كأسي وخَمري by Rabia al-adawiyya
For 4 part choir 2017
From the Album, LOVE, and my recital, A Night of Infinite Resignation, performed on April 9, 2017.
It is difficult for me to write notes on this piece because it encapsulates everything. I came across this poem by Rabia al-Adawiyya as I was looking for Sufi poetry. I immediately became encapsulated by this poem. I read it, re-read it, with my mom and we analyzed the Arabic together. It spoke like a prayer to me, its rhythm dictated itself, and I heard music in between the lines.
Hazrat Rabia al-Adawiyya herself didn’t write the poem, it was common practice to ascribe the name of a major figure in one’s own poetry should it be appropriate for them. The author must have felt a fondness towards Rabia something others are oblivious to, of an outsider, one who people generally do not understand.
I felt a major connection to Rabia’s mysticism, a reminder there is something greater than this world. And with the connections, I also felt a great deal of empathy for her pain. She lost her parents when she was young, was sold to a slave, danced and sang for guests. Yet one day, a very holy song came from her mouth, and since then she refused to sing for anyone but God.
One day she was praying, and a lantern flew over her head, and when the master saw the lamp, and how brightly it was glowing, he let her go. Personally, I don’t believe that story, I believe it’s been altered to give more credit to a slave owner than is deserved. I believe the house was burnt down, and the slave master burnt alive.
Rabia al-Adawiyya went on to live a life as an ascetic, everything she did was out of a special love for God. She believed that God should never be feared, and the quote that permeated my recital, A Night of Infinite Resignation, I think perfectly sums up her faith. She was seen walking with a bucket of water and a torch, when asked what she was doing, she responded:
With this fire, I will burn down the rewards of heaven so that you shall no longer worship for hope of reward but simply for the love of God. And with this water, I will douse the blazes of hell so that you shall no longer pray from fear of God.
It’s hard to imagine what Rabia al-Adawiyya represents, I find her character to be specifically queer, not just in the LGBTQIA+ spectrums (there is all the reason in the world to believe she was a-spec) but also in the sense of not belonging in the deepest possible way. What I love about this poem, My Cup, My Wine is that it describes that innate queerness of her soul so beautifully.
To end my recital, there was another anecdote I actually wrote myself, but it’s one true to Rabia’s spirit. God commands Rabi’a to drink a cup of wine in front of her followers during prayer, an act of sacrilege. As she drinks it, she sings an aria about the circular nature of wine, the sensual pleasures of the Earth, and how it is passed on to her. From the death of Hasan’s lover to the death of Alan Kurdi, the plight of those rejected comes back swirling to her in this biblical story-like ending to the recital. The earthly pleasures folks indulge in, and that those around her indulge in, the folks who make the rules and lash out in anger when they see someone else break them, the rules of humanity itself are all merely intoxications coming from our own base desires.
Yet throughout all the suffering that is innate within our existence there is still a realm outside of our intoxication, we merely have to sober ourselves. This requires an understanding that rules of organized religion are arbitrary without spiritual meaning, and the rules themselves never have substantial value. Paradoxically, those that are most awake have to be outside of that system. Rabi’a’s teachings that nothing created by humankind matters, and only complete devotion to God is then shown in its most extreme. She commits religious sacrilege in front of an audience, and her sobriety paradoxically only happens through intoxication and desecration.
Keira Elaine Jett as Rabia Al-Adawiyya
Madeleine Moran as traveler
Lorna Stephens as traveler
Sam Stone as holy soldier
Nolan Ramirez as Abdullah Kurdi
Anmol Gupta as David
Yonah Barany as Hasan al-Basri
Alex Quackenbush as holy soldier
Brian Mironer, percussion
Kelci Page, percussion
In 2013, a study was published about mice. Researchers tortured mice as they were fed strawberries and studied their children. Not only did the original mice fear the smell of strawberries but their children and their children’s children did as well. Thus, we have confirmed the epigenetics of pain and that is where this story starts. Nebal has crafted this series of works to study radical trans-temporal queer pain.
Nebal asks his audience to answer questions that reach the core of what it means to be human; Where does pain come from? How are we to heal if we are historically and actively marginalized? When we meet Hasan and David, we are encapsulated by the way two men can suffer as they say goodbye. This moment, hundreds of years ago, mirrors the pain that Abdullah feels as he honors his lost son, Alan. Both moments echo the dichotomy of public versus private. Hasan and David’s secret relationship is hidden from their public lives; Abdullah, struggling with the appropriation of his son’s death on a Greek shoreline, takes a moment to grieve privately. These painful moments are tied together through Rabia al-Adawiyya whose soul in death, in Nebal’s words, shattered into a million pieces and lies within every queer body. I invite the audience to find the difference between suffering and love themselves and to take with them the interconnectedness of the world that Nebal has exemplified before them today.
Naomi Oster, Co-Director