Remembrance of God – Commentary by Sally Jo Gilbert de Vargas

“There are those whom neither business nor striving after gain can turn from the remembrance of God.”   (Qur’an 24:37)

“The friend of God buys and sells in the market and marries and takes part in social interaction and never for gets God for a single moment.”  ~ Abu Said ibn Khayr

The term “remembrance of God” has always been difficult for me to understand, let alone practice.  Something gets lost in the translation.  Remembrance implies that something has been or might be forgotten.  It implies that we once knew something more about God than we now know.  But if we have forgotten it, how can we suddenly force ourselves to remember it?  When I tell myself to “remember God,” I realize that I am thinking in a limited way about something I don’t really know or understand.  “The lover visible and the Beloved invisible: whose crazy idea was that?”  asks Rumi.  In order to truly remember God, I must re-experience that closeness to divinity which I am told we all experienced before we came to this earthly life. 

The good news is, I believe closeness to God can be re-experienced here on earth, if we have the sincere intention to re-discover it.  I have started to re-translate the word “remembrance” with “stand in awe of.”  Somehow that seems within reach.  This worldly life is filled with opportunities to marvel at God’s creation and the miracles of life that surround us.  “There are so many ways to bow and kiss the ground,” as Rumi reminds us.  Being present with the miracles of life and the beauty around us reminds us that this world is not something we ourselves created or could have possibly even imagined.  The “signs” of God are everywhere.  Signs that God is present, that God provides for us and loves us unconditionally.  Even in times of affliction, there is so much to be grateful for.  And most (but not all) of our affliction is clearly brought on by our own thoughtlessness and selfishness. That’s the key – when we get caught up in our own selfish ways, seeking ego pleasures, seeking personal gain at the expense of others, forgetting our interconnectedness and our interdependence – this is when we suffer the most.  We survive the worst of times, times of crisis, mainly by helping others to survive, and by turning to God for guidance and mercy.  Everything that happens to us is a doorway to come closer to God and God’s creation, if only we remember to walk through it!

Besides prayer and the reading of scriptures, I have found the most powerful practice for increasing my remembrance of God is the repetition of Divine Names in a state of meditation. In Islam, Allah is said to have 99 Divine Names (there are really an infinite number names, but 99 represents certain qualities or names that are repeated often in the Qur’an.)  The names of Allah include qualities such as Most Merciful, Most Compassionate, All-Knowing, All-Wise, All-Seeing, All-Hearing, Protector, Guide, etc.  When I find myself caught up in my own ego struggles or worries, I ask myself what is it that I need the most from Allah right now?  It might be love, or friendship, guidance or protection.  Once I identify the need, I sit in meditation and repeat that name or quality (in Arabic) 99 times.  This practice, which I learned from my friend and spiritual mentor Helwa, brings me into contact with the One Who gives that quality to us in abundance whenever we need it, or ask for it.  When we turn to God, we find God waiting patiently to receive us with open arms!

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