Sunday, January 01, 2006

divine messages

The way that you spoke left me speechless,

Helpless in the face of your sweetness.

I ran from your trap, home to my heart,

But trapped in my heart I'm your captive.

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

Key word: speech

It's a new year today, not simply a new day now. And yet I'm refusing to allow it to be truly beginning ... yet. For one thing, my son's on the other side of the dateline and still inside New Year's Eve. For another, the weather forecast has doomed us to a 41 C heat wave today with high fire danger. This is the kind of day I will endure, that is all. It's not the kind of day I would start a new year with. I'll wait until tomorrow when the weather returns to reason and my family is together inside the 2006 calendar.

None of the appropriate words like hot, fire, burn, hell, yielded any verse I'd not yet "done", so I simply took the first one that took my fancy with the theme of speech.

While reading this verse this morning I thought of Islam as Rumi's heart-home, a spiritual home he grew up in, a tradition that gave him the vocabulary to speak about the divine. Before meeting Shams, Rumi would have studied the Koran in great depth. After all, he was a religious teacher, inheriting his father's position as head of a madrasah. Shams, however, clearly brought him new insights, radically new ways of seeing the Koran and probably also other traditions like Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism and Hinduism. Something in all this left Rumi stunned and he might have sought refuge in his religious roots, only to find there a renewed sense of enthrallment. Whichever way he might run, away from or towards Islam, he was still trapped inside the same divine spell.

Once Rumi did start pouring out Shams' insights he did it initially through this medium of quatrains or rubaiyat, followed later by his magnum opus, the Mathnawi, this time using rhyming couplets. Although all of this writing made clear sense to Muslims, it also makes clear sense to non-Muslims. I even believe it can make perfectly clear sense to those taking an anti-Islamic stance. Where Rumi does refer to the Koran, he touches on the simple core ideas that have made it such a successful spiritual tradition. He has, however, used rich poetic imagery in stark contrast to Mohammad who saw poetry with some suspicion. It is that lack or failing in the Koran that Rumi fills out.

Koran (trans Pickthal)

from surah 26. ash-Shu`ara': The Poets, verses 224-226:

As for poets, the erring follow them.
Hast thou not seen how they stray in every valley,
And how they say that which they do not ?

from surah 69. al-Haqqah: The Inevitable, verses 38-43:

But nay! I swear by all that ye see
And all that ye see not
That it is indeed the speech of an illustrious messenger.
It is not poet's speech - little is it that ye believe!
Nor diviner's speech - little is it that ye remember!
It is a revelation from the Lord of the Worlds.

While Mohammad insists that he does not descend to the base level of a poet but speaks directly, uniquely, and finally, on behalf of One God, Rumi simply writes sweet poetry and says that all human speech is divine. Mohammad's speech is included, but not as unique, nor as final, and especially not as direct. The direct messages from the divine are poetic, they are bewildering, paradoxical, confusing. However, Rumi shows through his patient unfurling of beautiful verses that the divine messages can also be both sweet and ultimately coherent.


At Monday, 02 January, 2006, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

Interesting that Mohammad's suspicion of poets is like Plato's, and both wanted to impose their own idea of what was right, Mohammad having succeeded far better than Plato in that regard.

At Monday, 02 January, 2006, Blogger Arizona said...

Plato saw poetry as opposed to philosophy which was to give birth to modern science which so hugely dominates the Western worldview leaving poetry thoroughly marginalized. Plato may not have achieved instant and personal success as did Mohammad but surely, in the long run, his beloved philosophy won the day.

Thanks for pointing out that parallel between Plato and Mohammad. There is much food for thought in this.


Post a Comment

<< Home