Celebrating Life as Eid

“No man can live without joy. That is why one deprived of spiritual joy goes over to carnal pleasures.”

St. Thomas Aquinas


“Everyone wants pleasure. More deeply, everyone wants happiness. Most deeply, everyone wants joy.”

Peter Kreeft

What makes Eid or festivals special? First it is holiday. Second it is family day. Third it is community day. Fourth it involves giving greater attention to beauty around us and investing holiness into the art of dressing and eating. What if we learn to treasure every moment as gift of God and attend to the latent sweetness and joy in this sacred play resulting from the exuberant joy of God the Creator/the Spirit of Creativity? We make whole life a festivity.

If we truly knew the wellspring of joy within, where God or uncreated divine spark resides, we would perpetually sing and dance. It is pity that we tap the heaven of joy within only on certain occasions and the rest of life we live as ordinary, drab affair. Songs, firecrackers and other things are nothing but expressions of the joy within that should characterize everyday! If we take religion seriously we find Eid or reason for festivity and celebration every day, every moment as we see God everywhere or live shaking hands with angels. Joy is proximity to Reality/God and as such to truly believe is to be joyful. To sin and to disbelieve is to be anxious, to despair, to regret for past happenings, to covet, to hanker for imaginary joys in future. To believe is to enter the sanctuary of peace/bliss as one consents to be nothing, to accept the divine will and thus all woe and weal of life. Acceptance is bliss. If any suffering is known to be from a friend, from a lover, one has no reason to fear and one can even court martyrdom for its sake.

The task before us is exchange sorrow for joy by emulating the great mystics and poets for whom this world is charged with the grandeur of God. Underhill notes in this context that Dante, initiated into Reality as Paradise, sees the whole universe laugh with delight as it glorifies God and the awful countenance of Perfect Love adorned with smiles. The souls of the great theologians “dance to music and laughter in the Heaven of the Sun; the loving seraphs, in their ecstatic joy whirl about the Being of God.” St. Francis illustrates with his life and works the fruits of contemplative life as playful rejoicing in Absolute. For Patmore “If we may credit certain hints in the lives of the saints, love raises the spirit above the sphere of reverence and worship into one of laughter and dalliance.”

Mysticism finds and celebrates the revelations of the Transcendent Life not in some remote plane of being, in metaphysical abstractions, in ecstatic states, but “in the normal acts of our diurnal experience, suddenly made significant to us. Not in the backwaters of existence, not amongst subtle arguments and occult doctrines, but in all those places where the direct and simple life of earth goes on.” God is three pounds of flex or a cup of tea for the Zen mystics and in fact for all mystics who enjoy all things in God. Just to be is to blessed and that is why, ordinarily, none is

Sufi poets have been underscoring the aspect of joy and celebration. Hafiz is all about that. So is Khayyam. Why is explained by our Kashmiri Sufi poet Hubbi:

Let us go celebrating

Let us go celebrating

The splendor of the unnoticed Beauty

Mad Intoxicated Majnun

Who chose death in life

His Laila is unveiling

Let us go celebrating

Belief and Infidelity are chains

No escaping the summons of Love

Break loose the ties

Let us go celebrating

There is no music in the Law of Islam

For the lovers, there is only Music

Let us go celebrating

It is the time of festivity

In the lovers house wine shall be served

The secret of Union disclosing

Let us go celebrating

Unveiled is the Beauty

Named Muhammad

In Names and Forms

Let us go celebrating

O Habib what news transpired?

Cutting asunder the world of duality

With the sword of Love

Let us go celebrating

The whole life of St. Francis was one long march to music through the world as Underhill notes in her classic Mysticism. To sing seemed to him a primary spiritual function. Underhill has referred to the romantic quality of the mystical Life – its gaiety, freedom and joy. Many mystics have expressed themselves in verse. This is only because the superabundant joy that wells within them needs such a medium to express. Sufi love songs are well known. Less known are songs of Christian mystics. St. John of the Cross wrote love songs to his Love. St. Rose of Lima sang deuts with the birds. St. Teresa wrote rustic hymns and carols. In St. Catherine of Genoa, sang, in a spirit of childlike happiness, gay songs about her Love.

The spirit of celebration is linked with experiencing the world as wondrous ad miraculous. As Heschel notes:

The sense for the “miracles which are daily with us,” the sense for the “continual marvels,” is the source of prayer. There is no worship, no music, no love, if we take for granted the blessings or defeats of living. No routine of the social, physical, or physiological order must dull our sense of surprise at the fact that there is a social, a physical, or a physiological order. We are trained in maintaining our sense of wonder by uttering a prayer before the enjoyment of food. Each time we are about to drink a glass of water, we remind ourselves of the eternal mystery of creation, “Blessed be Thou . . . by Whose word all things come into being.” A trivial act and a reference to the supreme miracle. Wishing to eat bread or fruit, to enjoy a pleasant fragrance or a cup of wine; on tasting fruit in season for the first time; on seeing a rainbow, or the ocean ; on noticing trees when they blossom ; on meeting a sage in Torah or in secular learning; on hearing good or bad tidings-we are taught to invoke His great name and our awareness of Him. Even on performing a physiological function we say “Blessed be Thou . . . who healest all flesh and doest wonders.”

Turning naturalism on its head, Heschel notes the counterclaim of religion as consisting in the belief in the hidden miracles as the basis for the entire Torah. “A man has no share in the Torah, unless he believes that all things and all events in the life of the individual as well as in the life of society are miracles. There is no such thing as the natural course of events . . . .” He quotes Rabbi Joshua ben Levi: “The earning of bread is a greater wonder than the division of the Red Sea.” And the saying other sayings from elsewhere:: “Just as the Holy One, Blessed be He, wrought

many miracles in order to redeem Israel from Egypt, so He does concerning a piece of bread which a man puts in his mouth.”

Seeing life as miraculous goads one to celebration of it. Nothing is commonplace and everything is worthy of attention or love and that implies celebration. Those who are uncomfortable with miracles are nevertheless forced to concede mystery that doesn’t fit into naturalistic reductionist framework. In any case being is mysterious and mystery is at the heart of our experience of the world. The world isn’t a problem but a mystery as Marcel explained. Our very subjectivity or being is involved in our engagement with the world. To be is to be oriented towards the mysterious. And Mystery is vivifying.

Those who find it problematic to sacrifice animals need to note that this creation is itself a product of sacrifice and that we all need redemption and that all life is united and that we are guardians of whole creation and as such our relationship to animals isn’t one of antagonism or strong versus weak. The deepest insights of anthropology, psychology and mythology and world traditions converge on the point of shared life/consciousness of animals and humans. It is said that animals pray for becoming part of human food and it is believed that they may ferry humans to the heaven and they sacrifice themselves for the humans. In any case all life is essentially an injury and appropriation where vast number of life forms are involved in ceaseless dialectical relationship. War is father of all great things, recognized such diverse minds as Heraclitus and Ruskin. War between life forms is the underlying basis of the colour or beauty of life or driving force for unfolding of higher functions of life. Our every breath is a sacrifice and life and death imply each other. Life changes forms; there is no such thing as death. All being is conscious. Life and death constitute a dance of Spirit. Being is One. God alone truly exists. “There is neither slayer nor slain.” The world is a play projected by God.

Extended family/communal meals give otherworldly taste and that explains why niyaz/parties in honour of friends/relatives or special days/special people exist in every culture. Let us make it a point that we don’t buy meat from market but sacrifice sheep every year for the purpose of both getting meat to partake of the gift from God and sip the joy of tasting it with family, neighbours, friends, and relatives. Community meals followed by the taste of its residues constitute a festive and healing gift for all of us.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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