February 18, 2013
This past Sunday, the Unitarian Universalist Covenant Fellowship, which meets here in the bookshop the first and third Sunday of every month, had a most unusual guest "minister." I place "minister" in quotes. because I'm not sure she would consider herself a Minister (with a capital "M"). This Unitarian Fellowship of mine has unusual offerings on Sunday. Last month it was "Singing Bowls." We had a fine Baptist preacher, too, and many ordained Unitarian ministers, real ones.
Sophia Dilkusha McGuire is a "real one" all right. She announces herself as "Representative, Guide, and Teacher, Sufi Order International." She called her "sermon," "message," – I'm not sure what to call it – "Splendor Amidst the Everyday." She spoke in a whisper, at least to my 77-year-old ears, but what I heard seemed unusual and unusually interesting and soulful. Unfortunately, a lot of her murmurings–in a sweet Scotch/Irish soprano voice–were instructions. It was embarrassing not to know what her instructions were. My neighbor turned to me and said, "I like how gentle your eyes look." Obviously, we were to do something like that . . . Ms. McGuire's instructions. Inspired, I said back, "I'm glad you're here." My neighbor was one of the few, local African Americans who have braved our informal Sunday "services" "observances" – I'm not sure what to call them, "Worship Services"? – said her name was, "Joy."
Noticing everyone clutching their throats, I did too. Another whispered instruction. Turned out it was our hearts (I think) we were supposed to touch.
I found all this touchy-feely stuff very nice. It made me feel–as I'm sure it was supposed to–touchy feely myself! I liked Ms. McGuire's appearance and loved her soft, sweet voice. Just as there's a distinctive "Sufi Script" typographically, there's a special Sufi way of talking: extremely mellow and whisperish, caressing each word, repeating platitudes. "God walks beside you," said in this way, over and over, becomes less of a cliche. You think, "Maybe God is walking beside me?"
I noticed that when we were instructed to "Repeat After Me," Tammy wouldn't say the "G" word. Reminded me of that joke about Unitarians:
"Why does it take so long for Unitarians to sing a hymn?
"Because they have to check every word to see if they're willing to sing it."
Dilkusha McGuire began her thing with, "We see with our eyes.But we see with much more. We also see with our heart . . . with our soul." I thought that was a simple idea lovingly expressed–I didn't remember ever hearing that from The Pulpit before–not that my bookshop has a "pulpit." Dilkusha stood right in front of the soda pop glass door refrigerated unit. No pulpit.
One of my oldest friends and former 4-year Unicorn worker (1970–1974), Patti Field, became a "Representative, Guide, and Teacher" for a Sufi Community in Charlottesville, Virginia when she left our Unicorn work community. She changed her name to "Zakira," which is how she is known to this day: "She who is searching for God," . . . Zakira. I bet Sophia McGuire has at least one, probably two, name changes. That "Dilkasha" doesn't sound kosher. I bet it means, "Brings God to Your Supper Table," or something like that. "Sophia" of course means "Wisdom" in Greek. That's probably a made-up name, too. Funny how many people in my lifetime have accused me of changing my name to . . . Brilliant!
Reminds me of an early Jewish immigrant joke popular in the 1920s on the Borscht Circuit. An old Jewish man goes to Court and asks the Judge to allow him to change his name.
"What's your name now?" the Judge asks.
"Goldberg," the old man replies in a strong, foreign, Jewish accent.
"Okay. What do you want to call yourself in the future?"
The man beamed. "O'Reilly!" he exclaimed.
But a short time latter the old man came back to Court. He asked the Judge if he could change his name again.
"You're Mr. O'Reilly now," the Judge remembered. "What do you want to change that to?"
"O'Shaunnessey!" exclaimed the old Jewish gentleman.
The Judge was puzzled. "But why do you want to change your new name, O'Reilly, now, to O'Shaunnessey?"
"Well, Your Honor," said the petitioner. "These days, everyone asks me, What was your name before it was O'Reilly, and I have to confess it was Goldberg. But if I change O'Reilly to "O'Shaunnessey . . ."
"I get it. I get it," said the Judge. "Okay, you can change your name again."