line at The Blog of serdar. Thanks serdar.

3 replies on “A Sufi Story for the Christian Church (Disc. of Christ)”

I love your passion, Jim — it's a treasure for your friends & your church.

It seems to me that for the stream to cross the desert, carried by the wind, it can only cross as vapor. It has to willingly be transformed, parts of itself separated out for the journey, then reunited into droplets in order to reassemble into a stream again — not the same stream, but a new stream.

Now with some assistance, a pipeline could be laid across the sand and the stream directed through it to flow onto a hard surface where the stream could course its own way. Not a drop of the stream would be lost and assuming the pipe was more narrow than the stream bed, it would emerge from the pipeline with increased speed, energy, power.

But it would emerge unchanged. Sadly, it would not experience transformation, and therefore, the next time it flowed into the sand, it would be lost again.

Someone (was it you?) recently was talking about how our schools and neighborhoods are as segregated now as they were before the Civil Rights efforts at de-segregation. I wonder if the stories are similar.

Transformation is so hard — we'll do almost anything to avoid it.

I should start by acknowledging that an analogy is a conclusion not an argument. By using this story to talk about transformation among mainline denominations, I’m not really arguing for the point; I’m just saying that if we don’t change we will not survive.

I believe that for denominations that have valued openness, there is a choice: continue to be open to all view points at the cost of not taking a stand for justice or stand for justice at the cost of no longer being open to all view points. Martha Gay Resse’s book puts hard numbers to my fear that the former is happening, and that we–mainline churches–are fading into irrelevance. See our previous mini-discussion on that bookProphetic Progress: Unbinding the Gospel: Martha Gay ReeseI recognize the theoretical possibility of a third option where the church becomes the open forum for discussion and where there is an opportunity for all people to find God’s truth in the words of another. (Is this Beyond Orthodoxy?) Sadly, I think it is as likely as a river building a pipeline.

I like the Sufi story a lot, and I do agree that we're sunk if we (Disciples & other mainline churches) refuse transformation. But would adopting a policy equal transformation? It also goes beyond the question of the church's survival for me — it goes to the question of relevance. If we don't move forward, openly, in honoring the dignity and integrity of all people (indeed, all creation) and struggling on their behalf for justice, we are irrelevant. Our existence would be reduced to inconsequential entertainment. I would have to look for other work.

So in the Sufi story I rest at the question of how to help the stream have the courage to risk transformation.

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