We Must Cling to Love

Thursday, March 5, 2015 - 4:47 am

We Must Cling to Love

Fear is on the loose. Love is invisible.

Ours is a world that seeks out acts of terror, and rewards them by broadcasting them again and again on the highest of platforms. “If it bleeds, it leads,” and all that.

Love, that most cosmic of forces, is often relegated to the most private of realms. Masquerading in the place of love is an obsession with tantalizing, physical pleasure-seeking that obfuscates our urgent need for real intimacy.

The great poet Rumi has a lovely story that he tells about the two paths in life: the path of love and the path of fear. (The story is a bit NSFW, but let’s say it involves a husband, a wife, and a mistress.) Two women walk the same path, both leading to the house where the man has been waiting. One walks in fear, one walks in love. The woman who walks in love doesn’t so much walk as she glides. She skips. It’s as if her feet don’t even touch the ground.

The woman who walks in fear covers the same distance, but her walk has a different flavor. It is a walk of fear, a walk spent in terror.

Fear is powerful. It’s primal. In the Bible we are told that one of the very first sentences humanity uttered was saying to God: “I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid.”

There is the fear of something bad happening to people we love. Fear of losing what we cherish, fear of not attaining to what we dream of.

Yes, fear is powerful, but love is… more.

There is so much fear in this world. Fear-mongering politicians have figured out that they can protect the interests of the wealthiest among us by turning the mass of poor people to be afraid of blacks, Muslims, and Hispanics. ISIS projects their terror via videos that are patterned after American horror movie tradition.

Just a couple of days ago, we saw the prime minister of one nation (Israel) standing in the Congress of a second nation (United States) espousing war and terror towards a third nation (Iran). Fear is a powerful means of mobilizing the masses.

Yes, fear pulls us down. Love lifts us up. As the mystics of Islam used to tell us, it’s love that makes the planet move. Love moves us more than fear.

Fear is ultimately a poison that corrupts our own heart. And as the green sage Yoda told us:

“Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”

Love is different. Love is a fire that takes what is raw in us and “cooks” it to maturity. Love propels us beyond the confine of our own ego. Love is a Divine force that makes us divine.

Yes, there is real fear in this world. Yes, fear is powerful. But we don’t have to walk the path of fear. We can choose love. The path of love is sweeter. The path of love is more luminous.

Loved ones speak during a vigil at the University of North Carolina following the murders of three Muslim students on February 11, 2015 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Police investigating the murders said they were studying whether the fatal shootings were religiously motivated, as calls mounted for the killings to be treated as a hate crime. (Brendan Smialowski / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images.)

Fear is about what I think you are going to do to me. Fear is about what you are going to take from me.

Love says it’s not about me, it’s not about you. It is about all of us. Love says there is room for all at the rendezvous of victory.

Love says:

You and I
Have to live

As if you and I
Never heard

Of a “you”
And
an “I.”

The path of love is not the absence of fear. Real love is made possible through vulnerability. Vulnerability is the possibility of having one’s heart open enough to let love in, and also let pain in. There is in this love the possibility of being genuinely hurt. The path of love is not the avoiding of suffering, but the welcoming of joy and suffering alike, the way a gracious host would.

So no, the path of love is not being impervious to fear. It is simply the stubborn refusal to let fear have the last word.

We cling to love, in a world that all too often celebrates fear.

May we bring love into the public space, illuminating the dark corners of injustice. May we let love shine, so that all that is based in fear vanishes. May we embrace a love that begins with the self and spills over to the neighbor, the friend, the family, the community, the stranger, until it encompasses the whole of humanity.

May we be awash in a love that begins in God, and encompasses all. May we walk the path of love.

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is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Thursday.

He is Director of Duke University’s Islamic Studies Center. He is the past Chair for the Study of Islam, and the current Chair for Islamic Mysticism Group at the American Academy of Religion. In 2009, he was recognized by the University of North Carolina for mentoring minority students in 2009, and won the Sitterson Teaching Award for Professor of the Year in April of 2010.

Omid is the editor of the volume Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender, and Pluralism, which offered an understanding of Islam rooted in social justice, gender equality, and religious and ethnic pluralism. His works Politics of Knowledge in Premodern Islam, dealing with medieval Islamic history and politics, and Voices of Islam: Voices of Change were published 2006. His last book, Memories of Muhammad, deals with the biography and legacy of the Prophet Muhammad. He has forthcoming volumes on the famed mystic Rumi, contemporary Islamic debates in Iran, and American Islam.

Omid has been among the most frequently sought speakers on Islam in popular media, appearing in The New York TimesNewsweekWashington Post, PBS, NPR, NBC, CNN and other international media. He leads an educational tour every summer to Turkey, to study the rich multiple religious traditions there. The trip is open to everyone, from every country. More information at Illuminated Tours.

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