Michael David Graskemper
In the Third Flash of his Risale-i Nur Collection, Bediuzzaman Said Nursi offers a reflection on the Sufi phrase: “The Enduring One (al-Baqi), He is the Enduring One! The Enduring One, He is the Enduring One!” (see Qur’an: 28:88). For Nursi, both segments of the phrase have a significant purpose. The first part of this phrase “severs and isolates the heart from everything other than God,” while the second part acts as “both a salve and an antidote for the wounds” that occur when the things of this world leave individuals. As is seen in the reflections on these points, the phrase calls people to disconnect themselves from the world of finite love, and free themselves in order to accept God’s offer of infinite love.
Nursi says that people are “connected with almost all beings” and because of this “a boundless capacity to love [these things] has been included in [our] nature[s].” However, even though individuals have the freedom to love transient things, these finite objects cannot fulfill them in the same way as the Enduring One (al-Baqi) can. What most people do not realize is that they “constantly suffer the pain of separation” because their infinite capacity for love, which has been given to them by God, is not fulfilled by things of this world. Like Rumi’s reed-flute, people yearn for a return to their reed-bed. By “misusing [their love] and spending it on transitory beings, [people have] done wrong and suffer the punishment for [this] fault through the pain of separation.” Individuals do not need to live in the state of suffering, however, and Nursi’s Third Flash offers them a way to transcend it.
The first part of the Sufi phrase calls people to sever that desire give one’s love to the finite things of this world. True, “the shadows of the shadows of the manifestation of His Most Beautiful Names” are beautiful and able to be loved in this world, but they themselves are not God and are not fit for the love that only God deserves. When people love only things of this world, they suffer; when they focus their love on the Enduring One (al-Baqi) they are brought closer to God and are fulfilled in ways not of this world. When they sever their ties to finite love, they open themselves to a Higher Love, an Infinite Love. The purpose of the first part of the Sufi phrase is to comfort people with knowledge of an Ever Enduring Love, and remind them that the love of this world pales in comparison to God’s everlasting love.
The second part of the Sufi phrase not only heals people’s spiritual wounds, but also acts to satisfy “the intense wish for immortality in [their] natures[s].” Nursi says that people long for immortality, because God is immortal and “the matter most important to [people], [their] most pressing duty is to form a relation with the Enduring One,” who is immortal. By placing their love in the finite, in loving only things of this world, people are limiting their capacities for Eternal Love and as a result they suffer. The only fulfilling love is love for the al-Baqi, the Enduring One, the Immortal and Undying Love of God. Once human beings separate themselves from the love of this world, as the first part of the Sufi phrase directs, people can then be healed by the knowledge that God is the Enduring One, and God’s love will never fade away.
Nursi insists that it is not only possible, but preferable, to live a life of infinite love in the present moment. To explain this point, he uses the illustration of the hands of a clock:
Just as the hands of a clock counting the seconds, and those counting the minutes, hours, and days superficially resemble each other, but differ in respect to speed, so too the spheres of the body, soul, heart, and spirit in man differ from each other.
Nursi says that the spiritual nature of humans is not bound by time. Yes, the physical existence of people’s pasts are extinct, and their futures not yet existent, but the present moment in which they live, in the minutes and hours that they live for the Love of God, they are immortal-“Yes, one second on the way of love, knowledge, and pleasure of the Truly Enduring One is a year.” Although it may often seem that “time flies when we are having fun,” in reality a “moment’s union for God’s sake within the bounds of the Enduring One of Glory’s pleasure is a window of union, not only for a [moment], but [permanently].” Speaking of the human perception of time and place, Nursi seems to anticipate Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity-“The broad Earth with enemies is like a drinking-glass, while the eye of a needle with friends is like a broad arena.” Understanding this imagery, a moment in God’s love can be an eternity of pleasure and fulfillment, and a moment without God’s love can seem like an eternity of suffering. It is because of this that Nursi, and the multitudes of Muslims before him and since, have prayed the five prescribed daily prayers to God. Through prayer Muslims are linked to God and are reminded of God’s Enduring Love; and through remembrance of the Enduring Love of God the transitory becomes eternal (baqi).
Sufi tradition also gives two other images for this enduring love: that of the fabric of life, and that of the “conveyor belt.” For the first image, life is seen as fabric. If during one’s life a person does nothing of merit, nothing of love for God, then the fabric remains plain, unbeautiful, and transient. If one does bad things and denies God’s love, the fabric becomes dirty and tattered and the fabric suffers. However, if one does what is beautiful and one remembers the Enduring One, flowers are embroidered on the fabric and these flowers last through all eternity, sustained by God’s Infinite Love. Likewise, the image of the conveyor belt symbolizes the transience of this world-for every deed done in this life, something goes on to the next. If one does nothing beautiful, nothing for God, then nothing is placed on the conveyor belt and nothing goes into the next life. If one does bad things or good things in this life, then these things go on into the next life, not to be seen again until death. One day, the conveyor belt stops and at that moment there is nothing left that one can do.
Similar to the Catholic Jesuit notion of Ad Meiorem Dei Gloriam (that is, living for the Greater Glory of God), Nursi’s reflections on the work of humans for God alludes to how spiritually profitable a life devoted to God can be:
Serve for the sake of God, meet with others for the sake of God, work for the sake of God; make all of your actions ‘in God, for God, and to God,’ then, all the moments of your life will become like years.
When working for the sake of God, when loving people for the sake of God, when living life for God;, a moment is like a year. Just as in our dreams a day can seem like a year, a life dedicated to and in love with God can feel like an eternity-in fact, a moment with God is an eternity, a glimpse of the Enduring Love of God.
This Sufi phrase of al-Baqi, which is formed under the name of God, ‘al-Baqi,’ calls people to cut ties with the finite love that this world offers. It also comforts human beings by reminding them that only God’s infinite love can bring us healing, fulfillment, and an everlasting union. In his Third Flash, Nursi eloquently affirms that within the Love of God there is the promise of an Enduring Love, a love that cannot be found in the worldly shadows alone.
Michael David Graskemper is a graduate student at John Carroll University, Department of Religious Studies
Nursi, Bediuzzaman Said, The Flashes Collection, Sozler Nesriyat, Istanbul: 1995, pp 29, 30.