Every evening the pilgrims of Starr King have participated in Zikr, led by Baba Ibrahim Farajaje, his son Issa, and the worship leaders and musicians who have been an integral part of the immersion experience. The Zikr is a liturgical experience that is both structured and free form; framed by certain phrases and prayers in Arabic, but allowing for participation from the gathered. Last night, the Zikr began by singing Ma Tovu, which was a song created by the Starr King Pilgrims, and we quickly moved into chanting, prayers and singing. Within about the first half hour, a young man rose to his feet, bowed to ask permission of the sheik (spiritual leader) and then, began to whirl. Earlier that day we had a lesson in how dervishes turn. We first began with the feet, and then gradually added the arms : one palm up to receive God and one down pointed towards the earth, and in this way, heaven and earth are brought together in the dervish's whirling. As the rhythm began growing in intensity, so did the man's whirling.
Then, we were joined by three drummers, who raised the energy of the Zikr to a new level. This time, Tarif, the teacher who that morning had patiently endured our clumsy attempts to turn, rose. He was dressed in the costume of the dervish; a tall felt hat symbolizing one's headstone; the long white skirt that represents one's shroud. the spiritual practice of Sema points to the death of the self and union with God. He too bowed and asked permission of the sheik to turn. The drumming was ecstatic , resounding both with the pulse in our veins and the ever present beat of our hearts. Tarif began to turn, slowly at first, his long white skirt fanning out around him. Then, his arms unfolded like a flower, and the whirling became so fast that he became a blur. Everything came together in that moment; the music, chanting, singing, prayers and whirling dervishes.
My rational mind wanted to step back and analyze the experience; but another part just wanted to simply relax and enjoy the moment of being swept up in a rhythms of the drumming and chanting. We left the Zikr about midnight, just as it had begun to wind down; feeling tired and exhilarated all at the same time. Each night is a unique and unforgettable experience; one steeped in devotional practice instead of academic study of Sufism.
We are told that each night builds in intensity as we approach December 17, Sebis-Arus, the climactic day of this pilgrimage week, the day that Mevlana Rumi went to union with God in death. We can hardly wait.