Felicia Norton and Charles Smith serve as senior teachers and meditation retreat guides within the Sufi Order International and Ziraat. A classically trained dancer who still performs and teaches at the United Nations School and the Educational Alliance in New York City, she is the leader of the Ziraat Activity of the Sufi Order in North America; "ziraat" means agriculture in Persian and this path emphasizes fruitfulness and service to all of life as the ultimate harvest of the spiritual journey. Charles teaches organizational theory, leadership skills, and group dynamics at Hofstra University, and writes applications of Sufi perspectives to decision-making, creativity and leadership. They have dedicated this book to their meditation teacher Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan who felt that science and spirituality should work together to guide humanity. It summons us to do the inner and outer work necessary to open our hearts and to mend the planet.
"Wisdom's call is to affirm a world of beauty, an Emerald Earth," write Norton and Smith. It is a call to wake up to the bounties of the natural world and our own souls. It is a call to exercise wonder and to look with reverence on all things. It is a call to change the world, to act responsibly, and to surrender to the mysteries of the universe. Rumi agrees:
Make peace with the universe.
Take joy in it.
It will turn to gold.
Resurrection will be now.
Every moment, a new beauty.
And never any boredom.
(trans. Coleman Barks)
Norton and Smith salute meditation as a tool that helps us tap into the deeper current of our being which is freedom and joy. Beyond meditation, Sufis recognize that every moment in the universe is a movement of love both in our triumphs and in our tragedies. This reality is illustrated in one of the many teaching stories in the book. The trickster Nasrudin is found sitting in a church with his feet upon the altar. The local priest comes in and shouts: "Nasrudin, never put your feet on something sacred!" Perplexed, Nasrudin looks around: "Oh, forgive me! But where can I put them that isn't sacred?"
Norton and Smith point out that in the Sufi tradition, the Beloved is actively speaking to us and in us and through us. Or as Hazrat Inayat Khan, who is quoted extensively in this book, put it:
"With all errors and mistakes and lacks which we find in our external life, we see a perfect hand working behind it all. And if we looked at life a little further than we look at it generally, we would certainly find that all the lacks and errors and mistakes and faults sum up into something, making life as complete as the wise hands which are working behind it wish it to be."
The spiritual path leads us onward from one thing to another. Norton and Smith cover the art of polishing the heart, the need to ask forgiveness for the pain we have caused others, and the courage to persevere. The authors see three types of spiritual practices concentration, contemplation, and meditation as "helpful friends." In the second half of An Emerald Earth, they present 24 of them including ones on Working with Light, Tuning the Heart, Reading Nature's Manuscript, The Creative Imagination Practice, and Nourishing the Field of Our Being.
Norton and Smith conclude this salutary mix of wisdom, mysticism, and spiritual practice with their thoughts on the "Great Work" of our time: caring for the inner world of our hearts and the outer world which we have so badly battered and bruised. It brings spirituality down to earth (literally) and deep into our hearts.