I recently gave a talk at Riviera United Church of Christ and as always is the case, in preparation I had put together far more material than was necessary. I tend to cast the net wide and then commence the tedious task of dwindling down written material and resources. Much went unused, so in an effort to allow some of it to see the light of day I’ll be releasing portions here on my Blog. If you’d like to hear the talk as it was given the audio is here or if you’d prefer to read the transcript you can find it here. Enjoy!
For the Sufis “union with God should not destroy our natural capabilities but fulfill them” (Armstrong, 227). Thus they spoke of ‘fana’ and ‘baqa’ as a type of spiritual ebb and flow, falling and rising, like a phoenix from the ashes, birthed anew. Fana is the death of one’s self in God. It is the denial and annihilation of the ego. Baqa then is a revival, a resuscitation, a resurrection, “a return to an enhanced self” (227). “A Sufi who had ripped away obscuring egotism to discover the divine presence at the heart of his own being would experience greater self-realization and self-control” (227). This was an absolute loss of identity. It was the way in which one could rip themselves from the political, the social, and the religious realm, attaining a higher being and oneness with God.
Jesus, similarly, is said to have said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wans to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35). Perhaps this is why the Sufi process of ‘fana’ and ‘baqa’ seems so reminiscently illustrated by the Greek Christian concept of deification. After all “the central motif of these prophetic religions is confrontation or a personal meeting between God and humanity” (210). Maximus the Confessor, himself had stated that “The whole man should become God, deified by the grace of the God-become man, becoming whole man, soul and body, by nature and becoming whole god, soul and body, by grace” (222). This seems to be a highly substantive unification of humanity and divinity, the place at which they meet and are overtaken one by the other. This a call for an intricate intertwining into the fabric of the divine, an interweaving so neatly, tightly, and closely threaded that the adherent would disappear into the divine, merging seamlessly. As illustrated by Christ transfigured on Mount Tabor, man is completely and utterly engulfed by the light of God. “Whoever undergoes such transformation” is then “no longer…a Christian, but a Christ” (Pagels, 133). Perhaps then the most glorious attribute of the Sufi ‘fana’ and ‘baqa’, as well as the Greek Christian deification is not so much ‘God become flesh’ but ‘flesh become God.’
Armstrong, Karen. A History of God: The 4000 – Year Quest of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. New York: Random House, 1993. Print