Saturday, August 13, 2005

sweet rejection

I said: 'You are the wine, and I the cup.

I'm lifeless; you are lovely, loyal, sweet --

Now open up.' But she shut the door:

'Let a madman loose inside the house? What for?'

#1638: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search words: wine

The image of a cup holding wine came to mind first thing this morning. That cup and that wine have been connected with the Holy Grail and with Christ's blood. I'm connecting it with ecstasy or intoxication. I believe we all feel it every day when we're absorbed, perhaps in a simple task like weeding the garden or sewing up a sheet, perhaps in the intellectual solution of a programming or mathematical problem, perhaps in the accomplishment of some athletic feat, and certainly whenever we're wrapt in a story with drama and meaning, whether originating in a fireside tale, arising from a book or issuing forth from the TV set or movie screen.

Wine is an image for that elevation out of ordinary reality that we can call divine, an elevation that can arise out of but blend anew with ordinary, earthly reality. The best moments are when the divine and the ordinary are joined, when heaven and earth unite.

Surely Rumi creates such a moment here in this verse. It opens up with an image of a male devotee of the goddess. He adopts the submissive or passive role of a cup, usually associated with the womb and hence feminine containment. The goddess figure is the wine which has a potency akin to the sexual potency of semen. Suddenly Rumi asks her to open up and she shuts the door, these symbols revert back to Rumi's maleness and the goddess' femaleness. The serious tone is shattered as comedy breaks through in the last line.

I love these vignettes that Rumi creates, depicting himself as the harassed husband of a bossy wife. Surely this is a platform of communication through which he can reach any ordinary male - or female - in his audience. I've been following Australia's Big Brother 2005 which is drawing to its end. Absorption in that drama is one of the small ecstasies of my days. The final three contestants consist of two harassed males (Tim and Greg) and a bossy complaining woman (Vesna) who has become so popular as the one to love and hate. Who will win the final prize? My money would be on the flawed goddess.

In today's verse, the goddess rejects the loyal and supplicating male. Her house is in order and she wants to keep it that way. No messy papers scattered on every surface, no dirt and mud brought in to shiny floors, no tomato sauce spilled on white tablecloths. No, all is in order and as it should be. So ... why do I get the distinct impression that she is about to cave in? Rumi's muse chides him in that way that wives chide their husbands. He is so familiar with her that his relationship with her is just like husband and wife, just like the comedic aspects of marriage.

This, for me, is where Rumi's genius lies. He relates to God - or the goddess or Shams or the Self - in a variety of ways: sometimes as male to female, sometimes in reverse, sometimes as male to male as friends or lovers. No one is "on top" at all times. God and man are equals.

Christianity is full of images of God communicating with special men, with prophets or shamans, culminating in a special man whose followers suddenly realised is God. Christianity is obsessed with this intersection of the divine and the human in Jesus. However, the whole tone is serious, pious, self-righteous. In a word: religious. It is a tone reserved for the day set aside for being religious.

In Islam, I see an earthy element trying to insert itself - ironically enough, since Islam so insists on a transcendant deity. However, despite that insistence, the Koran and the Hadith collections are full of earthy stories, often quite funny stories, funny especially because most Muslims take them so seriously.

In Rumi, we see the logical flowering of that more earthly perspective. Rumi points the way to the realization that every man - and woman - is both human and divine, earthly and spiritual, funny and serious, low and high, civilised and wild. All the contrasts are within each of us, to be expressed each in his or her own unique way. And as soon as one opens one's mouth to speak this truth, it evaporates into the clich├ęs and distorting categories used to say it.

What's left to do then but to shrug in comic despair ... and move on?


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