Thursday, April 28, 2005

wounds heal

Those two words arose at dawn and wound immediately yielded a first line referring to pain, bleeding and love. So the bleeding wounds of an anonymous slave-woman and of Saint Agatha have dripped into today's reflections.
I'll swallow the pain that bleeds from your love's wound.

I'll bear your cruelty until judgment day.

That day, when truth lies bare, you'll beg for life

And I will stare at your beloved face.

#1221: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I found this verse perplexing when trying to visualize Shams as the one begging for life on judgment day. Why would he do that? He would, I would guess, be re-enacting the moment of his death, telling of how he died at the hands of murderers while begging for his life to be spared. And what is Rumi doing simply staring? This is the most bewildering quatrain confronting me since I started this exercise, this daily discipline of writing out of selected Rumi verses from the Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi.

It's easy to forget or ignore the pain of those who care about the one in the most immediate pain. Shams lost his life but Rumi lost Shams and he may here be questioning which is the greater pain. Similarly, we can but wonder at the pain of her children when the slave-mother was killed before their very eyes.
A child who came between her legs was smeared with the blood that was there.

This sentence can be interpreted in two ways: perhaps the slave-woman was pregnant and the slaying brought on a miscarriage, or perhaps one of her sons had approached and come between her legs at those final moments. The first interpretation is the more plausible and it seems that her innocent unborn child also lost its life to the movement that would support Mo's determination to eliminate opposing voices and thus have his opinions elevated to eternal truths.

In the scene of Saint Agatha's martyrdom, her female friend is in evident pain as she clutches a cloth to Agatha's chest. This is a direct personal grief that would have no time for blame, only sadness at what has transpired. The martyrdom is a result of a conflict of values between emerging Christianity and Roman political power and Agatha is simply caught in between. Perhaps if she had expressed those Christian values more quietly her life might have been spared. Who knows? Only judgment day will tell, when the truth is laid bare.

There is certainly a fine line between a reckless opposition to tyrannical authority and a cowardly submission to it. I rather fancy that Shams followed in the footsteps of an earlier great mystic, Al-Hallaj, who was cruelly executed on a charge of heresy, most famously for asserting "I am the Truth" and thus identifying himself with one of the 99 names of Allah. This is a similar extreme claim to the one of Jesus:
John 14:6 (KJV)

Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

If we look back at the history of great social change, there is often a martyr at the start, someone who will put the new value, the new truth, ahead of their own life. Once that strong statement has been made then others can follow taking lesser risks. I see the martyrdom of Giordano Bruno and the close escape from martyrdom of Galileo as a close parallel. I also see Shams as paving a similar way which was later fulfilled more cautiously by Rumi.

Today, we still have these reckless (but probably necessary) martyrs and I would put Theo van Gogh squarely into that category. Salmon Rushdie took a tentative step but withdrew to safety while van Gogh left himself far too easily open to martyrdom. It might be taking centuries, starting with an anonymous slave-woman and passing through Al-Hallaj and Shams through to Theo van Gogh, but sooner or later the truth will prevail and the Qur'an will be revealed for the shit that it is.


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