Spiritual Mentors: Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi

aa Molana (1)

Rumi was born in what is now Afghanistan in 1207, but most of his life was in Persia and Turkey, where he wrote..voluminously. He was a jurist, a theologian, and a Sufi mystic who influenced writing in the Middle East for centuries and has become popular (and accessible) in the West through translating and paraphrasing in modern vernacular languages.

Sufism is a subset of Islam. (I’d call it a cult of Islam, but that word has become so loaded with negative meaning by many commentators that I resist its use.) Sufism is, let’s say, a mystical subset of Islamic beliefs, as Zen Buddhism is to Buddhism, as Kabala is to Judaism, or as Yogaism is to Hinduism. Mystical Christianity also flourishes, and- I believe- has been a primary vehicle for moving The Way of the Christ through the centuries, in its most well-preserved forms.

All of the world’s mystical traditions look toward the revelation of God around them (which is precisely what Jesus stated again and again is what he wanted to do: reveal God the Father).

Looking deeply for God requires discipline; the practitioners of the mystical disciplines are drawn to them by the unquenching and relentless and often uncomfortable desire to know more about God.

And what they learn, or experience, is often difficult to communicate to others. The “previously known” boundaries of what they knew about God begin to blur, even dissolve! There is a unity of all things that defies much of the language we have available to us as humans. Some will attempt to describe the Light they have perceived in poetry, or in painting, or even in dance.    

aa dance aa sufi 5

The Sufis like to dance. I don’t know if Rumi himself was a Dervish dancer, but he would have experienced them often because even the watching of the dancing is participation in it.

Spinning in ectasy. Notice the hands: One hand is up and open for receiving from God, the other hand is holding and giving, sharing God’s blessings received, to others. The headpieces represent tombstones of their individual egos.

But we do know Rumi wrote poetry- reams of it. And that poetry, now accessible to Westerners (primarily in America through the paraphraser Coleman Barks), has made Rumi a favorite of all who seek a more intense experience of the Light. It is the Light which I understand as Christ, which is how the gospel of John describes Christ in its first chapter).

Examples and excerpts:

~from “Say Yes Quickly”

Forget your life. Say God is Great. Get up.

You think you know what time it is. It’s time to pray.

You’ve carved so many little figurines, too many.

Don’t knock on any random door like a beggar.

Reach your long hands out to another door, beyond where

you go on the street, the street

where everyone says, “How are you?”

and no one says How aren’t you?

~from “Unseen Rain”

Don’t let your throat tighten

with fear. Take sips of breath

all day and night. Before death

closes your mouth.

There’s no love in me without your being,

no breath without that. I once thought

I could give up this longing, then though again,

But I couldn’t continue being human.

~A Community of the Spirit (one of my favorites, in its entirety)

There is a community of the spirit.

Join it, and feel the delight

of walking in the noisy street and being the noise.

Drink all your passion, and be a disgrace.

Close both eyes to see with the other eye.

Open your hands, if you want to be held.

Sit down in the circle.

Quit acting like a wolf, and feel the shepherd’s love filling you.

At night, your beloved wanders. Don’t accept consolations.

Close your mouth against food. Taste the lover’s mouth in yours.

You moan, “She left me.” “He left me.” Twenty more will come.

Be empty of worrying. Think of who created thought!

Why do you stay in prison when the door is so wide open?

Move outside the tangle of fear-thinking. Live in silence.

Flow down and down

in always widening rings of being.

All of these are from the collection-‘Selected Poems” (Penguin Classics), translated by Coleman Barks with John Moyne. Many, many Rumi collections are in in print and available wherever books are sold. Well, maybe not..everywhere. But most places!)

Many of Rumi’s poems are not so easily understood at first. In that regard they are like Zen koans; they open the door to contemplation and thought on “heavenly” things or, at minimum, thoughts outside of one’s own jabbering ego-mind. So, call them poems of Sabbath, of rest and reflection.

And Light.

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Words of Love..

 

“When genuine friends of God..repeat words they have heard in secret amidst the silence of the union of love, and these words are in disagreement with the teaching of the Church, it is simply that the language of the marketplace is not that of the nuptial chamber.” (Simone Weil, Waiting for God)

This is important. Because the Great Sausage Grinder that carries so much weight in the American Church doesn’t allow much gristle to make it into the morning’s meat patties. Or any fat whatsoever, or any extra spices. Or much taste. Bland is the standard; that way, aberrations are easily discerned.

Screw it. Pass the pepper, and the sage. Throw on some onions, and add some fat- some chicken fat- fried!-  greasy and crackling. Grind it all down again, one more time with fresh basil, and garlic and cilantro, and a spoonful of sugar..just because. Now grill that sausage over hot-fired mesquite, sprinkled with Jack Daniels, and slathered with a puree of sun-dried tomatoes, olives, and oregano.

Good.

God.

Now, eat:

“I was afraid it

would screw up my art

and I would end up

writing sermons

instead of songs.”

(James McMurtry)

“Humankind has not woven the
web of life. We are but one thread within it.
Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves.
All things are bound together.
All things connect.”
(Chief Seattle)

Even after all

this time

the sun never

says to the

earth

“You owe me.”

Look what happens

with a love like that.

It lights the

whole sky.

(Hafiz)

In your light I learn how to love.
In your beauty, how to make poems.
You dance inside my chest,
where no one sees you,
but sometimes I do,
and that sight becomes this art.
(Rumi)

Thanksgiving, the Basics

Mevlana Jalaluddin Rumi on Gratitude
(from Discourses of Rumi, chapter 48, translated by A.J Arberry)

Gratitude for sucking the breast is a blessing. Though the breast be full, until you suck it the milk does not flow.

Someone asked: What is the cause of ingratitude, and what is it that prevents gratitude?The Master answered: The preventer of gratitude is inordinate greed. For whatever a man may get, he was greedy for more than that. It was inordinate greed that impelled him to that, so that when he got less than what he had set his heart upon his greed prevented him from being grateful. So he was heedless of his own defect, and heedless also of the defect and adulteration of the coin he proffered.
Raw and inordinate greed is like eating raw fruit and raw bread and raw meat; inevitably it generates sickness and begets ingratitude. When a man realises that he has eaten something unwholesome, a purge becomes necessary. God most High in His wisdom makes him suffer through ingratitude so that he may be purged and rid of that corrupt conceit, lest that one sickness become a hundred sicknesses.

Time Out. A Reflection on Rumi, Sickness, and Death

 

Visit the sick, and you will heal yourself.

The ill person may be a Sufi master,

And your kindness will be repaid in wisdom.

Even if the sick person is your enemy,

You will still benefit,

For kindness has the power to transform

Sworn enemies into firm friends.

And if there is no healing of bad feeling,

There certainly will be less ill will,

Because kindness is the greatest of all balms.

(Rumi, of course)

I spend a significant chunk of my time each week in hospitals.  Some of the people I visit are going to die soon and know it, some don’t know they are dying or are denying it, and some are like the rest of us- dying eventually but stopping for a moment to have a baby, get a knee replaced, or unclog some arteries.

I always touch when I’m visiting there, much more than I do with a healthy person on the street or in the office. Hands, cheeks, shoulders, and a kiss on the forehead- I want the person in the bed to remember that not all touches are demands to roll over, expose the vein in your right arm, or a dreamy prelude to “Wake up!” I’m human, though, and sometimes it’s hard to touch, and especially to kiss, but the other person is human, too, so touching always wins.

There are also times when I want to cry, and a few times with those who know they are dying, and who know that I know, that I’ve gone ahead and wept.  Why be falsely brave? These are persons who have affected me as a person, and not only as a pastor, and I will miss them. There are some points, with some people, when I must say “screw the professionalism,” and simply be me. I think it’s probably better to be leaving knowing beyond any possible doubt that you are loved and will be missed, than not.

Sometimes people show me sutures, wounds, and rashes that I don’t want to see. I guess they think preachers have a supernatural ability to not be aghast at some sights, so I steel myself for those potential moments. Only once did I purposefully foil the possibility: when I sensed one young first-time mother was about to show me her episiotomy, I rushed to the head of her bed where that would have been impossible.

I have learned much, so much though, from those who know they will not leave that bed they are in alive. Almost always, there is acceptance, and that acceptance is not always dependent on the intensity of their spirituality, or the complexities of their belief in an after-life. It has much more to do with “the things of the earth, growing strangely dim.” Regrets, guilt, hope, wishes- all of those things we who are healthy and sure we have unlimited days ahead of us in which to suffer or realize, become liberatingly irrelevant. Masks fall. The past and the future become the abstractions they actually are. Serenity moves in.

It is one of the greatest moments in another’s life, and to be able to witness that time of what may be never-before-realized freedom is a gift. In the end, again- for most people- death is not fearsome enemy they had spent their lives, to one degree or another, fearing. Sister Death, St.Francis called her; she is a vital and necessary part of Life.

A Respite from the Muck and Mire of Fundamentalism

I find the whole subject of fundamentalism tortuous. But I also know that one of the best ways to eradicate bacteria and mold is to expose them to the Light. So I will continue doing that, but I needed a break, and Graciel offered me one today with “What Do You Love?”at her blog, Evenstar Art, which everyone should go read frequently. It’s an antidote for many things. She writes:

“Today, I want you to quiet your monkey-mind. The part of your mind that swings wildly from one illusion to another. From one worry to another. From one judgement to another. I want you to practice focusing the part of your mind that leads you into made-up trouble on something positive. Practice focusing for one minute. Yes, just one minute. I want you to think about what you love. Not who you love. That’s another minute. This minute, I want you to think about what you love. Because it takes a bit of concentration and the monkey-mind must come to a rest while thinking positive thoughts.”

So here is my own one minute (or so) list of things I love:

*the golden finches which devour the sunflower seeds I put out for them this time of year

*the two soaring pines in the neighbor’s yard and the two single-note wind chimes that hang from them

*Wednesday nights

*the vultures at the lake, so crazily beautiful in their bigness and boldness

*sitting outside when the coyotes across the highway begin their howling

*the house in Ohio where I grew up. I walk through it frequently in memory

*Salem and Lola (OK, I’m cheating- they are both who’s to me, but since they are dogs I’m passing them off here as what’s)

*pick a beach, any one where salt water is lapping will do

*van Gogh’s “Starry Night”

*Madonna singing “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina” (Yes, I know, odd. Deal with it.)

*thinking about and writing Sunday messages

*listening to stories that have never been told before

*Rumi

*the Moon, as it rises between those same two pine trees

*reading (again) Matthew 5- 7, and 25; John 1, 14, and 15; Genesis; and Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Revelation (the latter three because it’s just so strange for them to be in the Bible)

Yes, that took me more than a minute. You have my (and, I think, Graciel’s) permission to take more than a minute with your own list, too.

Rumi – Why I love him..

A Teacher’s Pay, by Rumi

God has said Be Moderate with eating and drinking,
but never, Be Satisfied when taking in light.

God offers a teacher the treasures of the world,
and the teacher responds, “To be in love with God

and expect to be paid for it!” A servant wants
to be rewarded for what he does. A lover wants

only to be in love’s presence, that ocean
whose depth will never be known.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I love Rumi. It’s that simple. I know, I know: Join the bandwagon. But there’s a reason bandwagons exist, isn’t there?

There are those men and women who are able to reach far beyond the superficialities of gender, nationality, or even time, and expose that which is in themselves in such a way that it is begun to be revealed in ourselves. We are probably not- not yet– as eloquent as they are about what we have discovered in ourselves, through their courage in writing; but isn’t it thrilling to know that what they have uncovered strikes a chord within us- one that we are able to begin to hear?

I love Rumi because he makes my body sing.

He tells me why I can lose myself in the magenta of a swamp mallow, or in the flight of a heron from one side of the lake to the other. I look up at the sky and know almost nothing about what I’m seeing, but I love looking anyway. And I share that ignorance with everyone at some point in the depths of space- we are all a part of a Mystery whose depth cannot be known, yet we are attracted to it, bound together by our attraction to it, and each other, and all that is.

My curiosity is insatiable. Don’t tell me to put a lid on it or tear away at the edges of it! There is Light there somewhere and what I know is that the Light will lead to more Light, and that it someday will absorb me and on that day I will be a part of the symphony and I, and you, and the swamp mallow, and the heron, and you, too, will resound eternally.

Rumi tells me it’s OK to think that way. I believe him.

I just received a new Vaio laptop as a gift..Rumi predicted it 800 years ago..

 

There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street
and being the noise.

Drink all your passion,
and be a disgrace.

Close both eyes
to see with the other eye.

Open your hands,
if you want to be held.

Sit down in the circle.

Quit acting like a wolf, and feel
the shepherd’s love filling you…

Why do you stay in prison
when the door is so wide open?