THE LAMP OF THE MESSAGE
A Journal for the International Community of Cherags
As Cherags we have before us a work every bit as difficult as did the first Cherags. The work is still in its infancy. But we are fast approaching the time when the work of the Universal Worship will begin to proliferate. This will be achieved by the longing for a concrete form and an independent structure; a Universel where we can create the atmosphere wherein the Message might be spread.
As a child grows steadily in the womb, not yet brought before the view of the world, so the Universal Worship has been growing in the minds of the last two generations of Cherags. Where Murshid’s first vision of the Universal Worship was the conception and the building of the Universel in France the birth of the physical expression of the Universal Worship, it is now before us to renew our commitment to refining and giving form to our sacred vision; to begin to dream on a grander scale.
Now is the time to begin to expect an emergence of a new Sacred Aesthetic and a new Sacred Tradition. We can begin to think on the designs for our alters and candleholders; our robes and altercloths and scriptures, the desire for which will help to bring them into manifestation; A manifestation unique to the vision of the Universal Worship. People have a great love and respect for art and craftsmanship and the level of importance of our work and the depth of commitment to our task is communicated to others through our attention or lack of attention to these issues. We need to begin looking at every detail of our presentation. While the central aspect of beauty and power is the Universal Worship itself, the physical presentation via our implements and environment is the frame which amplifies the viewer’s experience and understanding of the service. Thus these are issues of great importance which should not be treated lightly.
I think of the Traditions which have preceded us and how they have expressed their commitment and devotion through the great sacred art and architecture which are now the sites of pilgrimage to devotees from all over the world and I wonder to myself, “When will we, the custodians of the new Message, recognize the incredible privilege with which we are entrusted and our special and powerful position in history to help to unfold and give form to the Light of Truth here in our own time, our own generation?”
How can we go about it to move the Universal Worship out of our homes and into a Universel which none of us can afford to build? How can we afford the incredible expense in time and money and commitment to see such a project through and to maintain it? I suppose a better question is, “How can we afford not to?” When we look at all of the churches around us we have to ask ourselves, “How can they build a church and we cannot?” True, that it is easy to build a church when there is a set organization and large congregations and it is a church that is tried and true, everyone can understand it and the minister thinks nothing of it to build a church because a thousand others just like it already have been build and have been successful. The minister expects to build a church and there is no question about it.
We, on the other hand, are presenting a new idea though its truth is ancient and eternal, one which has not yet taken hold nor has it been proven by the test of time which so many people require. One which is not fully understood even by us who are advancing it. There is no big organization to back us up, no huge congregations to fund our project, no history of numberless churches already built to give us confidence of success. Like artists we must reinvent the world anew, start from scratch, carefully imagine and design every detail of this future church and at the same time overcome the pitfalls and shortcomings that have beset the message in previous times. What a task! As murshid has said,”We must each have the courage of a thousand priests.”
So where do we begin? How do we go about the work of bringing concreteness and physical form to Universels in our various communities?
Firstly there must be the desire, the longing in our hearts to see our beautiful service presented in a space designed and dedicated exclusively to the Universal Worship and such activities as are conducive to our work in the communities where we live.
Secondly we can begin to consider the objects used in the presentation of the service; envisioning what shapes and materials they are to be and to look around our communities for such artists and craftsmen who can create those items for us if we are not suited to the task. When we are envisioning we need not concern ourselves with the limitations of our finances, Visualization is free so dream on a grand if that is your vision. It is better to think big and settle for a little less than to think small and accomplish nothing. Talk around town to these people about your ideas all the while identifying yourself as a minister. In this way you will be impressing upon your self the position that you have been entrusted with. Little by little you will feel perfectly confident in identifying yourself as a minister and this will be a great benefit at later stages.
Third, go down to your local city planning office and find out what the regulations for building a Universel (or as it is referred to by the city planning office, a place of worship) as if you are about to build one. Again this part of the process is free. It cost nothing to do this research. Often the zoning restrictions are less stringent than for other commercial buildings. Doing this will help to make the idea more and more real as you engage yourself in the process. You may even find that it becomes conceivable that a Universel might be built. Taken as a whole the process is quite overwhelming. But when we take each step, one at a time, it starts to seem more and more possible. Think of the building of a Universel as a lifetime project and wait on God’s time; when the Harmony is right yet, prepare for that time to come.
Fourth, establish the Universal Worship as a non-profit organization in your city so that income is tax-exempt and donations tax deducible.
Fifth, open an account at the bank under the Universal Worship and start a Universel Building Fund then, when those who are waiting to contribute to such a project as yours find you, you will have already established a fund. This way people will take you more seriously. In addition, you may even begin to realize that you are raising money for the sacred cause that we represent and have been entrusted to unfold rather than feeling that you are canvasing people for your own pet project. When we have come to this realization our work will attract those who will help us to fulfil our mission.
Sixth, build a little model or have architectural drawings make of your dream Universel so that others can dream your dream with you. This becomes a physical form of prayer.
Seventh, take a long hard look at who is coming to your services. If you are only drawing in initiates from the local Sufi Center then figure out ways to draw more people from the general public. This is, after all, the purpose of the Universal Worship and the Church of All, “To gather together the followers of different religions in the understanding of the one truth behind them.” We need to consider this purpose which is our work. Broadening our vision to include all of humanity and thus avoiding sectarianism and the tendency toward exclusiveness is at the very root of our work. Run ads in your local newspaper, put out flyers and notice where around town you are avoiding to go. Offer the service in the poor and ethnically diverse parts of town. Find places that you can occasionally rent to hold services. If you are only able to hold services once in a while, make an event out of it with a pot-luck dinner in a rented hall and offer the service when people are inclined to go to church like Christmas or Easter or the change of the seasons. Look for opportunities to sponsor other’s events like sacred music concerts or inter- religious workshops. There are many things which can be done to make the Universal Worship more widely known. Our work is not merely to serve the community of Sufi initiates. If this is all that we are doing then we have not embraced the full scope of our mission; of our work. What a shame it would be if we withheld the Message from our communities only because we are afraid to present it publicly. And if we do not present it publicly then how will anybody benefit from our work?
Eighth as you build a congregation around the Universal Worship. begin to offer workshops or bar-b-ques or something as fundraisers for the Universel Fund.Include everyone in your congregation in helping to raise money and to spread the word about the Universel , this creates community spirit which is sadly lacking in most places.
All of these steps help to create the foundation for the Universel and will inspire the desire to continue forward. Then you will be well on your way to building a physical structure, a Universel for the Divine Message of Love, Harmony and Beauty. If you are so lucky as to have other Cherags in your city, state, or region, start a formal association among yourselves and meet on a regular basis to discuss your schedules and dreams and work together toward a common goal. Draw on the diversity of resources that you all hold jointly and each work according to his/her talents to the benefit of the whole. You can be sure that if several Cherags can develop a strong bond of mutual support and respect something big is going to happen!
Rev. Hamid Cecil Touchon