Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Raising Our "God Consciousness"

“Verily, God orders justice and kindness (Ihsan), and giving [help] to the relatives, and He forbids all shameful deeds, and evil and tyranny. He admonishes you, so that perhaps you may take heed.” 
(al-Nahl 16:90)
This Quranic verse is used to close the sermon each Friday in almost every Mosque around the world; it is a command that serves as guidance in daily affairs. Unfortunately, the words sometimes lose their meaning in translation, especially the word Ihsan, which is often translated as “kindness.”  In a Hadith, the Prophet [Peace and Blessings be upon him] defines Ihsan as “to worship God as if you are seeing Him, and although you do not see Him, He sees you.”[1] Ihsan is the force that helps Muslims strive for excellence in character and moral values, and this verse is a reminder that God looks into our minds and hearts every second of the day.  It leads to my “God consciousness” in thoughts, words and actions, and helps me remember that truthfulness in action is only achieved when an awareness of God permeates all of my senses.

Reading Yasmina’s reflection, I thought about rabbis who end each Sabbath service with a “closing benediction.” This practice is now considered outdated by many, but was fairly standard in the synagogues of my youth.  The closing benediction was often an opportunity for the rabbi to summarize the sermon and to remind the community to live by its message in the coming week. As I grow older, I can better appreciate the appeal of a ritual in which religious leaders offer guidance to the community and establish clear expectations for daily behavior.  In Jewish liturgy, there is an ancient meditation that individuals may add to conclude their personal prayers in the Amidah: “May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, God, my Rock and my Redeemer.”[2]  Perhaps this would be a fitting conclusion to any sermon; a reminder to both listeners and speakers that God is present in our lives and attentive to our words and actions. 

I am stirred by Yasmina’s emphasis on “God consciousness” in the exhortation all Muslims hear weekly.  The sheer variety of Christian denominations means that the experience of a living God is likely to be evoked for Christians in many different ways.  Benedictions that conclude Christian worship are expressed as blessings. Some churches also include a dismissal or sending forth which is reminiscent of al-Nahl 16:90, calling upon worshipers to be “doers of the Word and not hearers only.”[3] Quoting the Hebrew prophet Micah, Christians also affirm the need for hearts that are attuned to “do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God.”[4] Interestingly, it is an opening prayer in my own tradition that lifts me most powerfully to God consciousness: “Almighty God…from whom no secrets are hid…cleanse the thoughts of our hearts […that] we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name.”

[1] Riyad-us-Saliheen by Imam an-Nawawi, Hadith 60
[2] Psalms 19:15
[3] James 1:22
[4] Micah 6:8

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