From the Back Cover
The Reflective Heart is about the ways we gradually discover the deeper significance of all the familiar elements of our everyday life—not just those memorable moments we ordinarily view as “spiritual”. Spiritual intelligence—the illuminating interplay of our uniquely individual experience, reflection, and practice—is at the heart of every world religious tradition, and Ibn ‘Arabi is renowned for his ability to communicate the unfolding dimensions of this fundamental human task. His Meccan Illuminations provide a powerful spiritual mirror for each reader’s own experiences, while highlighting those larger perspectives that ultimately give meaning and direction to our life. In this compelling and insightful book, James Morris takes us to the spiritual core of the Islamic tradition, as we come to see the heart as the meeting ground between the Divine and that which is most human in all of us. Here the heart reveals itself as a dynamic and transformative faculty, where the discovery of one’s own true self is wed to the intimate knowing of God. ~ Omid Safi, colgate university No one surpasses James Morris in his ability to make the most sublime and esoteric subjects intelligible and practicable. Among the many gifts of this book is that it highlights for our own time the urgent need for spiritual discernment.
~ Kabir Helminski, threshold society In The Reflective Heart, James Morris provides numerous keys for those who would like to open up their hearts to the vast panorama of spiritual instruction provided by al-Shaykh al-Akbar, “the Greatest Master.” No other book demonstrates so clearly the universality of Ibn Arabi’s concerns and their contemporary applicability. A must- read for every serious seeker. ~ William Chittick, suny, stony brook One of the great merits of this book is the way in which this spiritual journey, described with such compelling power through the illuminations granted to Ibn ‘Arabi, is made real for all of us. This work is the fruit of a remarkable synthesis between scholarly erudition of the highest calibre and a fundamental orientation towards the spiritual import of Ibn ‘Arabi’s teachings, engaging both the academic and the mystic, the scholar and the seeker.
Morris is one of the foremost scholarly interpreters of al-Shaykh al-Akbar, “the Greatest Master,” working in the English language. Along with Chittick whose own interpretations of the Meccan Illuminations is slowly revolutionizing the philosophical contexts for a traditional and intracultural appreciation of Sufi metaphysics and epistemology. Morris’s study consists of five interconnected essays on central themes of the Meccan openings. The intricate and deeply interconnected writings of Ibn Al Arabi requires from interpreters an almost sublime tact and careful attention to detail and subtle variation in language and tone. Morris is well qualified to speak to these matters and the result is a volume not only of scholarly depth and purpose but also an invitation to spiritual and illuminative understanding which is tightly mirrored in an intellectual and emotional congruence, a visionary appreciation illuminated by simple gnosis, an intuitive apperception and a cognitive leap toward ungraspable wholeness. Such is the implications of the reflective heart as a process of spiritual intelligence. The first essay addresses journeying, reviewing the Quranic context which is always Shaykh Al Akbar’s background text and source of illuminative travel. Ibn Al Arabi was a traveler who restlessly made pilgrimage from the West to the East for nearly 20 years before finally settling down in Damascus. In this travel we have the archetype of the ascent towards the divine but also of the divine guidance in the happenstance of the road. On the one hand we have in horizontal axis deployed on the level of our individual experience of linear time and inner and outer movement, here the individual soul’s inner life is detailed with loving attention as in many classic sufi writings and poetry of stations along a common path of the pilgrimage caravan. However Ibn Arabi also constantly evokes a vertical dimension of our spiritual travel the imagery inspired by the hadith on the Prophet’s ascension and night journey in which Ibn Arabi’s focus is on metaphysical transformation and elevation of perspective that takes place as the voyager’s focus of identity shifts from the lower outer directed soul (and it’s taken for granted worlds of society, space and time), through radically different planes of imagination and absolute spirit, toward its paradoxical reunion with the divine beloved. Morris reminds us that the Futuhat can be viewed as an ever more detailed examination of these two contrasting, yet always simultaneous, perspectives on this single maturing of the soul.
The next essay evokes a listening in its contemplative nature of purifying the heart, where the heart is what holds living paradoxes and reconciliation and wonderment. Such purification is necessary for all real, effective worship and devotion. Listening is an active passivity that allows the divine meanings to be revealed while also allowing self-assertion to move towards an eclipse and rest in alert attending to the divine audition.
From the movement of the lore of divine reality where the soul awakens to the deeper meanings of the recitations and prayers, in the third essay on seeing, Morris evokes the theophanic imagination where all of reality opens to the mystic a revelation of divine purpose. “Everywhere I turn, I see His face!” Here nothing in human experience, when seen with the eye and heart of gnosis, is other than divine revelation. From the greatest degradation to the most sublime bliss all are signs and wonders of the divine presence in the world now. In the fourth essay, Morris explorers how to discern and integrate the unitive vision of the divine without falsely inflating the self or miscasting the divine as a bad actor. However discernment is an eschatological appreciation of the mystery and end of existence whose root is more in the timeless than in the end of time and whose reach is more in the peace and unity of the divine-human actor’s heart, than it is in the effort of the human discernment and creative play. In the fifth and last essay, Morris deals with returning, that the divine vision is always never complete until the human has returned to the human world of serventhoof to fully appreciate and celebrate, freely and openly the wonder and joy, but most of all, the secret of divine unity and revelation.
This whole process is for Morris the nature of spiritual intelligence, a spiritual intelligence that though designed for and within the Islamic revelation, also sings to all men and women of faith and gnosis the profound reality of divine presence in this life in our hearts. In following Ibn Arabi’s own account of the natural order of spiritual development Morris begins with the initial stages as the spiritual quest in journeying culminating — through grace — in the attainment of the contemplative quietude and peace. At that point, the purification of the heart begins to focus on the active refinement of our inner spiritual listening and inspiration. Then that awakening love and inspired awareness of the divine beauty, the fruit of effective spiritual listening, needs to be transformed through spiritual seeing and inspired insight into our uniquely personal, creative manifestations of right and beautiful action — that active culmination of spiritual life eventually leading to the realization of the beatific vision of God. Yet that active, realized discernment of all the dimensions of spiritual communication and creativity, Ibn Arabi insists — echoing all those prophets and messengers who are their own guides — turns out to be not the end of the soul’s journeying, but the opening up of further, even wider responsibilities and challenges. Finally, as always with Ibn Arabi, that realized awareness of our wider spiritual responsibility, of our intrinsically human servanthood, culminates in our growing recognition of the inner meanings of the eschatological symbolism of the Islamic tradition: of that garden, he insists, which is already visibly present in each theophanic reflection of the polished heart, and each act of the divine shadowplay of our existence. In this cyclical perspective each of these developments leads naturally to the next, and — here on earth, at least — we are always unavoidably caught up in each of these facets of that journey.
At the same time, though Ibn Arabi also persistently emphasizes that this more visible cycle of spiritual intelligence is also ultimately — or at least potentially — one of ascension. Thus each of these essays also traces, for its chosen theme, Ibn Arabi’s careful elaboration of the slowly unfolding revelation of ever larger cycles of responsibility, right action and spiritual vision, already typified and concretely symbolized in the spiraling ascension — and epochal returning — of the prophet’s own archetypal night journey. And here again, in Arabi’s distinctive language constantly challenges his readers to relate that initially theoretical elevation to their own unique journey of discovery. Morris has provided in these essays a profound series of keys for unlocking the central themes of the Futuhat. One last aspect of Morris’s study is his appreciation of how Ibn Arabi’s language shows a deep appreciation of the natural world and the human condition within it. First because Ibn Arabi’s language itself arises out of such an extraordinary penetrating and revealing awareness of the deeper structures and meanings of the Koran and the hadith, it turns out to provide constantly illuminating keys to understanding and appreciating the inspirations, forms and intentions of a vast range of Masterworks — and not simply in poetry and literature — by the greatest creative figures throughout all the related fields of the Islamic humanities, who were themselves shaped and inspired by the lifelong penetration of those same scriptural sources. The perspectives and principles involved here are equally central an indispensable for informed appreciation of those artistic and spiritual masterpieces, and for any lasting effective and spiritually grounded revival or reconstruction of all fundamental Islamic thought. Next spiritual intelligence is of course something that is only learned by practice. In the traditional language of the Sufi patterns, this basic reality was expressed above all in the untranslatable expression, subha, referring to each seeker’s indispensable “learning through companionship” with a spiritual guide or master. So readers of these essays, without even focusing explicitly on those underlying literary, analytical and structural (indeed even political) mentions of the following discussions, should find — like so many earlier students of al-Shaykh al-Akbar– that the effects of in Arabi’s lessons and insights do carry over into an ever deepening appreciation and more penetrating understanding of cognate literatures, as well as other forms of spiritual communication, from any and all of the world’s great religious and civilizational traditions.