Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More


Oudekraal Kramat, Cape Town, South Africa

February 19, 2015

This essay, Wuudhu, is the companion piece to Laurence Platt Intersections.

It is also the thirteenth in a group of twenty reflections of God: It is also the second in a group of four written in Cape Town, February 2015:
  1. South Africa Leadership
  2. Wuudhu
  3. Rite De Passage
  4. The Girl Who Became A Tree
in that order.

It is also the sequel to Sheikh Noorul Mubeen.

The group of four written in Cape Town, February 2015 is the sequel to In The Space Of Possibility, and is also the prequel to Completing Cape Town, February 2015.

I am indebted to Mogammad Abrahams and to Ismail Rhode who inspired this conversation.

What do passports, green cards, and the world's three great religions have in common? My answer is I embrace more than one of each.

I'm a dual national. I hold two passports: one is British, the other is American. I was born in England which qualifies me for the former. I'm a naturalized citizen of the United States which qualifies me for the latter.

I might not be the only dual national you know. But I'm probably the only guy you know who's held five green cards from five different countries. I say "who's held" rather than "who holds" because a green card typically expires if, once granted, its holder doesn't maintain continuous residence in the issuing country. That said, I've lived and worked in these five countries long enough to qualify for their green card: England, South Africa, France, New Zealand, and the United States.

And now, after an experience I had during this visit to Cape Town, February 2015, I embrace all three of the world's great religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

This is what I mean by that:

I was born a Jew (which is to say I was born into a Jewish family) and completed the rite de passage  into manhood, my Bar Mitzvah, at thirteen years old in the "Manystairs" synagogue in Wynberg, Cape Town, South Africa, in which I embraced the spirit of Judaism. Bar Mitzvah is a vehicle of initiation into the spirit of Judaism. Nearly thirty years later I fulfilled a ten year intention and received baptism by full immersion in the Merced River in the Yosemite Valley, California, USA, under the sheer granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome, in which I embraced the presence of Jesus Christ in my life - which is to say I embraced the spirit of Christianity while embracing the spirit of Judaism. Baptism is a vehicle of initiation into the spirit of Christianity. Now, twenty years later at the Oudekraal kramat  ie at the Oudekraal mosque  in Cape Town, South Africa, I received Wuudhu  in which I embraced the spirit of Islam while embracing the spirit of Judaism and while embracing the spirit of Christianity. Wuudhu (pronounced "would do", as in "I would do  anything for you", and meaning ablution)  is a vehicle of initiation into the spirit of Islam.

Here's what happened at the Oudekraal kramat:

The drive heading south along the west coast of the Cape Peninsula leaving Cape Town, has the sheer Twelve Apostles  mountain range on your left, and the breaking waves of the Atlantic Ocean crashing onto massive boulders on your right. To call this vista magnificent  is to woefully understate it. There's a place along this road I always make time to visit when I'm in the area. It's the Oudekraal kramat which is accessed via a short hike up the mountain along a path which is barely visible from the road. It's a tiny, white-washed building which is one of the many kramats central to the Muslim faith in Cape Town. For me it's a place of peace. I go there for reflection. I go there for meditation. The vibes  there (to borrow a colloquially hip term) are really quite lovely. So I'm sitting here, being with myself, quietly, when the door opens and two hadjis  (pilgrims) come in. It's really their place. So I stand up to leave, saying "I'm so sorry, I'll be going now.". But they say "No, it's OK, please stay while we pray.". So I stay. And I sit. And reflect. And meditate. And they pray. And when they're finished praying, they tell me why they came here. It's a story you may find hard to believe. But I'll relay it anyway without judgement, and I invite you to suspend disbelief as you listen.

They tell me they were driving along the coast road at the bottom of the path, with no plans to hike up to the kramat, when they heard the Imam  calling them to come. The Imam is the holy man, the Muslim leader who's been deceased for about three hundred years, whose presence is the central focus in the kramat. They tell me they each individually heard him calling them to come, and then they turned to each other and confirmed they'd both heard him call them. They tell me the Imam told them there's someone they must come and meet in the kramat. That someone, it turns out, was me.

Outside the kramat, a tiny rivulet which meanders down from the mountain, has been lovingly and carefully diverted to a bricked pool, as it's regarded as holy water. They offer me the gift of Wuudhu. I'm taken aback. It's a privilege. I accept. I embrace their offer. No, it's more than that. It's waaay  more. It's I'm moved by it. It touches me deeply.

They ask me to sit with them at the edge of the pool and remove my socks (I'd already removed my boots before walking into the kramat). One of them washes my feet ("... so you walk in purity ..."). He washes my hands ("... so you touch purity ..."). He washes my eyes ("... so you see purity ..."). He washes my ears ("... so you hear purity ..."). He washes my nose ("... so you breathe purity ..."). He washes my mouth ("... so you speak purity ..."). He washes my head and face ("... so you think and live purity ..."). Then he gives me a name. "Your name" he tells me "is Eisa.". It means "God is salvation". It's an Arabic name for Jesus (it's actually the second  Muslim name I've been given: years earlier at the same kramat, I was given the name Elijah  which I thought was pretty remarkable since my Jewish name is Eleazer  which is Elijah in Hebrew). We then walk back into the kramat where they speak of their religion in kind, loving, reverend terms which I can totally get. They take nothing from me. They ask nothing of me. They simply open their hearts and share themselves with me.

I've experienced similar conversations before. Where people of faith in the world's three great religions come from, is their relationship with God. Yet what they often stay stuck in (in spite of their very best intentions) is their entrenched beliefs. In these conversations, what I give them back is language - in other words, what I keep giving them is that which is constituted in language  ie that which comes from who we really are as our speaking. When they give me Moses, I get Moses, and I give them back Werner ie I give them the space, and maybe the name but never gratuitously. When they give me Jesus Christ, I get Jesus Christ, and I give them back Werner ie the space, and maybe the name but never gratuitously. When they give me Muhammad, I get Muhammad, and I give them back Werner ie the space, and maybe the name but never gratuitously. And they all give me God - which at first sounds like there's three different versions of God. No, they're really all giving me the same God only they're each speaking God in their slightly different terms coming from their own unique point of view.

In the face of such exchanges, something truly beautiful happens: there's an opportunity for total openness, there's an opportunity for total freedom to express and to be listened, there's an opportunity to experience loving and being loved. It's the human connection  which is at the heart of all the world's religions. Relating to yourself as your speaking (and as your listening) and relating to others as their speaking (and as their listening) provides the common ground all the world's religions purport to deliver.

Clearly there's one experience all the world's religions indeed have in common. It's the same one experience all the sects and all the denominations within each of the world's religions have in common. I'll bet you good money that what this common experience is, is the context ie the platform  for revealing and bringing forth language as who we really are. Here I mean language like the Greek logos  ie language which has the power expressed best by John's "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.". And if it isn't couched in exactly those terms these days, I'll bet you good money that was the common experience each of the founders of the world's religions had ... until, as a result of layers upon layers of interpretations upon interpretations over the centuries, it simply got so diluted that their original divine experiences are now obfuscated by our beliefs in and by our interpretations of our religions which by now have almost totally sidelined distinguishing direct experience altogether.

That's not a trivial assertion to make. So it may require sitting with it in your lap like a hot brick and allowing it to sink in. If the goal of each of the the world's religions, is to facilitate our relationship with God (and from where I stand and look, they sure seem to have that in mind), then those holy men and women who are most successful in bringing forth the possibility of our relationship with God, are those who have sought and found out how to speak the experience of it, into existence for all of us.

And that's what happened at the Oudekraal kramat.

For me, the full impact of their moving gift of Wuudhu, of ablution, of cleansing, of purification, translates directly into our inquiring into, into our examining of, and into our cleaning up of our own epistemology and of our own belief systems so that who we really are as our speaking, can be fully expressed, and can be cleanly and clearly and decisively differentiated from whatever else (like our righteousness and our divisive religious prejudices) we human beings naïvely consider ourselves to be. Being who we really are as our speaking, is, I assert, a powerful, profound, and authentic access to walking with God for devotees of any of the world's religions.

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