Wednesday, December 28, 2005

messengers divine

My soul is stubborn, drunken, and meddling;

My lover's is kind, but weary of waiting.

The messenger I send to her is God.

To me, a message from her is God's own word.

#1092: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: drunk

I returned this morning to the idea of a contrast or opposition between head and heart, this time characterized by the difference between sobriety and drunkenness. Rumi belongs in a tradition of Persian poetry that praises wine and the euphoria that it brings, with commentators divided over the extent to which wine is referred to in a literal sense. Certainly, one can be spirited, vivacious, enthusiastic, lively, animated, etc, without drinking a drop of alcohol. All of these words point to a spirit, an alive-ness, even a god (the Greek theos being inside enthusiasm). Whatever it is, philosophy has always contrasted it with matter which is characterized as dead and dry in itself. A certain materialist bent can make one sober, serious, sensible, rational, reasonable, reliable. In a word: very very boring.

The verse that drunkenness pulled up today is one of the most surprising and heretical that I've come across so far. We must recall the basic Islamic dogma: God (Allah) speaks through angel Gabriel to His messenger (Mohammad) through whom the divine truth is revealed to humanity. A Muslim and his god are separated by two intermediaries with imams often adding their priestly and scholarly authority into the mix. In this verse Rumi is using God as his messenger and accepting a message from his beloved as God's own word. Although such a view is implied in almost every word of Rumi's poetry, it is stated so explicitly here that it is difficult to avoid seeing the heretical implications. Islam has sometimes been tolerant, sometimes intolerant, of its heretics. Surely it was in a tolerant phase while Rumi was writing and thriving.

When Shams disappeared and Rumi went in search of him, he suddenly found enlightenment, realizing that Shams was inside him all along. These quatrains were not simply dedicated to Shams: Rumi claimed that Shams wrote them himself. For me, it is quite evident that Rumi perceived Shams not only as a real and distinct person with whom he had formed a powerful bond of love, but also as a living presence inside his own soul, much as Christians acknowledge Jesus as both a human historical figure and a divine presence, eternally available to humanity. For me, despite the clear Hindu/Buddhist influences on Sufism as the mystical strand of Islam, there is also this strong Christian/humanist strand that Rumi has incorporated from Greek philosophy and Christian theology. The fact that he was trained as a Muslim theologian and teacher, in a long family tradition, and that he remained true to his original faith system, this tells me that he had truly synthesized these three or four traditions (depending on whether Christianity and Neo-Platonism are treated as separate).

The idea that God is identical to human speech, whether vocalized, written or expressed simply in silence, is elaborated in Rumi's Discourse #53, excerpts from which I give below:

Speech is like the sun, all people derive warmth and life from the sun, and the sun is always there. [...]

Though always present - for that sun is subtle, and "He is the All-subtle" - some element of grossness is required for it to become visible and apparent. [...]

Therefore, speech is a subtle sun shining continually, without ceasing, and we need some gross medium in order to see and enjoy it. But, once you can see those rays and that subtlety without any gross medium, then you find wonderful colors and marvelous spectacles in the depths of that sea. Yet what is so amazing about that? For speech is always within you, whether you actually speak or not, even if you have no thought of speaking.


The quotation "He is the All-subtle" comes from the Koran:
That then is God your Lord;
there is no god but He,
the Creator of everything.
So serve Him,
for He is Guardian over everything.
The eyes attain Him not, but He attains the eyes;
He is the All-subtle, the All-aware. (6:102-103)


So, for Rumi, this seems to be the equation:

God (Allah) = Sun (Sol) = Speech = message from Lover to Beloved and back again


At Thursday, 29 December, 2005, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

Writers of the Bible say in the beginning was the Word, more physical people say God is a dance, nature lovers are pantheistic: it seems the God we believe in is the one most congenial to how we're inclined to see things.

And the God we eventually meet is the one we're least prepared for.

At Thursday, 29 December, 2005, Blogger Arizona said...

Rich comment, Bob. A nice summing up.

Especially coming from an agnostic... You do know and love the Unknown God.


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