Friday, April 07, 2006

Shams and Shekhinah

The memory of you makes my heart pound

And my eyes cry tears of blood,

Until, again, I am calm at the sound of your name.

From all but you I shy away; for you alone I'm tame.

#860: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Yesterday I mentioned Christian and Jewish gnosticism in the context of the name of a feminine deity. Sophia is the name often found in the Christian forms of gnosticism but in the Jewish the name is Shekhinah, which stands for a feminine spirit of presence and in-dwelling, a separate concept to God as transcendent being. The Shekhinah is the experience of God's presence and it often comes in the form of a blinding light.

As the Jews dispersed further, sightings occurred in Italy, Spain, Germany, Poland, Russia - in every town where Jews lived. Shekhina comforted the sick, the poor, the suffering, and had a particular concern for repentant sinners "These are accepted by the Shekhina as if they were righteous and pious persons who never sinned. They are carried aloft and seated next to the Shekhina...he whose heart is broken and whose spirit is low, and whose mouth rarely utters a word, the Shekhina walks with him every day...".

The paradox of dwelling in one place, and being in various places and with many people at the same time, had to be resolved. The Talmud reconciled the two ideas beautifully in a well-known anecdote. "The Emperor said to Raban Gamaliel: 'You say that wherever ten men are assembled, the Shekhina dwells among them. How many Shekhinas are there?' Thereupon Raban Gamaliel beckoned a servant and began to beat him, saying: 'Why did you let the sun enter the Emperor's house?' 'Have you gone mad?' said the Emperor, surprised at the violence of the usually gentle Raban Gamaliel, 'the sun shines all over the world!' 'If the sun,' answered Gamaliel 'which is only one of a thousand myriad servants of God, shines all over the world, how much more so the Shekhina of God!'"

Ilil Arbel: Shekhina

In today's quatrain, Rumi refers again to a name, this time one that calms him down. This idea resonates very strongly with this Jewish Shekhinah who accompanies those "whose heart is broken and whose spirit is low", just as Rumi describes himself in the first two lines. It is probable, however, that the name in question is that of Shams or "the Sun" in Persian. One is then tempted to ask: Just how many names are there? Just as the Shekhina can shine Her light on many many people throughout the world, so God's light can shine through many many names, making Shams and Shekhinah identical.

This is the mystery behind the single-mindedness of love. Each lover sees a different beloved, each lover uses a different name. The very uniqueness of the beloved is essential because it matches the uniqueness of the lover. And yet, at bottom, love, God, Shams, Shekhinah, these all point to one experience of wholeness or completeness or atonement ... and the words can multiply ad infinitum.


Shekhinah candelabra @



At Saturday, 08 April, 2006, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

Nicely said.

At Sunday, 09 April, 2006, Blogger Arizona said...


At Friday, 28 April, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a gifted and beautiful soul with so much insight. I stumbled apon you when i googled the word quinta Essentia.

thank you for sharing and dedicating yourself like you have. your have inspired me.


At Friday, 28 April, 2006, Blogger Arizona said...

Thank you, Zeliha, for your kind words. It's the occasional reader like yourself that keeps me inspired.


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