Saturday, October 01, 2005

distilling the wine

Though distance has broken hope's own back,

Though cruelty has tied desire's hands,

The drunken lover's heart will not give up.

The goal's in reach if you try hard enough.

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

Search word: hope

It being the first day of the month, I'm in a mood for setting out again, on some new adventure. I'm in a hopeful mood. I have been recently feeling down and I woke in the night with a bad headache, a common symptom of stress and tension. I wonder why this happens again and again, why tension builds up, why hope seems to evaporate, why we feel disconnected, disempowered, disoriented. Why does it keep happening? Clearly Rumi's been in a place like this and known the power of perseverance. This is the moment when the goal is in sight and just one more effort will bring one home to it.

In Rumi's case, the immediate object of hope and desire was Shams, his beloved friend and teacher, who had suddenly disappeared. As time wore on the hope of seeing him again diminished. Some histories relate that Shams experienced the martyrdom of being flayed alive. I think it most likely that Rumi was told that this had happened but without real evidence. It was but one cruel possibility among others. It must have been very difficult for him to stay true to his love. This verse, I think, expresses a moment when despair seemed to be winning but a determination carried him through. The wine that Shams delivered would be spilt and lost if Rumi allowed his disappearance thus to overcome him.

A similar agony of grief must have been experienced by Jesus' disciples after He was so cruelly tortured and executed, degraded and humiliated in public. How could the values that He stood for survive such a catastrophe? Spong, in his Resurrection, describes in vivid and loving detail how Peter, especially, came to terms with this setback and was able to take on the leadership of the new religious movement. Out of the darkness of his grief and despair, a new light emerged and a new vision of what Jesus had stood for. At that point, for Peter, his goal had been reached, he had found his purpose and mission in life, he knew God's plan for him.

My own feeling about Rumi's verses grieving the disappearance of Shams is that they represent his own renewed vision of what his life was about. It was up to him to distill, process, package and deliver the wine of Shams' truth. This had to be done in a way that would protect Rumi as much as possible from charges of heresy, which came anyway but which he managed to defend himself against. How better than to write love poems? To my mind, Rumi's verses to Shams are the Islamic equivalent of the New Testament gospels. Here "Islamic" is not a parallel with Judaism, but with the Roman Empire. Islam is, after all, an empire-building and empire-maintaining ideology far more than a structure to aid spiritual development. Judaism also had that component to it but it was but a small part. Where Islam teaches how to win and stay on top, Judaism taught both how to win and how to deal with defeat. The culmination of the latter element is found in the Christian development of Judaism. This is why Jesus Himself claimed to fulfill the ancient laws.

If Jesus, then, is like a new Moses, Rumi is like a new Muhammad. Even his more comprehensive magnum opus, the Mathnawi, is commonly characterized as "the Koran in Persian". Since tradition around Muhammad makes the preposterous claim that he was the final prophet, Islam is thus set up for stagnation. It took the brilliance of a Rumi to get round this little difficulty and deliver his treasure nonetheless.


At Tuesday, 04 October, 2005, Blogger none said...

Wow! that is a great idea. It is true, now that I think about it that what touched me in the Koran, I find expressed in Rumi, ten times better, more distilled and complete.
You are such a wonderful spiritual guide and writer, I wish you would write a book about your ideas and beliefs. There are many "apostles" available, but how few are truly sincere, modest, self-critical and open.

At Tuesday, 04 October, 2005, Blogger Arizona said...

I'm really really chuffed to have someone read and enjoy my blog. You're #1! I also enjoy the window into your own world that your blog offers. We have overlapping values and interests and the reading enrichment goes both ways.

Let's hope we both get to write something book-length one day. And that sells well, too! ;)


Post a Comment

<< Home