Wednesday, May 18, 2005

fear and trembling

If I die in this war, this combat with you,

I won't so much as sigh, for fear of troubling you.

I'll die with a smile, like a flower in your hand,

From the cruel charm with which you cut this wound.

#1501: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

I woke with death on my mind and die gave me these thoughts of Rumi. The second line has a resonance with Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, a book I was handling yesterday in the library. I almost borrowed it but decided against (choosing the glossy new Ibn Warraq's What the Koran Really Says instead). As reviewers and commentators say, Kierkegaard's work is about resolving the dilemma between an impotent God with no power over good and evil or an omnipotent God representing "might is right". The contemplation of Islam and of the life of Mo(hammad) brings this issue right to the centre of attention. If Jesus was a perfect and sinless man, born of a sinless virgin, Mo was a rogue, a charlatan, a murderer and thief. The religions flowing from the life of each of these men are about equally balanced in terms of current and historical power and influence. I have also been discussing Rumi and Sufism in terms of how he and it fitted into Islam. If he writes about love, how can he be a devout follower of a prophet who urged war? This question is not so different from Kierkegaard's anguish over the issues revealed in the story of Abraham's intention to sacrifice his son Isaac. Was Abraham - and Mo - deluded? Were they serving Satan? Was Rumi a mere sycophant or did he truly see the great value of Mo's message?

In today's verse, the "you" again seems to be divine, something far greater than Rumi's mere "I". His own death is of no importance relative to the divine other's discomfort. This humility following or as a result of combat is very similar to that expressed at the end of the Book of Job.

Job 42:1-6 (KJV)
Then Job answered the LORD, and said,
I know that thou canst do every thing, and that no thought can be withholden from thee.
Who is he that hideth counsel without knowledge? therefore have I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.
Hear, I beseech thee, and I will speak: I will demand of thee, and declare thou unto me.
I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee.
Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.

In both cases, the hero seems to be subjecting himself to the almighty, to a power so much greater than himself. In Rumi's case, his relationship to this god is expressed through classic metaphors of love, "the cruel charm with which you cut this wound". Whether we represent God as love or as majesty, it seems to all come down to the same thing. We have no more power or control over love than we do over any other tyrant.


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