We have been examining the five great petitions that are found at the conclusion of the prayer Khatum, considering what we might really be asking for when we pray. Where will we be taken by the phrases ‘Give us Thy great goodness,’ and ‘Teach us Thy loving forgiveness’? As we have seen, there may be surprising revelations hidden within these words. The third of the wishes – ‘Raise us above the distinctions and differences which divide men’ – seems a straightforward plea, one to which we can all say earnestly, ‘Amin!’ Humanity is chronically divided, and the friction from our uncountable differences generates intense heat and clouds of choking smoke. This disharmony manifests in disastrous ways, such as domestic abuse, social inequality, cruelty in the name of religion, widespread famine, environmental neglect of enormous dimensions, and the massive violence of full-scale war.
The grief of disharmony is so common that we might believe it to be inevitable, if it were not that we have all known better; with friends, with loved ones or with family we sometimes experience a blessed harmony lasting for years or even a lifetime. Without effort, differences fade away in the happiness of just being together. Having felt that easy communion, we naturally ask ourselves, ‘Why can’t we ALL get along?’
Typically, though, when differences arise, we put the responsibility on others. Even when we fall out with friends, our first impulse is to point the finger of blame; surely it is their attitude, not ours, which is at fault. But blaming only confirms division, it cannot heal it. it is futile to try to change others or expect them to see the sense of our reason, even when the prize is harmony. The way to find harmony is to not participate in disharmony, but to leave it and rise upward.
From this, we might conclude that the prayer is asking the Divine to help us get over insisting on our own point of view. Such a change would heal many of the ailments of the world, but there is an important point to remember. If we only close our lips and do not change our hearts, it means we have not forgotten the disharmony, but simply internalized it. When we swallow what we think and feel and keep silent for the sake of external harmony, then we can become sour from long simmering resentment. That is not the desired aim, so how can we go further?
There is a more profound way to understand the wish: although there are billions of people on the planet, we affirm in the Invocation that there is only one Being; Life is One, Truth is One. Our personal story is merely a dream, no more than a passing wave upon the surface of the infinite Ocean. Certainly, our brief individual existence is a divine blessing, a unique gift from the loving Creator, but the gift comes with a consequence: our separation is also our most profound sorrow. To be cut off from the Source is to be veiled from our true nature, which is joy itself. That is the loss behind all our restless seeking. And when at last we find again the One in whom we live, then even the mortality of the body signifies no more than a step from one room to another.
In other words, while the prayer may be asking that we rise above our disagreements with our neighbours, the way in which this can be realized is by rising above the illusion – or the attachment to distinctions and differences – that keeps us in duality, that divides us from ourselves and from God.
If it sounds too good to hope for, we can take comfort that this is not some fairy-tale dream, but an ascent laid in the foundation of creation, for we read in Vadan Boulas : The knowledge of plurality begins life; but in the consciousness of unity
is life’s culmination.
To be continued…