Fatherhood Friday: Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Mevlana Celaleddin-i Rumi
You spoke of sheiks
With Celebrated Beards and
Entire wildernesses behind
Their eyes and so
The painters have made you
One of those but
You always swirl
Ahead of me your face
Like a young boy laughing with
A mouth as open as the sky
I want to write every
Word of yours to
Make them mine so when
I die they find nothing
Else here but
You have forced me to
Abandon that vanity and
To be your words instead

It is difficult to put into words the sublime effect that Rumi’s poetry has on me. Hook me up to heart monitor when I’m reading it and you’ll be able to observe a strengthening, a regulating and a slight elevation of my heartbeat. Listen inside my mind and  you’ll hear a deep expiration, a psychological sigh of relief, springing from a sense of homecoming to a broad place where the soul is unrestricted.

He both confirms and expands my perspective on reality. It may be as well to say that I get as much brotherhood as fatherhood from this Persian mystic and his wisdom has framed my world for the last seven years, helping me to make sense, or rather to be at peace with the no-sense, of existence.

Rumi was born on the 30th of September in 1207. After fleeing Balkh ahead of the Mongols, he took up residence in Konya and was well on the way to being a respectable holy man when he was caught up in a mystical dialogue with an enigmatic uneducated wanderer called Shams. Shams came to embody the Friend to Rumi and most of his poetry is addressed to him in an ongoing conversation they call “sohbet”. It may be strange that this poet is one of the most popular and widely read in the whole world but, like no other, his words resonate with the sehnsucht that is buried deep in all humans, in all ages and all places. His popularity today is in no small way thanks to Coleman Barks who has faithfully reproduced every line for the modern reader in a series of translations. His “The Essential Rumi” is my most dog-eared and annotated book.

He has been called a “gnostic” but that is merely a label that fails to do any justice to the encompassing breadth of his thought that, to my mind, affirmed the material world more than any materialist ever has. He has also been called a “mystic”, but I don’t know about that either. Surely the best sort of mystic is the one who has no idea that they should call themselves one.

Three Things Rumi taught me

This now is divine

When your eyes are opened, every single thing in every conscious moment reveals the Divine. We can see the face of the Friend in every body and every tree or building and this is the key to being content with mountain tops or prison walls and what we call “success” or “failure” is no longer relevant. Those things that increase our longing also feed and satisfy it. I can draw a direct line between some of this stuff and Kierkegaard (who will feature in another Fatherhood Friday) when he said, “longing is the umbilical cord of the higher life.” The rain and wind, even, are ways that the cloud takes care of us.  For example:

One day a sufi sees an empty food sack hanging on a nail.

He begins to tear his shirt, saying,

Food for what needs no food!

A cure for hunger!

Most of the people we are supposed to respect are just holding their pants and playing “horsey horsey”

Rumi tells the story of a dervish who goes in search of a celebrated sheikh. When he finds him, after being told not to bother by the sheik’s wife, he is playing with the children in the village and he asks him why he is hiding his intelligence in children’s games. The sheikh replies:

“The people here want to put me in charge. They want me to be judge, magistrate, interpreter of all the texts. The knowing I have doesn’t want that. It wants to enjoy itself. I am a plantation of sugarcane, and at the same time  I’m eating the sweetness.”

Knowledge that is acquired is not like this. Those who have it worry if audiences like it or not. It’s a bait for popularity.

This and a thousand other verses have rung deeply with me and constantly remind me that the true measure of a person is extremely subtle and popularity is no guide to authority or authenticity.

True spirituality is unavoidably earthy and practical

As someone with a strong proclivity towards mysticism, I have found at many times that I have been tempted to take a hermit’s path, as if a high and lonely garret were the closest place I could get to God. But Mevlana affirms community and treats the mundane as the touching point of the ineffable with daily life.

Just a few weeks ago I was washing the dishes – a profound, meditative practice in itself. A glass slipped from my hands and smashed on the floor. It was as if something burst over me, not frustration or irritation or regret but something like a strong wind of heaven that sucked me into a deeper place of devotion.

Here is the new rule: break the wineglass,

and fall towards the glassblower’s breath.

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