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May 1, 2018

Thoughts of a Young Hawk

Filed under: Uncategorized — irajdealwis @ 4:13 am



My grandfather told me that he had met the King of birds: the Simurgh. He was a still a young hawk when the hoopoe dreamed of such a thing, and they made their long journey, through dusk, cold nights and clear mornings, all together, alone and in twos. When they returned, everyone said how they had each come back changed, and they made a habit of meeting regularly, remembering their troubles and teaching their children, and their children’s children, and I am one of these. I am a young hawk  now, you’d say I am somewhere in my early twenties, and I occasionally went to these meetings growing up and recently started paying attention to them. They say that seeing the Simurgh fills you with hope and purpose, because you feel His love, and as I get older I am looking for something to fill that hole. Every time I go for prayers, I hope that someone would say “let’s go see the Simurgh again,” but no one has ever done this.




Once a week every Sunday evening, when the sun is not too hot, and yet the air is warm and soft under my wings, my grandfather and I fly to our prayer circle. He glides on gentle puffs of air and I all around him. My grandfather can glide through almost any wind, and know exactly how long it will take before a storm will reach us, and he knows the best places for shelter. I don’t talk to him on our Sunday afternoon journey though. He gets very annoyed.  The prayers start exactly at four thirty and the hopoe, even though he is old, still starts:

“ In the name of the most merciful and compassionate one.”

He reminds us that our intention should be to attain the highest spiritual state, and to ask that he makes the path easy, and that we are not tempted from the path. I repeat after him softly under my breath. I close my eyes tight and hear the words fill my breast.

The heart of ritual prayer is when we fly in a large circle, all of us ina tight circle, and unbroken ring, keeping pace and circling. In every round we repeat a name of one of our kings and at the end of each cycle we fly a little higher, till we have said every name and we are soaring above the world, and the trees dissolve into fields, the mountains look like things of play, and the rivers like lines of split ink. We do this seven times. When we start my voice is always over the place, thinking of things I need to do, and what meal we will all share after prayer. My voice asks what next I will do and where next I should wonder. I turn and turn around filling my mind with the names of God, and turning each name into a long song, silencing the voices one by one. In time I feel as clear as the air at dusk far above the world of animals and men. I go home with a silent mind.



Every Friday we go to hear the hopoe speak, and the owl, peacock and others who went on the journey. They come together on the branches of a tree, an old peach tree, in the late afternoon. The hoopoe usually speaks first. He reminds us that God is in everything, and in everyone. He is in the leaves of that are young, bright green and in the leaves gathering to crumble away. Hr id in the seeds, and the pits of fruit,and he is the hollows of trees.

“He is each of you,” the hoopoe declares, “but you must seek and find him, keeping the highest goal in mind, and not settling for anything else.”

When the hoopoe speaks slip in to a tone that’s a mixture of invention and memory, the best of stories. I close my eyes and I try to imagine God with me when I do different things. The owl speaks next and he answers questions, and helps people think through a question and a problem. He is often the one who sits with someone in trouble and help them through it.

“I am really afraid of going to the cliffs and praying alone at night I went once and just sat there all night, I couldn’t say anything, not one prayer. I’m too afraid,” a young nightingale said.

The owl would say, “you must slowly, slowly come to see all the shades of night, and how to confront her fear. When I had a sorrow or fear I could not defeat I’d sit with one of the elfer birds after a meeting and they’d have a story to take me along. On these nights I learnt to think about god, and how to learn the same thing many times over before I remember it. I learnt about how God created the world then and has not stopped since, and that even in the dirt of rivers flowing from cities, he is still creating. I remember my mistakes and repented when the spoke of adaab. If I spent an hour listening, I felt it was an hour of treasures.


Yet as the weeks pass by in the same cycle of prayer, between daily tasks I try to remember the lord and think of the heart and of good intentions. For a while I will remember to do this, and remember to sustain a practice. But again in a few more weeks I’d forget. One cycle of practice learnt and done and then forgotten and replaced. The journey seems to be in the end a weekly performance, a regulation and no more. And though I look forward to the shade of the peach tree I have come to see that in its leaves growing and fading, and under its thick shade, the Simurgh may not be found.







In these short letters, I reflect on the institutionalization of religious life. Prof. Asani showed how even the charismatic authority of Sufi teachers become institutionalized around lineages of literal or spiritual descent, tomb veneration, ritual communities, fixed vocabularies, and systems of practice. I wanted to imagine what it was like for a young bird, growing up guided by those who went on a spiritual journey, and their stories, but still practicing the rituals that the original seekers developed. The rituals and the meditations become the principal means to go on a spiritual journey, than the questions and the adventures. I drew on my own experiences in circles of Sufi practice to think about what types of learning and religious exploration can happen in a institutionalized Sufi setting, and the common limitations of such a practice. How can ritual prayer bring about transformation? How can an almost ritual relationship to a teacher bring about change?

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