Rabi’a’s poetry tackles the reality of death. She doesn’t find it frightening, but nor does she long for it as an escape route from her difficult circumstances. Death will simply and beautifully bring her to her Beloved. It may feel like an interruption of the Easter joy, but it is simply another side of it.
Kill my ego, God,
the empty, troublemaking
version of myself.
Burn away the darkness
of my false self
and then my true Self
will shine like sunlight.
Dissolve my ego
into the Being
who is everything.
I know how it will be when I die,
my beauty will be so extraordinary that God will worship me.
He will not worship me from a distance, for our minds will have wed,
our souls will have flowed into each other.
How to say this: God and I
will forever cherish
“Die before you die,” the Prophet Mohammed said and Rabi’a took to heart. The prayer I shared is a reflection of her desire to live by that teaching, which echoes that of Jesus: “Unless a grain of what shall die, it remains but a single grain.” It is a question humans have wrestled with for thousands of years: How do we do that?
Rabi’a’s two reflections here – the prayer and the poem – offer a contrast of methods. The first method, of “killing the ego” isn’t a truly holy one, but for thousands of years, it was thought to be the only one. Self-abuse and self-sacrifice dominated the spiritual path to holiness. What else were the fires of hell and flames of purgatory for, but to “burn away the darkness” that kept us from the everlasting Light?
But there has always been another way, revealed by the mystics and sages throughout the ages and the second poem reveals the secret. Dissolving into Love, we become one with God, so we do not need to deny, or destroy any part of ourselves. We simply have to let Love do the work of loving us – all of us – bringing the darkness into the light. The Love of the Divine does not reject any of it, not the wounds, the scars, the pain. If God really is all powerful, then we have nothing to fear.
A final reminder from Rabi’a: “So beautiful my death appeared – knowing who then I would kiss, I died a thousand times before I died… I was born [again] when all I once feared – I could love.”