Images by Hawkinson Photography
It is exciting for many to think of the Creator as the One Who Exalts; at the end of our mortal toil, there is the thrilling promise of being lifted into a well-deserved existence in Paradise where all desires, hopes, and dreams are crystallized and those who abused us in this life will be utterly flummoxed to see the star-filled creatures we’ve become. This sits in my mind next to the “You just wait until my dad gets home”-system of dealing with bullies, and something feels to be missing.
Human beings may give awards and rewards to each other, lands and titles, even fantastic prizes, but these are all fleeting. In weeks or months, sometimes years, all of this either disappears or the receiver is no longer around to enjoy it. By contrast, the gifts of elevation coming from a Divine source burn the receiver’s heart and change him or her forever; all future experience is informed through the lens of these mystical transformations, and the change is forever bonded with the receiver’s soul. The Admonition of Paul (Philippians 4:8), I think, is the guide for the right frame of mind. But there is also, I believe, a simpler key.
The small brown item seen through the glass is a Turbah. The Turbah is a small clay disc Shi’a Muslims use in their daily prayers. It is not a relic or icon by any means, simply a tool to help a worshiper remember the true path to exaltation. This clay disc is made with a bit of dirt from Karbala, and represents the dust of the earth. During the worshiper’s prayers the forehead is touched on this small clay disc to remind the believer of his or her commitment to utter humility at the feet of the Divine. “What can show more humility than our prostration in prayer?” one Shi’a friend told me, “and touching the forehead to the dust of the earth, held in this Turbah, reminds me of how truly humble I am in front of our Creator.” The Turbah in this particular sculpture was given to me by my friend’s wife; she told me this seemed a completely appropriate use.
Three sides of the structure are made of 25 glass tiles, etched and painted with several floral designs. Many times our intentions to keep a prayer in our hearts, or to keep other spiritual commitments, are diluted or redirected because of distractions and, well, the business of ordinary living. The world is a truly amazing place filled with diversity and diversions, and one of the greatest struggles we have is to remember to keep our connection with Deity open. I don’t mean praying every waking moment, going to mass all the time, or even reading from scripture as our only source of activity, but I’m reminded of what a Sunni Imam told me. “God is very pleased indeed with those who memorize His word, as in the Qur’an. He is most pleased indeed with those who have it written in their hearts.” The life committed to humble prayer is shown by the examples of people like Jesus, Mother Teresa, and Gandhi, not because of visible and repeated prostrations, but because their very lives were prayerful, and their prayers were inscribed in their hearts.
The dome of the structure is carved with a star, and etched with lines to suggest the dome of Heaven – regardless of how far we travel or where we live, all of us are under the same sheltering heavens, and live within the world our Creator made just for us. And the rear of the structure is etched and painted with richly stylized acanthus leaves, to remind us of the promise of Paradise. This Name helps me reflect on the concept that to reach full realization of the purpose for our creation, and to receive the richness of blessings promised to the faithful – to be elevated above all mortal creatures – to receive this fullness, we must be entirely, thoroughly, completely humble, and give our heart utterly to the Being who gave it first to us.