Friday, February 27, 2015

Unconditional Love

As salaam alaikum,

As I said a short prayer to myself before walking into colposcopy clinic this afternoon, I suddenly realized why people over time have been pulled to pray to their ancestors.

One of my friends, who is Christian, once told me that she equally regards most faiths, including Islam, and including worship of ancestors. As a Muslim who acknowledges my own faith to be the one right path for me and not necessarily for everyone else, I could intellectually understand where she was coming from, but did find the view to be peculiar. The way I understood it was that the bounds of her faith would allow for a syncretic existence in which ancestors would be revered close to God for consult and comfort. I couldn't imagine that for myself.

And I still cannot imagine that for myself, but I understand it a little bit more now. And now that I understand it a little bit more, it's making me rethink my imagining of God.

I understand it a little bit more since my grandfather died. As I heard the news of his passing last year, July 16 and shed my first tears, I was instantly filled with hope, calm and reassurance. That was from God. I knew that Grandfather was with God. I knew that he had gone to the Good Place. I had no doubt, and I grieved easier.

In fact, I was so reassured that I struggled to pray for my grandfather in the way that we're supposed to when someone passed because, in a way, I was like, "God's got this." And for the weeks following his passing, I felt him very present with me, as I felt that he had now come to know the truth of all things, and his soul was set at ease for all of the things he despaired about in this world. I also felt like he was getting to see me, all of me, in a way he'd never imagined me as a granddaughter.

That feeling slowly passed with the noor of Ramadan as the month ended, but since then, I've struggled to relate with that closeness. Grandfather's absent in this realm but very much present spiritually for me. My aunt says she talks to him sometimes. She has talked to deceased relatives all of her life. I don't do that. I took issue to that because I figure who better to talk to, effectively pray to, than God. So I pray for my grandfather but I don't talk to him.

But as I walked to clinic today, I thought about how proud Grandfather probably is of me, now that he knows everything about me and exactly what it takes to be a physician and what I've done, probably more than he understood when he was on earth. And then I faced the thought that always deters me from spending too much time in this paradigm: Grandfather also knows my sins. If Grandfather knows the truth of all things and is privy to the current happenings of this world, Grandfather knows all that I've done wrong. Not only that, but knowing the truth of all things, he knows better than me the cumulative consequences of my wrongs.

And that gave me very brief pause. I knew I wouldn't be upsetting a man who is basking in his life's reward, but I wondered if Grandfather's disappointment in those things that I had done wrong outweighed his pride for the things I'd done right. And while I was still in this slippery paradigm, I though, well, Grandfather would love me, anyway.

And I stopped there, and turned to God in prayer.

I realized at that moment that I saw my Grandfather as unconditionally loving, whereas my conception of God is not that, at all. Of course my memory of Grandfather, which is not at all the representation of the whole man that he was, is of an unconditionally loving patriarch. If Grandfather on this earth knew everything there was to know about me, of course he'd love me anyway. It would balance out. I project that to whatever form his soul has taken/will take/had taken in the outside realm.

But while God is Merciful (in that way that, at times, is so difficult for us to grasp), God's love is not unconditional in my conception of God.

I came of age believing in a God who loved charity, service, kindness and good matters and hated all that was evil, from murder to the sometimes vague perversion. So if I committed evil, I would not be loved by God. That is the condition.

Whereas for Grandfather, we'd have to be pretty shitty people before he no longer loved us, for God it seemed sometimes uncertain how much any particular good or bad weighed.

When put before an omniscient, inconceivable but reportedly merciful and just Being and your loving Grandfather, it would be way less intimidating, if it were an option, to go to your grandfather for guidance.

But as a Muslim, I believe that no one can help me or hurt me but God. And by extension, I also believe that God can and would hurt me, if indicated.

Grandfather wouldn't.

But without belaboring that point, whenever I find myself in that space, I extract myself and return to God. Grandfather, insha'Allah, I'll see on the other side and I can learn about the man I'd come to love in his 60s, in the latter years of his life. I look forward to that day but will complete my term in this world gladly, day by day, year by year, and prayerfully with many more.

But God is Greater. And maybe my imagining of God doesn't do justice to God's mercy and love. Not that I'm going to reduce God to a big grandfather in the sky or anything, but...

If I were too intimidated to come to God, who could I really go to?

I know why it is. It's the language of our Book. A God that doesn't need our prayers or reverence. A God that can replace us with beings that are better than us. God doesn't need us, but we think of people who love us as needing us a little bit.

So I understand how it would be nice to worship a center of unconditional love, but that's just not the way I believe.

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