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National Poetry Month, 2014 Poet and Mystic, Rabi'a al-Basri

Catherine Al-Meten

“There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.”

-Madeleine L’Engle

We are in the middle of a sacred time. In Christianity, it is Holy Week, for Judaism, it is the beginning of Pesach/Passover (April 15-22), Baissakhi New Year for the Sikhs, and Hanuman Yayanti in Hinduism. The sacred lives with us throughout the year, and often coincides with the lunar calendar. It is not unusual that different spiritual traditions’ holy times overlap with one another. Sacred Poetry too is something we live with througouth the year and throughout our lives. This week’s tribute to National Poetry Month, 2014 is to sacred poetry and poets.

Sufi saint and poet, Rabi’a al- Basri (Rabi’a from Basra) was a Sufi Muslim mystic who wrote of her love and devotion to God. She lived in Basra in what is now Iraq in the 8th Century CE. Born into poverty, Rabi’a was sold into slavery after her father’s death. It is said that after working hard for her masters all day, she would seek refuge in the evenings in meditation and prayer. She would often go without sleeping and would fast. One day her master saw her at prayer and saw an aura of bright light surrounding her, and he set her free. Rabi’a became an ascetic, devoting herself to the love of God. She taught that worship should come not from fear but from the love of the Divine. At the age of 80 she passed away, “united with her Beloved”.


I have loved Thee with two loves -

a selfish love and a love that is worthy of Thee.

As for the love which is selfish, 

Therein I occupy myself with Thee,

to the exclusion of all others.

But in the love which is worthy of Thee, 

Thou dost raise the veil that I may see Thee.

Yet is the praise not mine in this or that,

But the praise is to Thee in both that and this.

In My Soul

my soul
there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque, a church
where I kneel.

Prayer should bring us to an altar where no walls or names exist.

Is there not a region of love where the sovereignty is
illumined nothing,

where ecstasy gets poured into itself
and becomes

where the wing is fully alive
but has no mind or

my soul
there is a temple, a shrine, a mosque,
a church

that dissolve, that
dissolve in


If I Adore You

If I adore You out of fear of Hell,

burn me in Hell!

If I adore you out of desire for Paradise,

Lock me out of Paradise

But if I adore you for Yourself alone,

Do not deny to me Your eternal beauty.

The Holy Water

No one lives outside the walls of this sacred place, existence.

The holy water,

I need it upon my eyes: it is you, dear, you – each form.

What mother would lose her infant – and we are that to God,

never lost from His gaze are we?

Every cry of the heart
is attended by light’s own arms.

You cannot wander anywhere that will not aid you.

Anything you can touch – God brought it into
the classroom of your mind.

Differences exist, but not in the city of love.

Thus my vows and yours,

I know they are the same.

I have just peeled the skin from the potato

and you are still contemplating its worth,

sweetheart; indeed there are wonderful nutrients in all,

for God made everything.

You joined our community at birth.
With your Father being who He is,

what do the
world’s scales know of your precious value.

The priest and the prostitute – they weigh the same before the Son’s
immaculate being,

but who can bear that truth and freedom,

so a wise man adulterated the 

every wise man knows this.

My soul’s face has revealed its beauty to me;

why was it shy so long, didn’t it know how this made me suffer
and weep?

A different game He plays with His close ones.

God tells us truths you would not believe,

for most everyone needs to limit His compassion;

concepts of 
right and wrong preserve the golden seed

until one of God’s friends comes along and tends your body
like a divine bride.

The Holy sent out a surveyor to find the limits of its compassion
and being.

God knows a divine frustration whenever He acts like that,

for the Infinite has
no walls.

Why not tease Him about this?

Why not accept the freedom of what it means
for our Lord to see us 
as Himself.

So magnificently sovereign is our Lover; never say,

'On the other side of this river a different King rules.

For how could that be true – for nothing can oppose Infinite strength.

No one lives outside the walls of this sacred place, existence.

The holy water my soul’s brow needs is unity.

Love opened my eye and I was cleansed
by the purity of each


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