Contemplative Motherhood Podcast

Amma Rabi’a: The Contemplative Beloved. Part 1

April 25, 2022 Erin Thomas & Chelsea Whipple Season 2 Episode 5
Contemplative Motherhood Podcast
Amma Rabi’a: The Contemplative Beloved. Part 1
Show Notes Transcript

Erin and Chelsea discuss Rabi’a al-Adawiyya and her connection to Sufism in Islam. As a 9th century amma from Persia, her writings and poem bring life into so many disciples and modern-day contemplatives. Her trailblazing path by describing the Divine as the Beloved leaves us wanting more and more of her teachings. Journey with us as we dive deep into her life, her inspiration, and find ways to drink the living waters of the Beloved found in all of us. We discuss her in two episodes so our listeners can walk with us as we slowly uncover the wealth of her being. She shows how simple unity with the Beloved is and how we can uncover the Beloved found within us all.

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Chelsea Whipple  0:05  
You are listening to the contemplative motherhood podcast. My name is Chelsea. I'm a teacher, practitioner, spiritual director and pilgrim.

Erin Thomas  0:14  
And I'm Erin, a creative homeschool educator, counselor and spiritual seeker. listen in as we dive deeper into the contemplative lifestyle through hearing about each of our lives,

Chelsea Whipple  0:27  
you'll hear our triumphs, failures, practices and mistakes as we journey together. You might even hear a kid or two in the background.

Erin Thomas  0:35  
So grab some coffee, tea, curl up and take off your shoes. You are welcome here. Now let's get started. 

Erin Thomas  0:43  
Hello, hello. Welcome back friends to the contemplative motherhood podcast. I feel like this is kind of becoming our signature intro. I am your co host Erin Thomas here with my dearest friend and co host, Chelsea Whipple. Hi, friend. Hello, how are ya?

Chelsea Whipple  1:04  
Well, I have to say today spring has finally sprung at our house and although our weather is still up and down, but I I have to mention to keep with how our Ammas would say it. Today was a good day. It was filled. Laughter Yeah, peace, good. Living in the present moment right now.

Erin Thomas  1:25  
I feel like I can't really contribute to that conversation because living in coastal Georgia it's pretty much 75 degrees a large percentage of the time. Very happy for you.

Chelsea Whipple  1:35  
Yes, I take my 75 when I can get it in this area, right?

Erin Thomas  1:40  
We are so happy listeners that you are here today and present with us. We know that you could be listening to literally I think everyone on their brothers podcast as I say, because everyone has one at this point. But we are thankful that you're here in this space with us. So to recap a bit for listeners who may be joining us for the first time Hello, hello. Um, our current season is highlighting stories of the Ammas and that's kind of a complex definition but a simple way to say it is that means we are hearing modern and historical stories of mothers in a spiritual or a physical sense. Those who have been who have had children, or who have been life giving and sustaining life as Chelsea has shared with us in a prior episode. So these stories are reflective of those contemplative mothers. Chelsea, my friend, our resident history buff, has been sharing with us our past few episodes on some of the Ammas who have more of a historical background. And this has been fascinating. So if you haven't had a chance to listen to the prior episodes of some of the other Ammas. I encourage you to do so as you can and today we're covering an even more intriguing Amma I think this may I say this every time that I think this might be my favorite Amma but I think this is just maybe because you have a gift my friend so my history buff, who do we have today?

Chelsea Whipple  3:18  
Well, we are here today to talk about our next Amma. So Amma Rabi’a al-Adawiyya. And we're just going to call her amma Rabi'a today, and she comes from the Sufi mystical tradition of Islam. And in fact, some credit her with establishing the language of Sufism, by referring to God as the beloved. And just to breathe in her words we today will refer to that ultimate one that divine as Beloved. And I want to specifically talk about her today because she touches this mystical union with the beloved. And so this is the first time we are introducing the word mystical, Mystic, mysticism. Those those three words and if that word kind of jumps out at you, don't worry. We are planning on having a whole episode. Just on this word alone. So for now, just think of the word mystical as something more something, beyond which we cannot explain.

Erin Thomas  4:42  
Yes, okay. Okay. Well, so this is this is a lot I have so many questions, obviously, as I'm sure a lot of our listeners do. And so we'll be able to cover primarily where our focus today is on the Amma, but later we will address some of those Touchstone words as we call them taboo hotspots, I don't know something like that. But as a person of my personal Christian faith tradition, a lot of these words are not in my vocabulary, right? We all have different language for the way that we describe our experiences. So Chels, can you set us up a bit and how we look through this lens together, despite our theory, backgrounds, and really how can we be stewards of this story and the culture within context? And if you don't mind while you're at it, could you give us a bit of a beginning on some of the early parts of Amma Rabi'a's story?

Chelsea Whipple  5:47  
Yeah, so I will try as much as I possibly can to do that. But you know, before we dive too deep I have I feel like I have to give a disclaimer. So I am not of the Sufi tradition. So how I look at Rabi'a and soak in her life and teachings will be different than someone who has a better understanding of the culture and tradition more. So I asked patience of you if this is you, and would love Oh, my goodness, love to hear more from those who have a different and more rich experience of Rabi'a who's been able to take that time to really study her. In second, let's kind of give a brief bio so we can understand the time period and community that she lived in. So Rabi'a lived in the eighth and ninth century in Persia. So specifically modern day Iraq, she's also considered Rabi'a of Basria. And her family was very poor. And soon after her parents died when she was young, a great famine struck the land. So she became a penniless orphan and was then sold into slavery.

Erin Thomas  7:09  
So I have to interject here because if you haven't listened to our prior episodes, again, this is just sort of a theme. I feel like we're seeing another hard to begin another hard beginning excuse me, and we see this suffering beginning with her so tell us more about this story my friend.

Chelsea Whipple  7:31  
Yeah. So this is kind of where her mystical experiences began, or you know what her biographers had talked about. And she would have these lengthy conversations with the beloved and we don't know how old she is at this point, or if she's been instructed in her religious tradition, you know, as a young woman from a poor family. I'm assuming that she's probably illiterate, and did not have any formal religious education. So the story after she sold into slavery goes that her master saw her praying one night, and light illuminated all around her and lit the whole entire house. And as he's gazing on her, decides that she has got to be some sort of saint or an angel, and he has to free her. So at this point, after she's freed, she then goes to the desert in order to dedicate her life to her beloved, to dedicate her life to prayer and she remained there and lived a fairly secluded life.

Erin Thomas  8:42  
Okay, that's, that's just incredible. That freedom was given to her. Okay, so this is interesting. And our I kind of want to point out we see that this is really reminiscent of other faith, traditions, right? And experience with God, which then completely transforms how an Amma moves forward in her life. So, Chels, why really is Amma Rabi'a considered a woman of influence and can you tell us a little bit about how she earned our title that we've given her Amma Rabi'a the contemplative Beloved?

Chelsea Whipple  9:24  
Yeah, yeah. And you know, she is a very important figure for women because of her genuine ability. To live counter culturally, to her day, and really an inspiration for our day as well. I mean, again, we're talking about eighth and ninth century, no matter what part of the world you're living in. These aren't times where women is, you know, we have writings from different religious traditions of women. But they're so few and far between. They're not given great importance as the men. She's very, very revered in her tradition. And so she really embodies this principle of Sufism. Which is to worship God out of love, rather than from fear or hope. And she had this way of knowing the embodiment of the Beloved, was as much a part of her as anyone else. And her prayers that we have dictate that the beloved was not a matter of believing, but a matter of knowing.

Erin Thomas  10:37  
So this is really interesting. And I know I'm probably listen, I know I'm probably going to say that about 25 times. This is interesting. This is interesting. It really is. Because for various reasons, but I know we have some reflections of other writings and other religions that maybe some of us may be more familiar with, right? And so she's known for her writings correct like was this very much a part of her contemplative being? 

Chelsea Whipple  11:11  
Yeah, so what's interesting is when you explore other traditions, idea of contemplation, way of knowing mysticism, enlightenment, again, these are lots of new words, you know, that we're kind of surrounding ourselves with right now. And that's really all to say that a lot of spiritual traditions, religious traditions, kind of that ultimate reality for these traditions and from our own tradition, is to understand this. Our life's work, our life's journey, is a way of being instead of a way of just believing. Hmm. So for her specifically, she has this way that we're going to explore of living life, not in a manner of complete or I'm sorry, in a manner of complete unity with the beloved. And that's all she wanted. That's all she talks about. That's all that she desires.

Erin Thomas  12:23  
This is, so I have to say, so I'm not super familiar with Sufism, but generally these concepts are pretty contemplative in nature. How can we explore her a bit from this, like historical narrative arc, and apply some of that within our own culture and tradition? So how does this apply to us? And in some sense we've touched a bit on in prior episodes, the Eastern way of life and the ebbs and flows, specifically the differences in Western culture and eastern culture. And this is a continual theme in Amma Rabi'as story? So my historical friend, can you break down this eastern Western sort of way of life for us a bit and just help us out?

Chelsea Whipple  13:17  
Yeah, I love talking about this. And I have no idea if I'm getting this right, but it's how I understand it. So you know, one thing to know is Amma Rabi'a is from the eastern way of life. So she has this eastern viewpoint. And if you've listened to both of our episodes on Amma Ayya, you know, you kind of heard us bring up this point about East vs West, you know, what does that really mean? And if this is something you have not known before, definitely encourage you to kind of look at more Eastern versus Western thought, and specifically when it comes to religions, and you can kind of formulate how you yourself understand this. So we're going to hear a lot about how I kind of understand this and hopefully you know, this kind of grasp on for other people. So because of globalization in our modern world, you know, we're starting to see how even one religious tradition can have different ways of thinking based on the culture and the worldview that you currently live in.

Erin Thomas  14:22  
Yes. Okay. So I really, I really want to touch on this and just emphasize that that's so good, my friend. It's how often and I don't know this is can be really stretching it can be challenging for for a lot of us and because what some of us do, I mean for myself, I can only speak through my personal experience, but you know, so much of our background and our philosophies and the way we live our lives affect the lens in which we view the world. I mean, just everything it's like I want to make an inappropriate joke about beer goggles, but I won't, because I'm a mature adult, okay. Um, but that was kind of the example that was going through my head. But so here we've got this lens right and that really affects every way that we view our philosophies, our thinking, our religious traditions, our gracious, I mean, we could go on for hours. So if can you break this down a little bit for us? Based on your personal experience?

Chelsea Whipple  15:37  
Yeah, so excuse me, the best way I understand this. If you've ever taken a philosophy class, most of what you're gonna get is kind of a Western philosophy lens. So for me as a Christian from the Western world, my view is very much reminiscent of Roman and Greek philosophies that taught about individualism. So you know, thanks Plato. And but for Christians in the east, and more from kind of the Eastern Orthodox, have a completely different philosophy. And here's the best way for me to describe east versus West, so West, we tend to be more individualistic East tends to be more communal. So they are they have kind of a better idea of a whole, like a whole being of a whole community, that you're not just a yourself, you know, you're part of groups. Right? And, you know, so when reading ammas from this part of the world, from the eastern part of the world, and we even said with Amma Ayya, it's like taking how you think in a western idea and flipping it on its head and just thinking a completely different way. And so it's important again, to note that these ammas from the east teach from this communal point of world view, as opposed to kind of a more individual worldview, and this will come up again when we have an episode or two who knows about the ammas from the Christian world, who fled to the desert so we call them kind of our desert, or the desert Christian Ammas. They're also coming from this Eastern thought and so Amma Rabi'a is very similar to them and you'll kind of notice those similarities when we talk about them.

Erin Thomas  17:43  
Yes, and I think we're gonna we're gonna break this down more as we go throughout this, these stories, but the main point that I love that you've articulated is just that this different philosophy of the Eastern versus the West, and how we are very much ingrained in the individualistic mindset. So that's how I found a way for the future. And I'm really certain that we can provide some quality literature on this if you're interested listeners. So we will do our best to try and give you some of that, perhaps maybe in a future blog post or in our show notes, but let's hear a little bit more about Amma Rabi'as story.

Chelsea Whipple  18:29  
Yes, so in hopefully I've not lost anybody yet, so bear with me because I'll try to kind of repeat this more and more, you know, to bring us to remind us of this communal worldview. And it's also we have to know the Amma Rab'ia was an ascetic aesthetic.

Erin Thomas  18:50  
We had a 20 minute conversation about this,

Chelsea Whipple  18:53  
those are two different words. And they mean two different things. And even the word ascetic ascetic now can kind of mean something a little bit different than it would have in those days. So she lived apart from others most of the time, like I had said earlier, and just to kind of define what I mean so in ancient terms, you would use the word ascetic to mean someone who it really means to exercise. So think of your modern day athlete, who was an Olympic athlete, they spend the majority of their time exercising, getting their body in shape, getting their mind right, doing their particular you know, I almost call it a ritual, right? Their sport, and this is kind of what a person who consider themselves a set ascetic would also do. So we kind of think of it as like, Oh no, someone who lived to the extreme, you know, self discipline, usually choosing a hard life with a strict diet, you know, denial of pleasure, etc. And maybe that's how she practiced her life, but really think that as she was an athlete training to live in unity with God, and she had disciples and they were both male and female, which is important to note for her time to have male disciples. She had friends, she called them friends. But you know, her base was more seclusion, and she'd just desire to be surrounded by the beloved. She didn't want anybody to kind of break that unity with her and the beloved. So in some of the literature, we're given, you know, her biographer gives us this image and it's this image of a fire where love and longings are the flames. No so much that her as the fire we get lost in union with the Divine.

Erin Thomas  20:54  
Okay, so I have to stop you there because when I first read when he wrote this, and I first was looking at it, I thought those are incredibly powerful terms to be used in sort of a spiritual context, right? Mm hmm. Um, yeah. So you dive deeper a little bit into that and break that down for us.

Chelsea Whipple  21:16  
Yeah. Yeah. So she, you know, us these words kind of signify the depth of relationship one can have with the sacred. So first was union with the beloved. And she taught her followers that one knows the Beloved, when you turn into yourself, so when we turn inward, we are at the point where we meet the beloved or we meet the divine. And I have this lovely child who is now you know, we're meeting the beloved together.

Erin Thomas  21:54  
You are Yeah, I want to share a little bit of her Chelsea has given us a couple of quotes. I want to share those with you guys. One of the quotes is, God is God. She said for this, I love God, not because of any gifts, but for itself. And so I've just been blown away by her poetry in general and her poems that are attributed to her talk about this union is just beautiful. One of her writings goes on to say, oh, Lord, if I worship you because of fear of hell, then burn me in hell. If I worship you, because I desire paradise, then exclude me from paradise. But if I worship you for yourself alone, then deny Me not your eternal beauty. Wow. Okay, so first of all, I'm nerding out as a writer. Can you sort of give us like a little bit of a semantic understanding of these, this poetry?

Chelsea Whipple  23:09  
Yeah, yeah. And, and I'm gonna say this, and I think this is probably a good point, you know, to kind of stop us because we're going to do two parts to Amma Rabi'a because she's amazingly beautiful. So and so we can soak her in for a whole week,

Erin Thomas  23:28  
and I really think it's going to be worth it you guys. I mean, we had thought about continuing on this episode, but there's so much rich content here. Specifically when it comes to Rabi'a. And her process of gratitude, and so we'll talk about that. But, Chels, I'm just interested in this poetry. I mean, this poetry just keeps coming up. Yeah. Was this just kind of her way of expressing was this sort of a contemplative practice for her?

Chelsea Whipple  24:01  
Yeah. And you know, because we've talked a little bit about, you know, and again, she's credited with with the Sufi teachings, and so the Sufi teachings of wanting just pure union, without the fear or hope and this poem completely wraps it up. You know, she did not want to dwell on beauty, nature. She didn't want to dwell on sadness. She just wanted this pure movement with her beloved, not this emotionless movement, right or to live in a world of black and white. She had no desires of anything that would kind of distract her to dwell on maybe like a beauty of a flower, which can kind of bring you closer to the Beloved and it's kind of like, okay, this brought me closer to the Beloved. So let me turn inwards and just dwell on the beloved and not dwell on the flower. So it was like anything that brought her closer to the beloved was, was kind of what her focus was. And she desired that it would not be her emotions that swung how she moved throughout the day, but a greater awareness that of all that surrounds her. So let's dwell on that. I'm gonna say it just one more time this dwell on that for a bit for this week, and kind of see how it moves you. And when we meet again, we'll rewind just a little bit to kind of pick up where we were. But she desired that it would not be her emotions that swung how she moves throughout the day. You know, so we see that in motherhood, mornings can be terrible. And we have to kind of reset our day. So to not be swung by the emotions. But a bit just having an awareness that surrounding you. You know, when the day when the mornings aren't going so well when you're late to everything, just having awareness of what's moving along inside of you and outside of you with you. And that's kind of where she was, that's what the point she wanted us to be at, is to just notice and be present to what's surround you. Not how it effects you?

Erin Thomas  26:17  
And I'm really interested in this. What seems like an internal pendulum friend, and I think there's a lot there. So giving that greater awareness for our challenge this week. Sounds like a really great option

Chelsea Whipple  26:36  
and we have just touched her so far. So we have so much more we get to dive deeper into next time.

Erin Thomas  26:44  
Absolutely. So thanks for joining us, and we will be back with part two, and telling you more about Amma, Rabi'a, 

Erin Thomas  26:53  
thank you again for joining us today on the contemplative motherhood podcast with us your host Erin Thomas and Chelsea Whipple

Chelsea Whipple  27:01  
to get regular updates on our podcast, hear new episode drops interact with us and find our show notes. Go to our website, www dot contemplative There you can also sign up for our newsletter.

Erin Thomas  27:15  
As always, we appreciate your support of this podcast and then helping us share our journey with others. We invite you to regularly check our blog. Our after show blog posts will allow you to dive deeper on the content shared on it. So if you enjoyed today's podcast make sure to subscribe rate and leave us a review. This helps us to cross paths with other pilgrim mamas across the board. Until next time

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