Sufi Talk The Rock 9 August 2020
Today marks Women’s Day in South Africa, which is remembered in the quote of Black women
petitioning against the Pass Laws being extended to them in 1956. The Pass Laws already
controlled the movement of men. But now that these laws were being extended to them, the women
protested: “You have struck the women, you have struck a rock.”
The image of the rock is of the solid, real, immovable thing; faith, truth, the one thing we can rely
on. Their truth was that the Pass Laws were too much. Their truth was a NO. The rock referred to
Table Mountain is about 600 million years old. And it has been worn slowly with crevasses made by
running water. The rock shows endurance.
In New Mexico, a rock cave was recently discovered, which was home to early mankind, for 22 000
years. For those people, the rock was their shelter.
As a child I played in the veld and made hideaways behind bushes and clusters of rock. The rock
was a protection of my solitude.
The Sufi confraternity prayer evokes God as “a rock in the weariness of life”. When we say this
prayer, we are reminded of the quality of the rock as our resting place and comfort, the immovable
and reliable source of consolation and our faith in God.
A question arose for me recently about The Rock.
It was when I was talking to an 18-year old girl, who was living without her parents during
lockdown – they are far away in Mozambique, and she was living in a flat with her cousin,
studying her schoolwork online, coping with the anxieties about the Covid pandemic; she
said she was comforted by her religion and relied on spiritual communion with God every
morning, for comfort. And so I reflected to her that her faith seemed to be like a rock to her
in this time.
And then the question arose in me, “Is she too young to know and have faith like a rock? Is it
presumptuous to assume such resources of faith in one so young?” Because really, faith is
laid down, worn away, re-layered, and built up, weathered by time and events, like the
streams running down Table Mountain, and our faith may become solid over time, or
eroded and crumbling under the assault of life. And perhaps she could cultivate her faith
over time into something solid.
Saint Augustine of Hippo said “Thou awakes us to delight in thy praises, for thou madest us for
thyself, and our heart is restless, until it repose in Thee.”
In this case, God is the rock.
The rock is also an opportunity for resting in an awareness of God.
But the rock is also a reference point – an aerial if you like – or a marker, for what is out there,
namely God’s universal energy.
My late husband Jake, loved to draw. When he was a young boy in Grade 2, he did a drawing of the
Biblical story of Jacob’s ladder. The story goes that Jacob was on his way from Beersheba to Haran,
his grandfather’s home area, to find a wife, and he stopped to rest for the night.
The drawing shows Jacob lying sleeping in the middle of what is now Palestine, outdoors, with his
head resting on a rock; and it also shows the ladder which Jacob saw in his dream, stretching from
earth to heaven, with angels coming and going up and down, and God at the top of the ladder. The
drawing earned a gold star for Jake, who was named after that Jacob in the Bible.
And years later I took a photograph of Jake sitting at the base of a climbing ladder by the waterfall
at Leopard’s Kloof in Betty’s Bay. Just recently, the photograph kept reminding me of the story of
Jacob. So one day I re-read the whole story, and what do you know, there is an important rock in
The Bible tells us that Jacob “came to a certain place and spent the night there, because the sun had
set; and he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head, and lay down in that place.
He had a dream, and behold, a ladder was set on the earth with its top reaching to heaven; and
behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And behold, the LORD stood above
it and said, “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac; the land on which
you lie, I will give it to you and to your descendants.” (Genesis 28:10-13.)
“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For
I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” (Genesis 28:14-15.)
The angels in the story represent messengers of God. Jacob was very awestruck to be so addressed
by God; and in the morning he took the stone he had used for a pillow, set it upright as a pillar,
anointed it with oil and called the place Beth-El, meaning place of God. He made a vow, that if God
would bring him home safely from his journey, give him food to eat and clothes to wear, he would
accept God as his Lord, and that the stone would represent God’s house. (Years later, on his way
home, he was instructed to make an altar there.)
This covenant or agreement with God, was a practical approach typical of the Israelite belief in God
at the time (according to writer Karen Armstrong, who describes this as accepting God if God works
The rock, like the stone marker left by Jacob, or the place where the altar is, is simply the reference
point or marker for where we settle to celebrate the divine presence. It is a place where the
presence of God can be experienced, like Jacob did in his dream.
In Hebrew the word shakan means ‘to dwell with’, or pitch one’s tent. The rabbinic word Shekinah
came to mean the God who is always present, no matter where we pitch our tent. And the rock or
settling place is only a point of reference, from where we as human (and divine) beings, experience
God, divine energy and divine light radiating into the world.
At this time, our Temple is our rock, and the energy that radiates from this place is generated by our
faith and our focus on Spirit when we gather together.