Again we hear about Joesph, a beloved figure in Rumi’s iconography and this time we are be able to place him in the Judeo-Christian tradition, along with Jacob and Jesus. It’s easy to forget that Sufism, and its parent religion, Islam, also honor the Hebrew scriptures, since they are one of the world’s three monotheistic religions. In this Easter season, Rumi’s references to Jesus are as welcome as they are surprising and with his outsider’s lens, we are able to see Jesus’ actions anew.
I read and reread the last two stanzas over and over again. We are invited to imitate, not just celebrate the universal pattern of death and resurrection.
It is so easy to remain stony, jagged ground. That is precisely what we have been taught: to defend what is ours, to protect what we have earned, to get what we “deserve,” to eliminate discomfort, to cultivate only the seeds we have planted.
But that was not Jesus’ message – not the one he taught, nor the one he exemplified with his life. He surrendered and became fertile ground. Wildflowers were his harvest, along with mustard trees, vineyards, wheat and weeds.
I want to have the courage to “be crumbled” as he was and poetry like this helps me remember that wanting. Without it, I become stony and jagged again.
In some Christian nations, Easter Monday is a national holiday, a day to recover and recollect on the significance of the holy day that preceded it. No such day exists in the States, but that’s no reason for us not to continue our Easter reflections! Here are a few more poems by Rumi, celebrating new life and the splendor of our lived existence.
This is not a day for asking questions,
not a day on any calendar.
This day is conscious of itself.
This day is a lover, bread and gentleness.
“Rumi, Pay Homage”
If God said,
“Rumi, pay homage to everything
that has helped you
there would not be one experience of my life,
not one thought, not one feeling,
not any act, I
I am filled with You.
Mere existence is a dance of joy.
Skin, blood, and bone,
brain and soul,
You fill me completely.
There’s no room in me now
for either doubt or belief.
None of that matters anymore.
My life is only
I hope you don’t mind three poems. They were so brief, though each could be meditated on over the course of a lifetime. With each return, a new insight, a deeper understanding.
None of us has reached the level of Rumi’s enlightenment, but hopefully, we have had glimpses, tastes of the sublime oneness he experienced with God. If you’re anything like me, you’d like to have more, but we cannot force it. To paraphrase one of my teachers: we cannot make moments of Divine Oneness happen, but we can adopt a stance that offers the least resistance to being overtaken by them. How? Through contemplation, poetry, prayer, surrender, kindness, compassion for self and others, authenticity, patience, curiosity, openness, etc. The list could include anything that de-centers our mind and pride, certainty and ego from running the show.
When I look at the life of Jesus, not just in this last week, but over the course of his ministry, I see all those things in spades, and I read all of these poems as illustrations of how he might experienced his new life as the resurrected Christ on Easter Sunday, Easter Monday and beyond.
There are two kinds of intelligence: one acquired,
as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts
from books and from what the teacher says,
collecting information from the traditional sciences
as well as from the new sciences.
With such intelligence you rise in the world.
You get ranked ahead or behind others
in regard to your competence in retaining
information. You stroll with this intelligence
in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more
marks on your preserving tablets.
There is another kind of tablet, one
already completed and preserved inside you.
A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness
in the center of the chest. This other intelligence
does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid,
and it doesn’t move from outside to inside
through conduits of plumbing-learning.
This second knowing is a fountainhead
from within you, moving out.
Rumi, 13th century Persian Sufi mystic, poet and teacher
Obviously we all know and love the first kind of knowledge. We have been “educated” in that way our whole lives: the knowing, the discerning, the judging and ranking. According to Franciscan teacher Richard Rohr, it’s what the false self thrives on; it’s a meritocracy, a game of tit-for-tat and it’s the only game in town.
But what if it’s not? What if what we look like and how well we do and where we rank is just ONE way to look at the world and not even the most interesting way,?
That’s the type of intelligence Rumi offers as an alternative in the third stanza. This is the wisdom of the True Self, our soul, humanity, authenticity, integrity, creativity, generativity, connectivity, etc. This never dies. This is the Divine Intelligence from which we came and to which we will return and it is our life’s work and pleasure to live out of that intelligence all the days of our lives. The second intelligence, which we mistakenly put first, is good as far as it goes, as my teacher would say, but it doesn’t go nearly far enough. It takes the flexible, fluid movement of the Spirit within us to go all the way.
(This first stanza captures the spark of recognition that comes between lovers, sometimes at the very first sight. Though I don’t consider ours a “love at first sight” story, I still remember the very first time I laid eyes on Tim. He was looking down, but when his eyes came up and met mine, I thought, “Oh.” It felt nothing like love, but certainly like I had just met someone significant in some way I didn’t yet understand.)
To see your face in a crowd of others,
or alone on a frightening street,
I weep for that.
(After a time together, the physical presence of the beloved can bring immediate relief. In the midst of crowds and chaos, the lover is safety, security, home.)
Our tears improve the earth.
The time you scolded me,
your gratitude, your laughing,
always your qualities increase the soul.
(In these lines, Rumi affirms the whole range of emotions and experiences he shares with his beloved. Love is not just happiness, but tears and difficulties. What is essential is that they “increase the soul” of the other and their ability to fully alive and fully human.)
Seeing you is a wine
that does not muddle, or numb.
(This love is delicious, intoxicating and necessary – wine was the essential liquid of his time – but it is not an escape. It does not allow him to deny, or keep him from reality.)
We sit inside the cypress shadow
where amazement and clear thought
twine their slow growth into us.
(All lovers have private places they go to while away the hours in dreams and conversations. True lovers are edified by that time away and come back with greater clarity about themselves and the world around them.)
Is anyone else thinking, “Finally, a love poem!” or is it just me? Honestly, I’ve held out for a full ten days, which I thought was pretty impressive. But perhaps you haven’t even noticed, since so many of my poems have been about Love: love of God, neighbor, self, or the world. I’m not going to count “Funeral Blues,” since it was about love after loss, not love that could be enjoyed in the here and now.
But romantic love is what most of us associate with poetry. Just about every goofy, poetic stereotype has to do with a love-sick soul who pours his, or her heart out in bad verse. It has been a classic sign of infatuation and the undying devotion that accompanies it. We’ve probably all scribbled some of that sweet nonsense ourselves, either in a journal, or if we were really brave, in what we hope by now is a long-lost love letter. If we’re really lucky, we might have even received a stanza, or two that made our hearts race and our cheeks flush. The thrill of being seen in our best light is such a pleasurable one!
I don’t care if that kind of sentimental drivel gives poetry a bad rap. Let lovers write! Let Hallmark cards reign! Let roses be red and violets be blue! As long as we can have love poems like these from Rumi, the genre will not be completely disgraced and rest assured, a few more are coming this month from some other poets as well!
From Rumi, a 13th-century Persian Sunni Muslim poet, jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian, and Sufi mystic.
If you ask anyone who knew me as a child, they will admit I was a late bloomer. My dad’s nickname for me was “Bumper;” I was always running into walls and doors. With the amount of spills I took running across the street, riding a bike, or even just walking down the hall, it sometimes seemed like a struggle just to stay on my own two feet. I’m guessing that’s why I am drawn to this poem.
So often, we dismiss the “lame goats,” the ones who bring up the rear and seem to be in their own world, but this poem reminds us that when we do, we may not have the right perspective. It takes time, and patience to see the whole picture and those are two things most of us have in short supply. The concrete visual imagery of this poem is a powerful reminder to have some patience and faith in the people and things that take a little more time. This is even a lesson we can apply to ourselves when we find ourselves falling behind! Everyone has value and everyone is ahead of the curve somewhere and at some time.
So have pity on the “lame goat” who lags behind, including this writer, who agonized about choosing such a silly poem for today! I wanted to offer something a little lighter than “The Last Supper,” but hope you don’t find it underwhelming. Tomorrow, we’ll get back to some more serious literary work!
This election cycle has brought to mind a classic parable. I’ll share a version from the poet Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks.
Some Hindus have an elephant to show.
No one here has ever seen an elephant.
They bring it in at night to a dark room.
One by one, we go in the dark and come out
Saying how we experience the animal.
One of us happens to touch the trunk
A water-pipe kind of creature.
Another, the ear. A very strong, always moving
Back and forth, fan-animal. Another, the leg.
I find it still, like a column on a temple.
Another touches the curved back,
A leathery throne. Another, the cleverest,
Feels the tusk. A rounded sword made of porcelain.
He is proud of his description.
Each of us touches one place
And understands the whole in that way.
The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark
Are how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.
If each of us held a candle there
And if we went in together, we could see it.
Politics is always about the part of the elephant you’re touching, but Rumi’s description is particularly apt this election season. A friend commented on my last blog: “We know what we know. We know what we don’t know. The problem is that we don’t know what we don’t know.” We may be humble enough to admit a lack of expertise in a few areas, but we generally can’t imagine the vast expanse of our own ignorance.
We get ourselves into trouble when we believe our own frame of reference is the only one and fill in the blanks with our own assumptions instead of using our collective knowledge to get a bigger picture. He pointed out the trouble, but like the rest of us, he isn’t exempt. We all do it – in our politics and personal lives. Listening and empathizing with another person’s perspective and pain is one of the most courageous and difficult actions we can take as human beings.
Sometimes, our part of the elephant is the only one we’re willing to touch. And that’s okay – for a while, maybe even a long while – but eventually, if we want to make progress as a family, community, or nation, we’re going to have to enter the darkness with our shared light. Think of it as “group enlightenment.” Entering that space together, we’ll no longer be 100% right, but we will have fuller understanding of reality.
Another friend posed the question: “Will America stop listening to the media and start listening to each other?” I don’t know. I hope so, since it’s the only way forward, but I think it’s way too soon for a lot of people who are deeply wounded and defended on both sides. If a respectful conversation isn’t possible this holiday season, maybe it’s okay to take a year off. So much still needs to come to light, from within and without.
Where are you finding light these days and how are you manifesting that light in the world?
Some people are really good at being spotlights, pointing out what needs to be seen. Some are blowtorches, using their heat to skillfully craft something new. Unfortunately, too many of us are still forest fires, burning out of control, destroying everything in our path. But all is not lost! Even forest fires make way for new life in the spring.
I don’t know what kind of light I am. I just know I am called to return again and again to the source of Divine Light. I found one call to action from a wisdom teacher Matthew Wright especially helpful.
Listen deeply, friends. I am no fan of militaristic metaphors used for the spiritual life. Nevertheless, a battle is coming, and is now here. Our weapons are light (sharp, clear-seeing), love (non-judging, compassionate awareness), resistance (refusing to fall backwards into complacency, instead joining the forward movement of evolution on its messy way through struggle and pain), and relationship (holding our hearts open–within our capacity–so as to allow for authentic connection, born of deep and vulnerable listening). As Jesus constantly says in the Gospels – be sober, be vigilant, be watchful. But do not fear.
Pick up your “weapons,” friends and enemies alike, because if we commit to fight with these in our arsenal, we will find ourselves on the same side of the battle more often than not.
I found this photo on Facebook this morning and it inspired a little year-end review. I decided it summed up what I discovered about myself in 2015.
In 2015, a few external things changed. Keara graduated from high school and went off to college. Finn got his driver’s license and stepped into the serious college hustle of AP classes, varsity sports and a job. Molly, our baby, became a teenager and is winding up jr. high, ready to launch into the next phase of her life. I am in the stretch run of having a house full of kids, and all the care that involves. Nowhere is this transition captured more poignantly than in the Team Kirks 2015 Christmas card. You can click on the link to watch it here. In the words of REM, it’s “The End of the World as We Know It.” Despite all the changes, we feel fine.
But what I have noticed even more than the external changes in my life are the internal ones, which the quote above captured so beautifully. In 2015, through the Living School and the people I have met there, through raising teenagers and meeting their friends, through reading, writing, teaching and everyday life, I have fallen in Love over and over again. Obviously, I am not talking about romantic love here, the heart-pounding flush of infatuation and the inevitable crush that follows. I am talking about Love – the Love that says Yes to all that is. The Love that can only be discovered when people reveal something vulnerable and true about themselves.
Dostoyevsky describes this Love beautifully in The Brothers Karamazov. It’s been twenty-plus years since I last read the book, but it has been mentioned three times in the last week by people I respect, and so it goes on the top of my reading list for 2016. Here’s is Fyodor’s commandment to Love:
Love people even in their sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all of God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand of it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.
This Love is a gift, though most of us treat it as a burden. We’d rather have a facsimile, projection, or image of Love than the real thing. I know for most of my life, this has been true, with few exceptions. But in 2015, I began to see my own preferences for what they were: fear and self-preservation and this is not the kind of Love Dostoyevsky, the mystics, prophets and even Jesus talk about.
This year I fell in Love with all sorts of people who showed me a piece of their soul. I fell in Love with authors: Glennon Melton, Liz Gilbert, Parker Palmer, and Omid Safi. I fell in Love with poets: Rumi, Hafiz, David Whyte and Mary Oliver. I fell in Love with mystics, musicians and artists. I fell in Love with my own friends and family. I even began to fall in Love with strangers, the refugees and homeless and victims of all the “isms” of the world, though I am not yet sure how to show that Love appropriately. I have a feeling that will be the journey of 2016 and beyond. I have a feeling that is the journey of a lifetime. How do I serve those I Love? How do I meet them where they are?
We know that real Love changes us. Once experienced, we cannot forget the joy Love brings; we cannot un-know the secrets it reveals; we cannot re-harden our hearts. We are different on the other side of Love’s door.
My resolution for 2016 is to keep stepping over the threshold.
P.S. If anyone wants to read The Brothers Karamazov with me, comment below. I’d love to get a little virtual discussion group going!