An Adventure, Lines of Heaven, and Balkan Sufism

Welcome to our newsletter, dear reader.

• We begin our monthly selection with a precious little book on the individual and collective adventure of prayer, by B.C. Butler, recommended by Rowan Williams as one of the influential books of his youth.

No one can pursue the life of prayer, within the context of a whole life of dedication to God, the Supreme Good, and to his will, without exerting an influence on society. The health of society flows from this personal dedication and this influence.

• We present three translations of the first chapter of the Yijing, the influential Classic of Changes which remains the heart of Far Eastern cosmology and ethos. In their sacrality, impenetrability and wealth of interpretation, the four initial characters of the book, Yuan, Heng, Li, Zheng, are a functional equivalent of the mystical “detached” letters opening certain suras of the Qur’an.

The quality of strength in people is original innate knowledge, the sane primal energy. This is called true yang, or the truly unified vitality, or the truly unified energy… This energy is rooted in the primordial, concealed in the temporal. It is not more in sages, not less in ordinary people. At the time of birth, it is neither defiled nor pure, neither born nor extinct, neither material nor void. It is tranquil and unstirring, yet sensitive and effective. In the midst of myriad things, it is not restricted or constrained by myriad things. Fundamentally it creates, develops, and brings about fruition and consummation spontaneously, all this taking place in unminding action, not needing force. It comes spontaneously from nature, not forceful yet strong, strong yet not forceful.

yuan heng li zheng
The four opening characters of the Yijing, Yuan Heng Li Zheng.

• And finally we present a chapter “On Sufi Visual and Material Practice in the Balkans”, by Sara Kuehn, going in detail into the practices of some European Sufis, as they strive to reach the Prophet Muhammad through the intermediate degrees of the shaykh and his shaykhs who have each performed their rituals in the past.

The fluid lived reality of Sufism, which infiltrated rural and urban Muslim life in the religiously plural and culturally diverse environments of the Balkans, is today characterized by both Sunnism and Shi‘ism, in their dual aspects of intoxication and sobriety, meaning and form, spirit and letter.