Body of Bliss, Body of Blessing

Posted today in the Library section (mainstream articles), an article that had been previously unavailable in digital form, but much requested.

Body of Bliss, Body of Blessing:

The Elemental Purification Breaths of Hazrat Inayat Khan and Their Relation

to the New Physiology and Ecology

Published in: Toward the One: A Journal of Unity (produced by the Federation of the Sufi Message); Volume Eight, Spring 2007, pp 29-35. Eugene, OR, USA. A consideration of the breathing practice of Hazrat Inayat Khan in light of current somatics research, holistic health and ecological principles.

Access the article here

Presence and Holy Wisdom – Sacred Sense

Dear Friends,

Here is an hour-long interview with Janet Conner from her show on Unity Radio last week. In it, I offer two body prayers and some commentary on her theme of the month: Sacred Presence. As you might expect, Holy Wisdom – Hokhmah- plays a large role as do the words of Jesus in Aramaic.

You will also be able to find this interview posted on our Abwoon podcast page in a few days.

All the best,


End of Year Greetings and News from Neil

Dear Friends of Abwoon,couldenmed

Greetings and blessings from Scotland, where Natalia and I again find ourselves at home preparing for today’s Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve). The light has begun to lengthen again, and although the weather has turned cold, we don’t face the types of temperatures that our latitude-neighbours in Moscow and Alaska do. At this time of year, the contrasts of light and darkness, sun and shadow lend themselves to going within. A solo spiritual retreat is calling in a few weeks’ time, and I know from my correspondence that many of you are able to take a similar opportunity during the winter months in the northern hemisphere.

For me, being on retreat is about discovering a different, usually slower, rhythm of awareness than I usually find possible in everyday life. Finding one’s way into and back from these altered states of awareness is something that becomes easier with practice. No amount of practice can command or induce states of grace or inspiration from the Only Being. However, one can prepare oneself to receive them. In this regard, the Aramaic word for “prayer” used by Jesus could really be translated as “making space for” the Holy One.

Practices continue to be useful throughout our spiritual life. One never grows out of them, no matter what “degree” of realisation one reaches. Yes, no one can take away the realisation we have achieved, but more or less of our being can forget it through self-satisfaction. The practices that we have inherited from all of our teachers are an invaluable gift for going within on retreat. Nothing is automatic or guaranteed. As the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart said, “the Path has no road that leads to it but is off any beaten path.” However, our connection to those walking ahead of us on the caravan provides a compass and an astrolabe when wandering in the unexplored wild places of the self. Spiritual practice strengthens that connection to the chain of guidance. Inspiration and vision confirms it.

After the personal retreat time in mid-January, I will be checking in with our Dervish Healing Order family at the annual gathering for initiates in early February led by Murshid Saul Barodofsky near Hamburg, Germany. This event, as well as the annual May open weekend at the same venue, provides an invaluable opportunity to re-connect with our ‘transmission’ family and receive some life-energy for future work.

As a follow up to Murshid Saul’s wonderful visit to Scotland in September of this year, Natalia and I will be leading a Dervish Healing Order weekend here at the same venue September 26-27 entitled “Heartfulness: Clearing and Strengthening the Inner Life.” That event, as well as the one in southern England at Othona in October focused on“Cycles of Life, Cycles of Wisdom,” are open to all. We will also be continuing with weekend two of the three-year healing series in the USA in late October.

Before then, we welcome Pir Shabda Kahn to Allanton Centre in the Scottish Borders February 12-15, where he and I will be sharing a weekend entitled “Becoming a Friend of the Friend” (after a saying by Jelaluddin Rumi). Murshid Tansen O’Donohoe and I will again be sharing three retreats in the UK next year: our annual Dances of Universal Peace and meditation weekend in Crewe in late February, the UK mureeds retreat near Oxford in late August, and an open workshop focused on Sufi music and zikr in Scotland in late November.

This year I will again be teaching the main class at the annual Sufi Ruhaniat European Summer School on the theme “In the Wild Places of Wisdom: Heart, Nature and Embodiment” from June 27 – July 4. For details, as well as audio downloads from past summer schools, go to

tasnimclose1 A highlight of the year will be co-leading a retreat with my dear friend Murshida Tasnim Fernandez in Madison, WI, USA November 6-8 on “The Root of the Root: Lifting Veils of Perception through the Dances and Walks.”

Since the publication of The Sufi Book of Life ten years ago, I have continued to dive into the wealth of the many “Beautiful Names” not included in that book. Some of the fruit of this new work will appear in two retreats, one in Charlottesville, VA, USA from April 16-19 entitled “Vectors of Love,” followed by a similar one a few weeks later near Berlin, Germany.

CaringormsNov1012For full details of all of these events, see the Workshops calender  in the menu bar above on this site. With the help of webmaster Chris Granger, we have also been able to offer more videos of my Aramaic Jesus work, podcasts of lectures and classes, new notations of Dances of Universal Peace and chants, a column profiling news from around the Abwoon Network by Sharon Abercrombie and my own semi-regular blog (where some of you are undoubtedly reading this). Most of what you find at the site is free, with links to other sites to purchase my books. With the help of many other volunteers including Patricia Hume, Devi Mathieu, Mary Qahira Richardson, Ellen Bush, Subhana Elizabeth Ferrio, Alia Michaels, Richard McMurtry, Katie Shroth, Jivani Joyce Carlson and, of course, the Rev. Elizabeth Reed, we are moving into a new, travelling-lighter profile for the Abwoon Network that frees everyone for new directions in their own creative work.

As thanks for your support over the past year, we are offering a 50% discount on all audio and video paid downloads at site’s store until January 6. Just type in the following code at check-out: NEWYEAR15. (Note, however, that you cannot use this to purchase books through the links to Amazon.)

Before you ask, my own new projects continue to cook, and I hope to have one or two ready to serve in the coming year. Inshallah!

From the Abwoon Network, we wish you and your communities a hopeful and healthy New Year, and as the light returns again, a year full of creative, compassionate life energy.

Yours in peace,





Stories from the Circle: Experiencing ‘Saba Ana’–the Delight of the Universe

By Sharon Abercrombie

(This is the third of an ongoing series of stories featuring people worldwide who are sharing Neil Douglas-Klotz’s Aramaic Jesus and Desert Wisdom-related work.  Our current profile highlights Munira Elizabeth Reed, executive director of the Shalem Center in Worthington, Ohio, near Columbus. Since 1998, Munira has been turning this midwestern city into the American outreach headquarters for local, national and international Aramaic spirituality retreats).

It was 1997 and Elizabeth Reed assumed she was set for life. A United Methodist minister since the early 1980’s, she had served a brief pastorship before moving into administrative programming around women’s issues and Christian leadership training for the West Ohio Conference of the UMC. In 1992, with a Ph.D. counseling and spirituality degree from Union Institute in Cincinnati, Elizabeth began directing a counseling ministry for her conference at the Shalem Center located in the heart of central Ohio.

Munira_150Things were moving along right on track. That is, until a day in 1997 when a recent friend came to town for a visit and gave her hostess something new to think about. She happened to be an intuitive whose observations had always proved to be remarkably accurate, said Elizabeth.

During one particularly animated, lively discussion around religion, Elizabeth’s friend predicted that “something good was going to happen” to widen her spiritual path. Such as? Elizabeth countered. What more could there possibly be? She appreciated the progressiveness of the Methodist church. Its blessings had included imparting an  enduring/endearing model of Jesus as seen through the Social Gospel and it had given her valuable insights from studying the historical-critical method of Scriptural analysis.

It was strong on feminism. It cared about Nature and the environment — three issues Elizabeth Reed had championed since age 15, back in her hometown of West Point, Georgia, when she left the Southern Baptists for the United Methodists.

The Methodists gave her the opportunity to serve on youth councils as a young woman. When she later decided to go into the ministry, the Candler School of Theology welcomed her and the 59 other women into its seminary of 600 students.

But still, she was intrigued by her guest’s prediction. Curious enough, in fact, that Elizabeth vowed to remain totally open to the unexpected. She didn’t have to wait for long. The next year, 1998, Elizabeth went to Indianapolis to attend a conference sponsored by the Association of Humanistic Psychology.  Conferences such as these were annual events, since she was required to get CEU’s every year to maintain her counseling certification.

“This time, I decided to just go with an intuitive draw rather than responding to a known ‘guru on the circuit’  about workshops. One entitled “Middle Eastern Views of Personality” sounded good to her.  It certainly proved to be so.

“My life changed when I walked through that door.” Her head buzzed with new information. Her heart grew wings.

That momentous day, Neil Douglas-Klotz, the presenter, talked about psychology, theology, body somatics, and

Munira and Saadi

Elizabeth Reed and Neil Douglas-Klotz

directspiritual experience.  He combined his presentations with guitar playing and chanting. He taught his audience the Aramaic words for the Lord’s Prayer. He got them out of their seats into a dancing circle.

Elizabeth recalls having “a visceral  experience where everything came together for me. He was teaching us how to heal our cosmological split.” And of course, like many other people who experience the Aramaic way of looking at the Universe and spirituality, Elizabeth “bought up every brochure, book, tape on the table.” Back home in Ohio, she told her partner, MJ, “Wherever he’s teaching in North America, I’m going.” Swept along by Elizabeth’s enthusiasm, MJ said she wanted to go too.

A few months later, they traveled to hear him in Quebec.   When Neil announced that he was searching for a non-profit to lend support to his USA work, Elizabeth took the proposal to her Shalem board right away. The board said yes. Result: the last 16 years of her life have turned into a whirlwind juggling of her paid counseling work, with volunteer Abwoon Aramaic work.  “When I get involved, I get involved very quickly.”

A scant few months following Quebec, Elizabeth arranged for Neil to come to Columbus for the first in a series of annual public workshops, which still happen every October, and sometimes April. She learned to play guitar and drum. She plunged into the study of Ruhaniat Sufism.

In 2007, she wrote a book for other Aramaic students, entitled Abwoon Circles: Starting a Local Group, to help people who wanted to organize regular meetings around Aramaic Jesus practices, meditations and dances.

Always the idea person, Elizabeth, now Sufi Munira, approached Neil in 2006 about his starting a three-year ongoing

training program for individuals who wanted to lead their own Aramaic and Desert Wisdom gatherings. Dubbed the Aramaic Interspiritual Leadership Program, (AILP) groups grew in the USA, the UK and Germany . The last AILP concluded this past April.

A new program on healing will begin in early November in Columbus, the first of  a three-year ongoing series, with the sessions co-lead by Neil and his wife, Natalia Lapteva.  The program at Proctor Conference Center in London, Ohio will be preceded by a public weekend October 24-26, in Columbus, entitled “Thousands of Ways to Kneel and Kiss the Ground.

Rev. Elizabeth Reed sharing the Aramaic work in Guadalajara, Mexico, September 2014

Rev. Elizabeth Reed sharing the Aramaic work in Guadalajara, Mexico, September 2014

Munira’s own dance and retreat work is currently taking her far and wide, from Mexico, to North Carolina, and back to Ohio. As this blog goes to press, she recently returned from Guadalajara, Mexico, where she and Pennsylvania dance leader Yasmin Haut co-faciliated an Aramaic Lord’s Prayer Retreat.

She will catch up on work at the Shalem Center, then spend next weekend doing an outreach Dances appearance at a college student event in Delaware, Ohio, followed by a stint the next night at an Enneagram conference in Dayton. The next week she will focus her twice-monthly Aramaic Yeshua and Sufism group, a class which looks at the relationship of the Aramaic Yeshua and word meanings from Semitic languages, and Middle Eastern Spiritual practices.

“One interesting dynamic of this group has been when the discussion is responsive to, say one week predominantly Sufi focus and another time predominantly by liberal/progressive Roman Catholic and other Christian concerns and passions,” she said.

During our luncheon interview conducted shortly before Munira left for a Lama Dance Camp retreat in New Mexico, I asked her a question which probably every “convert” to Universal Sufism lives with:  Where does one’s ‘old’, former religion fit into the path their new spirituality has taken them?

She thought for a moment before responding: There is always some place where you will bump up against the limits of one religion, she said.  “One religious path is just not wide enough. The light of truth is in all paths. We need this universality, to put the whole picture into perspective. I guess you could say that I’m a post-Methodist. Methodism is who I am. It birthed me into the person I became back when I was 15, and for that I have a great gratitude.

What does she love most about teaching and Dance leading? “When I see people having the real experience of seeing the Divine in another person’s eyes, people experiencing ‘Saba Ana,’ the delight of the Universe, it’s like being a child. You see someone get what you’ve felt yourself.”

About the Religious Minorities in Northern Iraq… and a possible way forward from a Sufi colleague

I come to expect it about twice a year.

Usually around Christmas or Easter, someone will forward an article from a European or American news source to the effect that “Look! We’ve found Christians speaking Jesus’ original language in a small village in Syria! How quaint!”

When I am able to respond to the person who kindly forwarded me the article or link, I try to explain that there are many Aramaic-speaking Christians in the Middle East, and not a few in Europe and the USA. Many of them, however, are not Catholics, Protestants or Orthodox believers. They are Assyrians, who have a valid claim to be the oldest Christians in the world, predating any of the later creeds that divided Jesus’ followers into the above groups. Probably because they are non-Trinitarian, non-white and non-European, there has been an almost complete blackout of news about the Assyrians over the years.

The situation in northern Iraq in the news today has been brewing for years. Even the mainsteam news reports today focus mainly on the Chaldean Christians, who are allied with the Roman Catholic church, and ignore the Assyrians, who are the vast majority of people affected.  In my seminars and talks, I consistently refer to my listeners to the Assyrian International News Agency ( as the only reliable source of news on Assyrian Christians around the world. See particularly the editorial recently posted calling for both Assyrian and Yazidi safe havens in northern Iraq:

According to AINA, there are 1.5 million Assyrians in northern Iraq, living in or being displaced from the area they consider their traditional homeland, old Assyria. The next largest numbers of Assyrian Christians live in Syria (700,000), the United States (400,000), Sweden (120,000) and Lebanon (100,000).

The Mandaeans: If there has been a relative blackout of news about Aramaic-speaking Christians in the area, there has been a total blackout of reports about their Aramaic-speaking neighbors, the Mandaeans, who honor the person Christians call John the Baptist as their true prophet. I offered an excerpt of one of their sacred texts in my book Desert Wisdom.

Called the Sabeans in the Qur’an, the Mandaeans justifiably claim to be a “People of the Book” and so protected under Islam (not that any of what ISIS does has much to do with Islam). A representative of a United Nations NGO has recently proposed that what is happening to Mandaeans and Yazidis in northern Iraq is not “collateral damage” of some unspecified war, but genocide by the UN’s definition:

The Yazidis: The Yazidis have been most in the news due to the ongoing horrific situation in Sinjar province. Vilified by some Muslims and even Christians as “devil-worshippers,” the image may conjure up an image of Western Satanist cults. Far from this, the Yazidis are a peaceful, monotheistic people, who claim to be not only older than Islam, but older than any other Middle Eastern religion. Far from being a ‘satan,’ Yazidi spokespeople associate their main creator-savior-figure, the “Peacock Angel” called Malik Taus, as the original archetype from which came various world religion figures such as Melchizadek of the Bible, Al Khader (the Islamic “green man”), St George, Enki, Dionysis, Quetzlcoatl, and Murugan of the Hindus,  among others. They also have Sufi links and a high regard for Mansur Al-Hallaj, based on the latter’s non-dualistic view of Iblis, whom the Yezidis identify with the Peacock Angel.

A reliable recent report from someone who lived among the Yazidis can be found on the following BBC magazine page:

Another site that speaks for Yazidis is:

There Must Be Some Way Out of This: Yes, but it won’t be easy, at least according to my most reliable source about Iraq, a Sufi colleague who formerly served as both Finance Minister and Defense Minister in the Iraqi government—Dr. Ali Allawi (

Dr Allawi has written numerous books, including The Crisis of Islamic Civilization, which I highly recommend. Do not expect an easy read. Dr Allawi takes a long view of modern Islamic history and concludes that the tradition has been side-tracked, and often hijacked, from its main ethics and morality, based on tawhid or Unity with the One, in favour of Western-based political solutions, like the European idea of the “nation state.”

In terms of possible directions for Iraq and the Middle East today, he speaks about a “post-nation state” solution–decentralization based on mutual alliances between locally managed regions and cities. This “small is beautiful” approach would, however, require a return to a shared Islamic ethic of mutual respect for differences based on inner surrender to the One rather than an externalization of ‘right belief.’

I would highly recommend that you take few minutes to read an interview with him published originally in The Middle East Quarterly in Fall 2010, entitled “Iraq Got the Worst of All Worlds.” Everything he says brings wisdom and good sense to the situation in Iraq today. There are no easy solutions, he concludes, but some interventions make things worse than others:






On the Passing of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

Dear Friends,

Some of you may have heard of the passing of Rabbi Zalman Schachter last week. Rabbi Zalman, for those who may not know him, was the founder of Jewish Renewal and one of the most influential spiritual figures of our time. He strongly encouraged me during my early years of Aramaic Jesus research as well as in the creation of many of the early Hebrew Dances of Universal Peace (like Kadosh and Baruch Kevod). You can read an excellent obituary from the 9 July New York Times here:

Schachter-ShalomiFor those of us who felt the blessing of his work, we may want to send prayers in the next six weeks for his soul’s journey as well as for his community’s wellbeing. Fortunately, Reb Zalman trained many fine students who are carrying on his work around the world.  I have pasted in below a suggested practice from Pir Shabda, the head of our Sufi lineage in this regard. The Sufi practices themselves come from Zalman, who was recognized as Sufi Sheikh and who offered them to Pir Shabda after the death of the latter’s son. You will find the practice below as well as the equivalent Hebrew pathways/steps (sefirot) on the Tree of Life.

My most lasting memory of time spent with Reb Zalman was during a Lama Dances of Universal Peace Camp in the 1990s. Zalman had been on private retreat throughout our camp and only came out of silence once, to attend the Friday Shabbat at Lama, which usually included some Hebrew Dances. When I asked Zalman whether he would like to say anything, instead of speaking he quickly organized 100 or so of us into three non-concentric circles, dancers facing out, with a small space in the middle between the three circles. “Now,” he announced, “we’re going to do a Three Rings peace dance” (with reference to a Holy Land peace project of Murshid Samuel Lewis by the same name, inspired by Lessing’s story Nathan the Wise).

He set the three circles to begin side-stepping, chanting “Allah” or “Kyrie Eleison” or “Shema.” Then he brought Tasnim Fernandez (with whom I began the DUP Network) and myself to the center of the circles with himself. “We’ll stand back-to-back facing the dancers and also rotate,” he said. “Now you give the darshan (blessing-glance) of Muhammad, Tasnim. You do Jesus, Saadi. And I’ll do Elijah.”

The whole thing, as it were, lifted off. For about 45 minutes, I was in another state. I couldn’t see what Tasnim or Zalman were doing, but I did see what came back from the glance of the dancers they had touched, as we all circled and chanted for what seemed an eternity. By the end, everyone was bringing through blessing and joy from all three messengers. At the end, we sent it out in a wave of peace for the world.

We could use a few more of those peace waves now, and a few more of us to be as bold as Zalman was in pursuit of it.  ‘Peace’ is dynamic, not a static state, so we need to keep planting the seed that best grows around us and in us.

May you continue to dance with the angels, Reb Zalman….Baruch Kevod Yah Mim Komo…May blessing come to and through us from the consciousness of the Ever-Living One!

Love and blessings to all,



From Pir Shabda Kahn:

“When our son Solomon died in January 2012, Reb Zalman called us and shared practices from the Jewish tradition of sacred phrases, one per week for seven weeks, very much like doing prayers while someone is in the “Bardos” (Tibetan for “in-between”). He translated the Hebrew into our Arabic wazifa phrases.

“I offer them here for those of you who want to be involved in this form of prayers for his Journey!

They way it works out is:

1. YA RAHEEM July 3-9
2. ALLAHU AKBAR July 10-16
3. YA RAHMAN July 17-23
4. YA MANSUR July 24-30
5. YA JAMIL July 31-August 6
6. YA WADUD August 7-13
7. YA MALIK August 14-20.”

From the sefirot of Tree of Life (as suggested by Netanel Miles-Yepez, one of Zalman’s students):


1. hesed (loving-kindness)

2. gevurah (strength, discipline)

3. tiferet (beauty, mercy)

4. netzah (victory)

5. hod (glory, elegance)

6. yesod (foundation, efficiency)

7. malkhut (kingdom, sovereignty)


To complete a simple ‘three rings’ practice, I am also saying the Aramaic Prayer of Jesus each day after the chant and visualization.

Abwoon d’bashmaya

Netqaddash shmakh

Teytey malkutakh

Nehwe sebyanach aykana d’bashmaya aph b’ar’ah.

Habwlan lachma d’sunqanan yaomana.

Washboqlan haubayn wakhtahayn

aykana daph hnan shboqan l’hayabayn

Wela tahlan l’nesyuna ela patssan men bisha

Metol d’lakhey malkuta wa hayla wa teshbukhta l’olam almin.


Stories from the Circle: Dancing in the Presence of the Divine

By Sharon Abercrombie

(This is the second in an ongoing series of stories featuring people worldwide who are sharing Neil Douglas-Klotz’s Aramaic Jesus and Desert Wisdom-related work. Our newest profile spotlights Br. Joe Kilikevice, a Dominican friar based in Oak Park, Illinois. If you have a related experience to share with us, please contact Sharon at


Dominican Brother Joe Kilikevice has been dancing in Sufi circles since the late 1960’s.

He credits a 1965 Roman Catholic document coming out of the Second Vatican Council for setting him on the path of his life’s work. Nostra Aetate, (“In Our Time,) is a groundbreaking paper that stresses the religious bond shared by Jews and Catholics and calls for the church to dialogue with other world religions.

By 1983, Br. Joe was bringing the Dances of Universal Peace, particularly the Aramaic words of Jesus, to the art-as-meditation class he was teaching in Oakland, California.

Since then he has been leading “The Lord’s Prayer,” “The Beatitudes,” the “I Am” sayings of John and other dances created by Neil Douglas-Klotz . He has introduced them into his own Catholic tradition to Dominican high schools and colleges throughout the United States. He has brought them to interfaith groups, both in the Midwest and abroad.     “I wouldn’t be here but for that document,” said Br. Joe during a recent phone interview.

“Work” is probably too thin a word to describe Br. Joe’s ministry. For those of us who have danced with Joe Kilikevice at Plano, Illinois and in other retreat settings, “passionate dedication” is more like it.

Br. Joe discovered the dances during a retreat in San Jose, California more than 40 years ago. “Let’s go Sufi dancing,” Jshemsomeone suggested. A DUP North American Journal story from 2011 notes that Br. Joe hadn’t a clue as to what Sufi dancing might be, but he decided it would be a good idea to ‘get off the mountain’ for a few hours.”  He piled into a crowded station wagon with the rest of his friends.

The dance experience that evening touched him deeply.  For the first time, this life-long Catholic and Dominican brother realized that “you don’t have to give up your own faith tradition to be enriched by the traditions of other people.”
A couple of years later, back in Chicago, he located another dance meeting.  This one was fine, too, but he wished it had included more dancing and less talking.

His wish came true in 1983, when Br. Joe moved to Oakland California.  Matthew Fox, a Dominican colleague had recently moved his Creation Spirituality master’s program from Mundelein College in Chicago to Holy Names College. Fox invited his old friend to resume teaching the art-as-meditation class he had previously taught at Mundelein.   It didn’t take long for Br. Joe to discover the stunning smorgasbord of dance meetings throughout the Bay Area.

That’s how he met Neil-Douglas-Klotz. One Saturday morning, Joe Kilikevice found himself in San Francisco’s Precita Park with Neil and six other dancers, chanting and moving to “Abwoon d’bashmaya.” Precita Park is right across the street from Mentorgarten, the home of Murshid Samuel Lewis. Murshid brought the first Dances forward during the late 1960’s, so there has always been a lot of baraka living in that park.

Br. Joe doesn’t recall who the other dancers were that day. But Br. Joe does remember the power of the Lord’s Prayer, transliterated by Neil into Aramaic, the language Jesus/Yeshua spoke. “We were trying out the first four lines.  I was immediately struck by their sense of timelessness.”  Jesus/Yeshua was there in the midst of the circle, beyond the English or Latin words this Dominican had been praying all of his life.

Br. Joe immediately brought the dance back to his Holy Names classroom. In subsequent years, he would become a co-retreat leader with Neil and Kamae Miller, and would then branch out with his own interfaith retreat ministry. In  1993, he founded the Shem Center, an interfaith spirituality center located in Oak Park.

His work took another significant turn in 2000 when Dominican Sisters Pat Brady and Gina Fleming invited Br. Joe to lead dances at a high school retreat, to represent “the diversity of ways Dominicans preach.  They knew of my work and thought the students would both enjoy and benefit from a contemporary way a Dominican was claiming a centuries-long tradition of praying with the body. Dominicans have always brought the body into prayer with bowing, prostrating, and processing,” said Br. Joe. Two years later, when these student conferences were expanded into Dominican college venues, Br. Joe became a regular presenter there, also, in schools coast to coast.

In 2010, the Conference organizers awarded him the Sister Pat Brady award for “extraordinary service and contributions in furthering the traditions and charism of the Dominican Order.” Sr. Pat Brady praised Br. Joe for “encouraging each of us to realize the power of dance and music as a medium of peace and harmony. Brother Joe has taught us that world understanding begins with a willing, open and accepting heart. He has truly released the Spirit in each of us.”

This writer contacted both Sisters Mary Soher, and Gina Fleming, the current organizers for the student preaching conferences to gauge reactions to Br. Joe’s work. Except for occasional liturgical dance within many Catholic liturgies and prayer services, Catholics do not ordinarily dance. But Br. Joe gets them on their feet in short order.

After a day of dancing, “it ‘s not uncommon for a student to linger a bit after my session to thank me for what they experienced,’ recalls Br. Joe. “I can tell that they have been deeply moved and often can’t find the words to say so.”

Mary Soher contributed her take on the student experiences. “Something magical happens,” said Soher, an Adrian Dominican. “He teaches them to really be in the present moment, to be in the presence of the Divine with each other.  If they are carrying grief, sadness or stress, the dances provide a body-soul-mind break for them.”

Soher said she has witnessed the dances as a vehicle for helping to build bonds and strengthening community among the young people.

For Amityville Dominican Sr. Gina Fleming, Br. Joe’s dance leading has been “a deeply prayerful experience.  Asking us to look into each other’s eyes has touched me deeply.” His teachings have given her a better understanding of the Muslim religion, she said.

And as for the Aramaic, “it’s a part of me now,” said Fleming. “Studying the words of Jesus in His original language, “awakens you to a different way of thinking.”

On Looking the “Other Way”: A Report from South Africa

In relation to one of my translations of the first verse of Genesis, I often find myself quoting the insight of quantum physics that light can be seen as either a wave or a particle, depending on whether someone observes a particular phenomena or not. This is called the ‘quantum measurement paradox,’ and we find something similar in the intuition of the early storyteller in Geneis who describes the vision of the Holy One creating the universe in two simultaneous activities—as wave (shemayim) and as particle (aretz).

Another, often overlooked wrinkle of this wisdom is that human mind, being created of the same stuff as the rest of the seen and unseen worlds, can either hold individual pieces of ‘content’—particles–or a flow of consciousness—the wave. As with the finding of quantum physics, which one of these two happens depends on who is observing, or if anyone is looking at all. So when we are in deep meditative states, or simply ‘looking the other way,’ some our deepest creative visions can arise.

Various  expressions of this surprised me earlier this month Natalia and I visited South Africa again. We had travelled there twice previously, in spring 2011 and 2012, for conferences sponsored by the Sufi community organized around the work of Shaykh Fadhlalla Haeri. His “Academy of Self Knowledge” in Centurion, near Pretoria, annualy draws an inter-racial and inter-cultural mix of speakers and participants from all walks of South African life and many countries abroad (see One can easily meet early members of the ANC who knew Nelson Mandela, the South African ambassador to Eritrea, a high court Judge or a scientist from Belgium.  For instance, one of the most cogent takes on the current situation in the Middle East come from Dr Ali Allawi, a Sufi and the former finance minister of Iraq (, a regular visitor to the conference.

s&sfI was originally invited there in 2011 to speak on the Aramaic Jesus in connection with a conference entitled “The SacredOrigin of Languages.” I also shared some simple walking meditation practices from Murshid Samuel Lewis, as well as chant and breathing practice. As it turned out, many members of the community had, with the shaykh’s blessing, embraced the  translations of meditations on the “99 Beautiful Names” in The Sufi Book of Life. This was despite the fact that Shaykh Fadhlalla, an accomplished Quranic scholar originally born in Iraq, had done his own excellent book on the “Names.” Members of his community continue to tell me how they use the book in ways I had never imagined, for instance, as  a form of ‘bedtime story’ for their children at night!

njsa0314The following year (2012), Natalia was invited to present walking meditations from Murshid SAM for the conference “Celebrating the Delights of Life,” and I gave a workshop on Sufi music as well as a talk about the voices of “desert wisdom.” After a hiatus last year due to my sabbatical, we returned this year. Natalia was again asked to share a session of walking meditation connected with this year’s theme, “World Religions and Spiritual Illumination,” which was very well received.

nj2sa0314I offered a short talk on “Spiritual Illumination in Islam,” which I recently posted to the podcasts section on this site. Shaykh Fadhlalla, who spoke just before me, had already offered the mystical kernal of the theme (as I knew he would), so I started my talk from “endarkenment,” the viewpoint of Jonah in the belly of the whale, which is a story related in the Qur’an as well as in the Bible. We often find ourselves completely in the dark, in the dense processes of life far from ‘illumination,’ but this, too, is a necessary step in the journey of spiritual discovery that various traditions describe. Acknowledging that we don’t know often helps to avert our gaze from a creative process in becoming. It is this individualistic gaze (the ‘small self’) that often spoils the process by wanting things to be ‘settled’ before the time is ripe.

Sometimes one doesn’t know the seeds that one is planting, and maybe that’s for the best. During the conference, I met a member of an Islamic community group from Durban, for instance, who had become inspired by the talk I gave on the Aramaic Jesus three years before, and was sharing the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer as part of his movement to encourage South Africans to: ‘plant a tree and Time will pay a rich reward to you.’


Similarly, in 2012, we had met Lynn and Yusuf, founders of the world music group Desert Rose, who have done stunning musical settings interweaving chants from many spiritual and indigenous traditions ( or see their Facebook page). They have performed their music around the world and perhaps most importantly as a ‘cultural glue’ for a South Africa still learning how to co-exist peacefully with great diversity. They shared their most recent album Tariqat-The Path live with the conference, which contains many inspirations from the “Names” as well as a stunning version of “God Bless Africa (Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika) in both Xhosa and Arabic. They have also been working on an arrangement of the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer. See below for short clips from both.


“God Bless Africa” arrangment in Arabic and Xhosa (sample from the CD Tariqat—The Path):


“Aramaic Prayer”—  Desert Rose: unpublished sample from arrangment in process):


Also unexpectedly, I was asked to join a group project initiated by Shaykh Fadhlalla to re-translate the Qur’an to reveal its essential transformational message. While I have always felt this project is really needed, and have made a few small efforts in this direction, it is certainly beyond me individually. However, I am very hopeful that the group Shaykh Fadhlalla has gathered will be able to accomplish it. As he is in his 70s, the shaykh has put us on a ‘fast track’ for the project. He aims to have the new translation done and published in the next year. My own contribution is to be on the Semitic roots of Quranic cosmology and psychology.

In addition, we have been invited back to various communities in Johannesburg and Durban in the future, so inshallah, we will see what adventures in surprise, al-Awwal, the universe has in store.

Finally, just an hour or so before leaving the country, I was surprised once more when a young man in his thirties wearing a suit, approached me at the Sufi centre in Johannesburg we were visiting. He expressed his gratitude for The Sufi Book of Life and said that it had been instrumental in his work with the Nelson Mandela Foundation ( He had created an entire leadership program for young South Africans like himself based on the “Beautiful Names,” but without using alienating religious terminology.

Alhamdulillah! Sometimes it’s really true that when one is ‘looking the other way,’ without the self observing, the wave of miracle can flow freely!

(If you would like to contribute to support travel costs for Neil and Natalia’s future work in South Africa, you can make a donation through the Abwoon Resource Center in the USA or directly through the Edinburgh Institute for Advanced Learning.

Stories from the Circle: River’s Edge

Seven years ago Neil Douglas-Klotz launched his first Aramaic Interspiritual Leadership Program.  AILP was designed for dance leaders, therapists, ministers, and teachers who wanted to deeply immerse themselves in the insights, teachings and dances from Neil’s Native Middle Eastern Tradition,  Aramaic and Genesis Meditations work.

Today over 150  individuals from the U.S., Europe, and South America have completed the three and a half year AILP trainings held in Ohio, the UK and Germany.  So what have they learned and how are they sharing this work? We’ll begin finding out with this issue in a brand new blog at Abwoon Network ( from entitled “Stories from the Circle.” It will recount the experiences, not only of AILP graduates, but hopefully, our many other old-timers, as well.

Ellen Bush, Eileen Taj  Pappalardo, and Sharon Nurjehan Abercrombie,  editor for this new dance experience blog, are graduates of AILP One. The following account is our collective memory of what it was like to conduct three ten-minute introductory “prayer services” using the first line of the Aramaic Lord’s Prayer, “Abwoon d’bwashmaya,”during a weekend retreat at River’s Edge in Cleveland, Ohio. River’s Edge is a Catholic environmental and wellness center operated by the Sisters of St. Joseph.

We had been tapped to serve as the “opening act” for Brian Swimme, renowned mathematical cosmologist. Brian is a protégé of ecozoic theologian, Fr. Thomas Berry, (1914-2009) author of “The Great Work.” In 1992, Brian and his beloved mentor co-authored  “The Universe Story” (see his website at:

A 2012 northern California Emmy Award winner for his DVD documentary, “The Journey of the Universe,” Brian serves on Brian-Swimmethe faculty at the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. He taught Ellen and me when we were both graduate students in Matthew Fox’s Creation Spirituality Program at Holy Names University in Oakland during the early 1990’s. Neil was one of our teachers there, too, at the same time!

So for starters, this awesome opportunity seemed to be one of those “coming full-circle” type of  adventures. We would be using what we had learned and had built upon from each of them. We would be scooping into the depths of Neil’s spiritual work to illuminate Brian’s scientific cosmological teachings.

Our assignment that weekend of June 29, 2012, was to set the tone for 180 retreatants, bringing spirituality and science together back to,  “the first primordial flaring forth of the Universe,” in the words of Brian and Thomas.

And as Neil, hearkening back to Yeshua’s prayer, would say,  “Oh mother-father-birther of the cosmos, you create all that moves in light…”your Name shines everywhere.”

We had three, separate,  ten-minute segments to accomplish this, and carry the group forward.  Initially, this was a pretty scary proposition for us  ‘unknowns,’–  providing the opening act for a brilliant, ’rockstar’ cosmologist.

As Ellen recalls, we “needed to create some kind of container space for ‘Abwoon’ to live.”  And it needed to happen quickly within a vast, crowded room full of people, most of whom had never experienced the Dances of Universal Peace before. Or knew anything about the Aramaic language for that matter.

We considered the daunting prospect of getting the group into ten or 12 concentric dance circles amidst the muddle of chairs.  Given our time frame, though, furniture moving was simply not an option. We would have to keep this project very simple. We therefore decided to  embark upon what a California dance friend, and fellow AILP student,  Richard McMurtry, refers to as “pew dancing” – Simply standing, and moving back and forth in place.

So ultimately, we decided to present an introductory, seated guided meditation on  the opening Friday night session that would set the stage for Brian’s talks.  I led off, drawing upon Saadi’s powerful “caravan” meditation. This is the one where he has us envisioning being part of a camel caravan, falling in line behind the beloved ancestors who have gone before us in wisdom, and traveling back to the beginning of Creation.

camelstunisia_njlWe embarked from a Middle Eastern desert, our camels’ favorite environment, then moved  magically to a palm-tree lined beach.  Our trek took us into a mountainous landscape of sparkling snow, followed with a quick side jaunt to a North Carolina meadow filled with spring flowers, bees, butterflies and flitting birds. As our camels prepared to take off into space, we passed a plain filled with grazing dinosaurs.  Then came the floating outwards into the Cosmos, past our sun. our moon, and distant galaxies, until we reached the Original Source.

With Taj’s frame drum, and my open tuned guitar, we lead a breath practice, intoning the sacred phrase, ‘ABWOON.’ We explained the word, and introduced the chant.

The next day, we resumed the chant, this time with Ellen leading another breath practice. On morning three, Taj reviewed the original meditation, with her frame drum calling up  — “the heartbeat of the Universe.”

We concluded by having Ellen teach the Prayer movements in place. Within minutes, 180 individuals were dancing Abwoon, “totally free of any self consciousness,”  said Taj.

It had all come together.  In looking back Taj observed, that “We took them into that deep place to find the central harmony by chanting the separate sounds in the Aramaic word, ‘Abwoon.’ This is what  united every person in the room.”

Everyone seemed captivated, and moved easily into each phase of our process, without resistance, she added.

Said Ellen: “We carved out the Aramaic words and moved into vibration of Creation. We were not just talking about cosmology, here. We were able to set the tone like a spoken prayer could never have done.” Yes.

Our featured speaker, Brian Swimme, was there with us, through every breath, intoning, singing and movement. “I felt it in his body language,” said Ellen. Which included a twinkle in his eye, a broad smile, and at the conclusion of each session, a fervent ‘thank you.

Meanwhile, one sister from the River’s Edge staff marveled to us ‘unknowns’ that we had provided a whole new experience she had never dreamt could happen. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said. And she was smiling, too. By then, so were we.

(For further information, or to share a report, please contact the blog editor, Sharon Nur Jehan Abercrombie at