Memorial of Murshida Sharifa Goodenough
Elise Schamhart et Michel Guillaume
This work was originally written in French under the title "Memorial of Murshida Sharifa Goodenough". “Memorial” is a word that conveys, both in English and in French, the double meaning of "remembrance of a great person (or event)" and "shrine". This double meaning is to be borne in mind while reading the pages which follow.
Such a Memorial can be carved in stone or written in words. This Memorial of Murshida Sharifa Goodenough, pupil of the great Sufi Hazrat Inayat Khan, is in words. These memories, appreciations and judgments come from those who knew the remarkable spiritual personality that she was.
This Memorial is not a biography, in other words it is not the work of an author describing the life of an individual. Although it has certain biographical elements, this Memorial mostly contains a collective testimony, with the aim of bringing back to life a being whose memories have passed through a long "journey in the wilderness", and which must now be brought into the light of day.
This being so, our civilization and our culture gradually forgot another aspect of reality, one which is inaccessible through our usual sciences and which can only be discerned and explored by the spirit. As a result many are deprived of a fuller life which is able to satisfy that which neither science, nor culture, nor a religion which may have disappointed, nor a philosophy such as it is understood today, can bring about. This part of life is called spiritual experience. Spirituality is effectively experiential.
Thus many today have the more or less conscious wish for a life complemented by a higher experience. But where they are conscious of this, they do not know where to find it, and especially they ask themselves if such an experience is liveable for them. In other words their hope has the need to be comforted by what is in industry called "a feasibility study". In other words they look for proof that such an undertaking is possible, what it resembles and what might be its end result.
This Memorial offers the reader such a study: of someone who from the end of her youth put herself to researching the divine and, in the end, attained it. Such people must not be forgotten, and the passage of time must not tarnish their example, nor wipe away their footprints, for they are our spiritual heritage and bear witness of the potential of the divine in us. They show that neither is God a theological invention nor is he a sort of personage, infinitely distant, remote, unchanging, separated from us by an immensity of unknowing. It is rather that He lives in us, even if He has fallen asleep in the depth of our selves, like in the Biblical legend of Boaz who fell asleep at the edge of his field. Such people show us that, without knowing it, we are woven into His life even before we know that He is woven into ours. It is this that Sharifa Lucy Goodenough comes to demonstrate by her life: that such a discovery, such an experience, is possible in our everyday life, in the life given to us to live. Through her existence on earth she showed the way and the goal to souls close to her who were searching for light, through her teaching and her wisdom, but especially through that which she radiated.
This being so, Murshida Sharifa greatly deserves the respect and gratitude of the further generations of pupils of Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan, her Master, as her work makes a powerful contribution towards preserving and spreading his Message, the Sufi Message of spiritual liberty.
Who are the authors of this Memorial?
Firstly, two people among all those who met or approached Murshida Goodenough, two who today are the only ones who remain to speak of this remarkable disciple of the great Sufi Sage Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan. Two people who had the double privilege of coming into contact with her, and to live close to women and men who followed her for long years, who knew her well, and who retained memories full of gratitude, light and upliftment.
However, as mentioned before, these two people would not have been able to write this Memorial without the memories and accounts of various others who knew or approached Murshida Goodenough, starting with the account of her Master, Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan himself. We attribute the greatest of importance to all these accounts.
Perhaps their diversity will, at first sight, appear to give a disparate, kaleidoscopic impression to an account which the reader might have wished more unambiguous. But we ask the reader to think of these objective documents as having irreplaceable value; they can be seen as so many points of view which together give a more complete picture, in the same way as walking around an object gives a more complete view.
This compilation of memories is all the more necessary as errors and hazardous and unfavourable interpretations which show Murshida Sharifa in an unfavourable light are still being expressed and spread by some few from a generation which could not have had contact with her or with most of her contemporaries.
This gives a further reason to re-establish the facts as they were and the events as they took place.
Murshida Sharifa left fairly abundant written teachings of which we will speak later. However, verbal or written teaching which may have been left by mystics and spiritual personalities is not all we can learn from them. Neither must their lives only serve as a beautiful example and as an edification for souls in love with idealism. But to attempt to understand with respect, I would say with humble empathy, that which was, beyond appearances, a little of this ascension, a little of this sequence of inner experiences which led Sharifa Goodenough to the highest to which a human being can attain, offers in itself a very great upliftment and a teaching which is very much alive.
May these pages in turn inspire those who read them; and may they evoke in the imagination of the reader the benevolent figure of Murshida Sharifa, preceding by far the pilgrims who commit themselves to the Path.
However, the admiration and piety which may be aroused by the memory of Murshida Goodenough in no way overshadow the greatness and the remarkable spiritual dimension of her Master, Pir-o-Murshid Inayat Khan. She herself would have been horrified at such an idea. In writing this Memorial our conviction is rather that the illustration of the disciple only increases the glory of the master.
We extend our gratitude to all of the above.