Despite Ourself: A Commentary on Ibn Ata’illah’s Hikam # 8

Despite Ourself:
“If He opens a door for you, thereby making Himself known, pay no heed if your deeds do not measure up to this. For, in truth, He has not opened it for you but out of a desire to make Himself known to you. Do you not know that He is the one who presented the knowledge of Himself (ta’arruf) to you, whereas you are the one who presented Him with deeds? What a difference between wha…t He brings to you and what you present to him!”
~Ibn Ata’illah al-Iskandariya Hikam #8

Too often do we, as seekers on a Spiritual Path wishing and willing to attain Nearness (qurb) to God, rely upon the ‘dead-weight’ of our deeds which we believe is the reason why we ‘feel’ a Nearness to God at this point in our lives, as opposed to another time and place when we were perhpas not as ‘righteous’, ‘good’ or even as ‘attained’ as we perceive ourselves to be now.
Yet it is too often that we fail to realize that despite ourselves, that during a given moment in our lives, God “opened a door” for us and made His grace and Mercy known to us and we responded ‘in kind’ with ‘good deeds’ and actions in thankfulness. Thinking that it was our “good deeds” that got us ‘here’, we are oblivious to the reality that there is an immeasurable gulf between our insignificant efforts and the immensity of God’s Eternal ‘Calling’ and Infinite ‘Response’. For it is very ‘easy’ for God to Be with us because of who He Is, yet it is very ‘difficult’ for us to be with God, because of who we have become.
Although our effort is on one level indispensible and even essential on our Path to realizing God’s Nearness to us, it is ultimately and forever insufficient. One’s will (irada)–along with one’s intelligence and character–must be utiilized and integrated into a higher unity (tawhid) of Being through God’s Revealed Remembrance, but when one’s will is too heavily emphasized, it tends to create an egoic tendency of ‘selfish reliance’. This kind of ‘reliance on deeds’ creates a veil between ourself and our Lord–a veil of reliance on our ‘good deeds’ and a veil of an excessive guilt created as a result of our ‘bad deeds’ which serves only to weigh down our lofty aspirations towards the Divine.
If we only really knew this, we would never be so attached to the perceived ‘fruit of our actions’–the good of them and the bad of them. Nor would we ‘rely’ on our own actions vis a vis God’s Will and “desire to make Himself known” to us at any given state of our spiritual moment–the good and the bad of these ‘states’. If we only really knew this, we would recognize the limited nature of our good and bad deeds. We would be ‘the son of the moment’ (ibn al waqt) and would “pay no heed if our deeds do not measure up” to God’s Mercy in the spiritual ‘Here’ and ‘Now’.
For it is despite ourselves and despite our ‘good’ deeds that God has Loved to make Himself Known to us. And it is despite ourselves and our ‘bad deeds that He Loves to Return to us.
If this is the case, and if we truly strive to recognize the insignificance of our limited actions and the immensity of the Divine Calling and Response, then how much easier is it to only focus on Remembering, Loving and Knowing God who is always Present, despite ourself!?

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