Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change cited the Bible, his predecessors in the Vatican and his namesake, Saint Francis of Assisi ... all his usual sources. But then came a mystical ninth century Sufi poet Ali al Khawas.
Of the 200-page papal letter, in the sixth chapter Francis writes that humanity can “discover God in all things.”
The pope writes: “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.”
In a footnote to that quote, al Khawas has been credited for the concept of nature’s “mystical meaning,” noting how the poet stressed “the need not to put too much distance between the creatures of the world and the interior experience of God.”
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The poet is then directly quoted: “The initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted.”
A professor of Islamic studies at the University of Michigan, Alexander Knysh said that the idea Pope Francis is drawing on in this passage is one that many have in Western literature.
Knysh says: “According to the idea, God actively and constantly reminds his servants about his immanent presence not just by means of various phenomena but also by various sounds and noises-rustling of leaves, thunder, rainfall.”
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It’s rare for a pope to cite a Sufi poet, but those who have known Francis since his days in Argentina say that it marks his own personal touch on the encyclical.
An Argentinian priest and theological advisor to the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development told Time: “He’s trying to foster ecumenical and interfaith dialogue about shared spirituality.”
“He’s inviting all human beings to transcend, to go out of themselves and therefore to improve the relationship that we have with our people, with the Earth, with God.”
This article originally appeared on Time
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