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Sitting With Sufis: A Christian Experience of Learning Sufism (Many Mansions) Paperback – March 1, 2005

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Christian author of A Baptist Among the Jews continues her walk through the Abrahamic religious traditions with this spiritual memoir of her introduction to and practice of Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam. Sufism in America is known to many through the poetry of Rumi, and Howe's experience reflects this; she quotes the popular poet frequently as she tells her own story, which begins with a retreat in Texas that introduced her to Sufism's prayers and rituals. Her narrative paints Sufism in lively action, including the whirling ecstatic dance known as sema and the repetitive chanting prayer known as zhikr. Howe says her Christian journey began at a point of "spiritual rigidity" but evolved to make room for ritual and mystery, which she found first in Judaism and subsequently in devotional Sufism. The insights and practices she has learned in these traditions that are related to Christianity serve to deepen and intensify her relationship with God. Those curious about the content, history or structure of Sufism and its many sects will need another book that more specifically addresses Sufi beliefs and practices. However, those seeking to affirm the universalism of core teachings of different religions, and those drawn to the mystical religious path, will welcome this small memoir. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

Equal-opportunity believer Howe thinks there are many truths. She regularly attends Christian services, observing the religion of her family and childhood, but she also attends prayer services at a local synagogue. Indeed, Judaism, which she fell in love with as an adult, is her religion of choice. Further complicating things, she has a Sufi spiritual teacher, who guides her into the deeper mysteries of faith. Her journey into Sufism began when, pursuing a degree in philosophy and anthropology, she took a class on Neoplatonism, with its belief in mystical union. Thereafter she attended a Sufi retreat in Austin, Texas; read about Sufism and its rituals; and grew to admire and respect its expansive nature and worldwide embrace. She finds no contradiction among her choices, feels no tension when new information challenges current beliefs. Rather, she sees her various expressions of spirituality as complementary. Howe's very personal spiritual memoir, a lovely read, is evidence that a lived spiritual pluralism, if not for everyone, can work, given an open mind and an open heart. June Sawyers
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Series: Many Mansions
  • Paperback: 124 pages
  • Publisher: Paraclete Pr (March 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 155725415X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1557254153
  • Product Dimensions: 6.6 x 0.4 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,191,732 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful By Stephen Triesch on May 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
"Sitting with Sufis" provides a brief (109 pages) account of Mary Blye Howe's journey from fundamentalist Christianity to the syncretistic Sufism of Hazrat Inayat Khan's "Sufi Order of the West." Khan's Sufism is broad enough to allow Howe to retain elements of her Christian belief along with bits and pieces of Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism.

However, as the title indicates, this book is primarily about Howe's introduction to Sufism, specifically the Sufi practices of zikr (group chanting of the "Names of God"), sema (the ecstatic whirling dances usually associated with the Mevlevi Sufi Order), and sohbet (the informal spiritual discourses of a Sufi master in the presence of his disciples). This is not a "how to" book, and the treatment of these topics is largely anecdotal.

Those already familiar with Sufism will find little that is new here, other than the details of Howe's personal quest. But this quest is described in rather sketchy form and lacks the romanticism and drama of the accounts written by Reshad Feild and O. M. Burk. Howe's approach is unapologetically "gushy," and readers of a more reserved, intellectual bent will possibly find themselves slightly put-off by her enthusiasms. Paradoxically, despite her gushiness, I found her writing style to be rather flat and boring.

Readers new to Sufism should be aware that Howe's brand of Sufism is an atypical, highly-Westernized and syncretistic form of Sufism with an almost New Age quality. (Howe briefly describes a visit to an unnamed traditional Islamic Sufi order; put-off by its "sexist" attitudes, she never went back.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By grace is enough on March 19, 2009
Format: Paperback
I am by no means an expert on Sufism, but I found this "journal" of one woman's quest to know and love God on another level well written, easy to read and enchanting. This encouraged me on my own journey to know and understand other faiths and paths to our amazing God.
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