A Love Affair Between a Christian and a Sufi

Let me tell you a Love story about a modern Christian that fell in Love with an ancient Sufi.

Recently, I rekindled a connection with a past lover that is lying next to me in bed, both on the nightstand and in my heart. His name, Hafiz. I cozy up with the fourteenth century Sufi mystic’s love poems, and “we keep each other happy and warm” on these cold February nights. He soothes my mind’s wandering, quenches my soul’s desires, and inflames my body’s senses. He is my mystical Lover. I do not believe that my Christian God and Lover would mind these spiritual desires, nor do I feel my infatuation with Hafiz is heretical.

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Indeed, Jesus--my bridegroom--and Hafiz are definitely offering love songs to God in eternity right now; hand in hand and embraced as co-Lovers. Similarly, if we Christians are to follow Christ on our spiritual path, we too must embrace our fellow kin as they offer themselves to their God(s). It is because of this calling to Love our neighbor and God that I want to talk about my love affair with Hafiz, and connect some of his teachings to a Christian theology rooted in Eros. Think of this as a dialogue between Hafiz--a Sufi mystic--and me--a Christian mystic, talking about our Love and our intimacy with our Beloved, laughing wildly and crying joyfully, making theological Love together as a Holy Trinity.

“Tell me all your news of Love.”

Hafiz and I met by happy accident when perusing the religious section in a local bookstore. His young and warm looking cover invited me to pick him up and hold him. I fell in love that very moment. I took him home, away from everybody, lied down in bed with him and read. He whispered things I had felt before in my prayer and encouraged me to go deeper into his writings by learning more about his drunken experiences. His passion for the Beloved was raw and untamed, something I only experienced in a few ancient Christian writings.

Erotic theology, or Christian theology rooted in Eros, has often been shunned by churches because of its intimate language. It is incarnated theology emphasizing the body’s connection to the soul and their experience of God’s Love. It is passionate, breathtaking, and descriptive.

St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) writes that we “awake in Christ’s body” and all of our body parts--and I do mean all--become like Christ’s. The main idea held within Erotic theology is that as we begin to empty ourselves of our egoic-self through prayer, we are graced to experience Divine Love and Holy Union within our own body. In other words, as we empty ourselves, God fills the void left behind with Him/Herself. Indeed, this is a major reason I believe that God became incarnate in a human body. Not to ‘lower’ God to our standard, but rather to raise up our awareness. Through Divine Love, every part of us--including the body--becomes divine and Godlike.

“Every Desire of your body is holy;
Every Desire of your body is Holy.”

This Divine Love is what Hafiz is inviting us to experience. First, however, Hafiz wants us to become infatuated with him by luring us into his arms with sweet songs and infinite wine, taking us in his gentle and ever open arms to embrace us as we are.

Hafiz loves us as Christ told us to love our neighbor; with no expectation of perfection and no critique of our being. He finds us already perfect and willing to be loved. The use of Erotic theology helps us better understand this love because we are already attuned to feelings of love and passion through the body.

He invites us to kiss him and sing with him under the stars, embraced as lovers and drunk with love. 5 And he is doing this because he sees the Divine dwelling deep within us. He is in love with us because he is in Divine Love with God abiding in our being.

I knew it would not take me long
To turn you back into God.

The goal is not to simply stop at loving Hafiz; rather, our love for him is pointing us to a fuller love of God. Once we begin to love Hafiz by accepting his love for us, he gently turns us toward the Divine. Hafiz beckons us to follow him into God’s ever open arms to be embraced by Love itself. He tells us to “behold the Beautiful Drunk Singing One/From the lunar vantage point of love,” showing us that God “is conducting the affairs/ Of the whole universe/ While throwing wild parties/ In a treehouse--on a limb/ In [our] heart.” He directs our gaze inward and outward to witness the Divinity alive in all creation, including ourselves.

Similarly, when Jesus invites us into a loving relationship with him by saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” and that “no one comes to God except through me,” he’s not saying that following him is the only religious truth there is. Rather, he invites us into his way (walking in love), his truth (experiencing love), and life (receiving and giving love) by proclaiming that when loving him and his whole being we enter into loving union with God.

That is the exception he is describing, that the way, truth, and life is the Love of another (himself) which transfigures into the Love of God.

Hafiz feels your soul in mine
Calling for our Beloved.

As I finished listening to Hafiz’s love songs, I fell into an ever widening understanding of God’s Divine Love. Not only did I appreciate Hafiz’s willing acceptance of me as myself with all my flaws and perfections, but I also embraced God. This Divine Love is circular, spiraling toward union with God and Creation. It first begins with falling in love with a human. This can be one’s partner, best friend, a parent, Hafiz, Jesus, or (most importantly) one’s self. Then, in our love for another we find God resting within them. Their whole being is filled with God; thus pointing us toward loving the God inside them and all of creation.

God then unifies us to him/herself; or rather, God brings our attention to the unity already dwelling within. In turn, our union with God directs us back out into the world, beckoning us to Love one another as we Love God. This is the Divine commandment of both Jesus Christ and Hafiz. And so I smile. Resting in the Divine love of an ancient new lover, I embrace him as I embrace God. I dwell in the love of Hafiz, and through him I lay in the arms of our Beloved.

“Have fun, my dear; my dear have fun,
In the Beloved’s Divine Game,
O, in the Beloved’s Wonderful Game.”

Editor’s Note: This essay was written by Brook Conner, Ruman Project’s Policy and Research Coordinator.