Beautiful Sufi embroidery on an altar cloth

Last weekend, I went to Leicester for a day of Dances of Universal Peace. It was held at the Quaker Meeting House. The altar at the front of the room immediately got my attention, as it had several items set out on it, all on top of a beautiful embroidered cloth featuring the Sufi emblem of a heart with wings, sometimes known as the ‘flying heart’.

The altar cloth with the beautiful ‘heart with wings’ embroidered motif

This cloth was bought recently by Gulzar Christina Lausevic, who was leading the dances last weekend. She had bought it in New Delhi, India, in February, when she went there for the URS celebration of Hazrat Inayat Khan (the man who brought Universal Sufism to the West in 1910).

She explained that the altar cloth was sold as a pashmina (she demonstrated it later, and it does make a good wrap – it’s just the right size, and it’s made from a very softly woven, comfortable fabric!). A Sufi charity called the Hope Project provides help for local people, including employment for girls in the area, who embroider souvenirs for the pilgrims who visit the dargah (tomb) of Hazrat Inayat Khan in New Delhi. As it says on the website of the Hope Project, “The Hope Project emerged from the vision of Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan to translate Sufi values, guided by the spiritual ideals of Hazrat Inayat Khan [his father], into practice.”

Detail of the stitching

This cloth features long and short stitch, stem stitch outline, and herringbone stitch for the feathers on the wings – which is very effective. I had a quick look at the back of the stitching, and it’s as neat as the front!

Hopefully, the income that these girls get from their embroidery will give them more choice for their futures than they would otherwise have.

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My weekend of Dances of Universal Peace (with embroidery as an added ingredient!)

Birmingham Mike Hadden 091107

Last weekend, there were two good one-day Dances of Universal Peace events on, both within driving distance of where we live. As we couldn’t choose between them, we decided to go to both!

The first one was at the Friends Meeting House in Hall Green, Birmingham. This one happens monthly, and we manage to go most months. The building is lovely – Victorian, I think, and cosy with a quiet feel to it. The day is led by Mike Hadden and his wife, Suzanne, who have their own website with information about the Dances and dates of upcoming events.

Friends Meeting House Hall Green
The Friends Meeting House, Hall Green, Birmingham

We danced from 10.30 till 4pm, with a break for lunch (brought by the participants). Several of the dances were new to me – a couple, in particular, were really lovely. One, called ‘Namaste’, had the lines ‘I honour the place in you where the entire Universe dwells. I honour the place in me where the entire Universe dwells’. It was a very slow, meditative dance, done in pairs. The other dance I don’t know the name of, but the words were something like ‘There is a secret One inside us, All the stars and all the galaxies, Run through Her hands like beads’. It’s based on part of a poem by Tagore, I think. Anyway, it was great, too.

Sheffield Yoga Centre Gulzar 091108
The altar table at Sheffield

On Sunday, we went to the Sheffield Yoga Centre, and had another great day of Dances led by Christina Lausevic (her Sufi name is Gulzar). She plays guitar to accompany the dances she leads, and my husband, Chris,  plays drum for some of the dances, too (when he’s not dancing, that is). Gulzar adds other practices to her Dance Days, so we also did some drumming, and walking meditations.

A beautiful Indian embroidered panel, over the doorway to the room where we danced
A beautiful Indian embroidered panel, over the doorway to the room where we danced

As I’m always on the lookout for embroidery, it didn’t take me long to spot this gorgeous Indian wallhanging, as it was strung across the doorway into the room where we danced.

Sheffield door embroidery detail
A detailed view of the wallhanging

It was lovely – lots of tiny shisha mirrors had been embroidered on it, and, although it was a bit worn in places (it’s obviously quite old), it was a very carefully made piece. I just love the colours!

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What is the well-dressed Sufi wearing at Dance Camp?

People doing Dances of Universal Peace in the Big Top at a Dance Camp
People doing Dances of Universal Peace in the Big Top at a Dance Camp

In August of this year, I went to Dance Camp for the first time, in Dorset. It was quite an experience! 300 or so people camping in a field, cooking in groups of around 20 around open fires, and doing Dances of Universal Peace in ‘Big Top’ tents for several hours every day. Other things to do included yoga, harmony singing, drumming, meditation…

It was all good stuff, even when it was raining sideways!

One of the things I realised, once I got there, was that I’d brought totally the wrong kind of clothing. OK, I had the waterproof coat, plastic overtrousers, thermal socks, and so on (after all, this is ENGLAND in the summer 🙂  ), but one thing I didn’t have was ‘suitable’ wellies. I had remembered to bring my boring old navy blue gardening wellies (‘just in case’, ha ha) – and I ended up wearing them for most of the week – even INSIDE the tent, sometimes (I kid you not). However, I noticed that many of the other women were wearing the lovely, brightly coloured wellies that are available now, to go with their bright and jazzy clothes. That made my boring old blue ones seem even more…well, boring.

So, when I got home, I searched online for something more interesting to wear, ready for next time. Now, the problem I have is that, for an adult, I’ve got tiny feet. I take size 2 (33.5 in Continental sizing; size 4 in US sizing). That’s SMALL. So small, in fact, that it’s become such a problem to get shoes to fit me that a few years ago my husband started his own business, importing specially made shoes in small sizes, to try to cater to this market, and stop me moaning at the same time! (It worked – I’ve  got several dozen pairs of lovely Italian shoes, now. And I don’t moan. Much.)

So, to buy wellies in small sizes is not easy. My husband has no supplier to try. No online (or offline, for that matter) shoe shop sells adult wellies in a small size – there’s just not enough of a market. Still, I thought, if it’s jazzy patterned wellies that I want, children’s ones will do fine. They’ll be a bit short in the leg, but that’s OK. I started looking by doing a Google image search, and couldn’t believe my luck.

The Sufi emblem - the 'Heart with wings'
The Sufi emblem – the ‘Heart with wings’

Now, for people who don’t know, the Sufi ’emblem’ is a heart with wings, and many people who do Dances of Universal Peace, such as me, are following the Sufi spiritual path. So, when I came across these Western Chief cowgirl wellies, I was really pleased! They might not have been designed specifically with Sufis in mind, but the logo on these definitely looks like the Sufi one to me!

Western Chief cowgirl wellies, with what looks like the Sufi emblem, to me!
Western Chief cowgirl wellies, with what looks like the Sufi emblem, to me!

Can’t wait for next year’s Dance Camp now, so that I can show them off 🙂

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I’ve just got back from a spiritually uplifting weekend course on ‘The Hidden Gospel’, with Neil Douglas-Klotz

The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the spiritual message of the Aramaic Jesus by Neil Douglas-Klotz
The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the spiritual message of the Aramaic Jesus by Neil Douglas-Klotz

I have just got back from a great weekend course, at the Othona community near Burton Bradstock in Dorset. It was led by the Aramaic Biblical scholar and Sufi Neil Douglas-Klotz – see his website www.abwoon.com for info on his books, CD’s and other stuff.

The course was based around themes from his book ‘The Hidden Gospel’, and looked at how the Bible’s meaning in English can be ‘unpacked’ in different ways from the usual ones, if you go back to the original Aramaic language (the language that Jesus spoke), and translate this very fluid, multi-levelled language straight into English, rather than the way it has been in the past – via Greek, Latin and German, into English. It was so interesting to hear about well-known but ‘limited’ English phrases taken from the Bible, such as the line from the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil’. This would be better explained as ‘Do not let us enter a state of forgetfulness of the Sacred in our lives, and keep us from unripeness.’ (NB There is no word in Aramaic for ‘evil’, by the way.)

As well as the teachings, we did some body prayers, and Dances of Universal Peace, based on the words of Jesus, which were wonderfully uplifting, as the Dances always are for me.

Othona, with views of the sea in the distance
Othona, with views of the sea in the distance

The people we met (my husband and I, that is) on this course were lovely – very interesting people. Othona itself is a gem – a peaceful place to stay for a few days, a short walk from the beach, with comfortable sitting rooms and bedrooms, and great home-cooked food. Does this sound like an advert for it? You bet! Check out the Othona website  for more information about the courses they run all year round, on subjects as diverse as birdwatching, the enneagram, and ‘mind/body/spirit detox’.

The dining room at Othona
The dining room at Othona

About a year ago, I wrote a book review of ‘The Hidden Gospel’ for a magazine, so I’ve copied it here to give a flavour of this wonderful book.

Book review of ‘The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the spiritual message of the Aramaic Jesus’, by Neil Douglas-Klotz
Published by Quest Books, 1999.  Paperback £11.99.  ISBN: 0 8356 0795 Z

I have had this book on my ‘Amazon Wish List’ for over two years, but only got around to buying a copy a few weeks ago – now I wish I’d bought it earlier, as it’s a life-changing read.

Neil Douglas-Klotz has a very readable style, and manages to make what could be a dry subject become something not only interesting, but relevant. He is a practising Sufi, and has lectured and written books on the theme of the basic unifying principles of the Abrahamic faiths for the past twenty years.

His rationale for studying Jesus’ words in the Aramaic language is that this is the language that would have been spoken in Palestine at the time, and that those words have power of their own (both in the original language, and in translation). Aramaic translations emphasise the spirituality of Jesus’ teachings (NDK has little interest in doctrinal issues). This is where the idea of the ‘hidden gospel’ of the title comes from – listening to words from the Bible in this format is like finding a ‘new’ gospel, because the ideas seem so refreshingly different when presented in this way.

This book takes ten main themes, and arranges them into ‘Key Insights’, which are then illustrated with phrases that Jesus is quoted as saying in the Bible. As NDK works straight from the Peshitta (the Aramaic version of the Bible, as used by Christians from the area around Syria), his direct translations are more accurate than the more familiar translations that have come down to us through the ‘traditional’ route in the West – that is, Greek to Latin to German to English. This is the reason why his translations offer so much more – they are able to highlight the many shades of meaning that have been lost over the years through either mistranslation or deliberate alteration. He is a poet and musician, so his translations are beautifully expressed and very meaningful.

For me, this book has cleared up many a ‘meaningless’ phrase from the Bible. I suspect many people have struggled to find meaning in the Bible, due to poor/misleading translations. This book can help to explain those phrases in new, poetic ways. For instance, the passage from John 3:16, in the KJV, says

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

NDK explains that in Aramaic, ‘begotten’ can also mean single, solitary or united in all aspects of being. ‘Believe’ can mean a sense of confidence or trust. ‘Perish’ can mean decay, fade away or lose. So, another way of expressing the passage could be:

“For Unity so loved Diversity,
all the worlds of form,
that it brought you a child of Unity,
fulfilled in all aspects of self,
so that whoever would have
the same confidence in their own fulfilment,
like the earth underneath supporting all,
would not fade with their form,
but continue, from world to world,
with and in the ever-living Life.”

At the end of each section, he offers a meditation or a body prayer (nineteen altogether), so that the reader can incorporate the deeper meanings into their daily life. He puts great emphasis on the breath – most meditations start with calming the mind and focussing attention on the breath, then an Aramaic word or phrase is either spoken or ‘breathed’, or sometimes intoned on one note, or sung. Then there is an idea to contemplate for a few minutes, such as the idea that all our breaths link us together all over the world as part of Sacred Unity.

As well as this book, there is an accompanying CD/digital download, available from www.soundstrue.com  for around 20 US dollars. This audio version is great too, because it is not just a spoken version of the text from the book. It lasts three hours, and has NDK explaining the key insights, sometimes with examples that are different from the book. The best part, though, is that the CD contains many chants and body prayers. These make for compulsive listening.

For those who may be coming from a liberal Christian standpoint, I feel that the ideas contained in this book will not come as such a surprise as they might to ‘mainstream’ Christians. Liberal Christians may be more likely to be open to considering ‘new’ ways of relating to the figure of Jesus and his teachings, and to welcome this different approach. If you are at all interested in meditation and contemplative prayer from a progressive Christian standpoint, you will find this book and CD great additions to your collection.