Was it just me, or did anyone else confuse a Tasmanian Devil with a whirling dervish in their childhood? When I was younger, I knew of only one difference: Taz was an actual star of a cartoon show. That was it. I had no idea whether a whirling dervish was man or beast, good or evil, though I tended to think the latter. Whenever the phrase was used in my childhood home, it had a negative connotation. It meant I needed to slow down, to stop being so wild. For the sake of my mother’s nerves and my backside, I needed to be still.
I hadn’t thought about my juvenile transposition of those terms for many, many years, but recently a friend posted this picture of me on Facebook, which was taken at her wedding last summer.
Uh-oh, I thought, but I figured that it might get even worse, or better, depending on how you look at it. I was right. Apparently, we were just getting started. This moment followed.
My partner and I were like turbines picking up steam. Though I haven’t seen the photographic evidence, I have vague memories of being sprawled across the dance floor, on our bums, laughing hysterically.
When I saw these photos, my mother’s phrase “whirling dervish” immediately came to mind. It had been 30 years since it had been used to scold me for playing so wildly with my friends. It was always followed by an encouragement to read instead, to pick up our messes, or at the very least to go outside! And since I am now an adult with access to cool technology like the Internet and Wikipedia, I decided to look up the term for myself. Imagine my surprise when I saw beautiful images like this one below.
Whirling dervishes are not a menace to society, some wild, uncontrollable animal, or a tic that overtakes someone like a seizure, or a stroke. A whirling dervish is someone who dances in circles in order worship and discover God. They don’t even refer to themselves by that name. Technically, they are the Mevlevi sect of Sufism.
In my research, I also discovered a beautiful quote by a member of that sect, Sherif Baba. He said, “The dervish whirls so that the true form of the world can be seen. When we whirl, all the individual pieces we think are separate blend together and we begin to sense the totality that is God.”
Amen to that. When I read why a dervish whirls, my need to spin on the dance floor with my lovely friend on my arm became crystal clear. We had joyously celebrated her marriage a few short years before and now, she is going through some events that are unexpected, unwanted and frankly, unpleasant and yet together, we were celebrating the marriage of another friend. The bride’s childhood had been marked by a tragic loss, but her commitment to her new husband signified a belief in hope, joy, love, and the promise of all those blessings in greater measure in her future. Life spins on its axis and we are constantly called to accept changes in our circumstances and perspective.
I tend to seek God in stillness, in the slow, silent moments of the dark morning, or the star-filled night. I find it difficult to see the Divine Presence in the fractal events of my life, particularly when they are upsetting or tragic. I am more likely to view them as something to be borne, something to be gotten through, rather than an opportunity to “sense the totality of God.”
But the dance floor offers me another way. If I follow the example of the whirling dervishes, I might remember that sometimes, God can best be found in chaos, in change, in the very eye of the storm. If the Divine Presence is the centrifugal force of life, then sometimes we must spin in order to lose our own egos as the central reference point for all things. There is wisdom in letting go, in dancing through life, “so that the true form of the world can be seen.”