Wednesday, February 08, 2006

true gold

Accept me, friend, and take my life away.

Make me drunk, take me from this world and that beyond.

Take that part of my heart that is not yours:

Set fire to me and burn that part away.

#1408: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Key word: accept

Last night my friend and I attended a rehearsal for a coming production by a local theatre company. We stood in as a mini audience. We were newcomers and there was a slight awkwardness in the air but by the end of the evening we were accepted, integrated into this small community of artists. Feeling accepted and feeling loved are very close. I feel good this morning and at peace.

As I read today's quatrain, I can hear strange messages that I know are not meant to be there. When Rumi asks his god-friend to take his life away, this would normally be understood to mean that his life has no importance within the grand scheme of things. Health, wealth, happiness, the things we long for in life, the things that seem to make life more abundant, these Rumi would set aside in favour of acceptance by his god-friend. I can also read this verse as if I myself am his friend, in which case I would ask him passionately to keep a hold of his life for it is so precious. I would seek to uphold and nurture the life of the poem itself, seeking out where it can touch the modern soul and enliven it. Perhaps, at the end, I would accept that dead matter, the dry litter on the forest floor, can be burned away so new growth can emerge.

The drunkenness in the second line lifts our imagination up and out from the here and now of this material world as well as from the dreamed up destinations beyond, the heaven and hell, the silent grave, Valhalla or Elysium. This drunkenness asks that we look beyond the dualities of contingence and eternity, of presence and future, of real and imagined. But I say that it is a reality that we imagine these dualities and it is an imagined hope that we can transcend them, so why can we not love both errors and accept them as diverse ways of being.

In the last two lines, Rumi evokes an idea that I've visited here before under the fires of hell. There I quote the Chinese saying: "True gold fears not the refiner's fire." What there is in us that is authentic (precious, unchangeable, eternal, essential) cannot be destroyed by adversity or by fiery emotion. Rather, it is these kinds of fire that help reveal the true gold in us.

In recent days, we've experienced the incendiary incidents and emotions arising from the Muslim world in response to a dozen Danish cartoons. Correspondingly strong passions have been stirred among non-Muslims like myself. This is a good time for sorting out our values, for re-examining many elements of our communal cultural lives and determining what is good to keep and what is best burnt away by these events. It is, for example, a good time to re-assess how we feel about this man:


Jean-Antoine Houdon: Voltaire @ wikimedia commons

Update: Sunlight has three further versions of this quatrain as follows:
O my Beloved!
Take me,
Liberate my soul,
Fill me with your love,
and release me from both worlds.

If I set my heart
On anything but you,
O fire, burn me from inside!

O my Beloved
Take away what I want,
Take away what I do,
Take away everything
that takes me from you.

version by Jonathan Star and Shahram Shiva

take me in my love
take my soul
set me on ecstasy
take both of my worlds
if I rest my heart on
anything but you
throw me with fireball
take everything I hold

translation by Nader Khalili

My Friend,
I offer You my life.
Accept me, make me drunk
and save me from both worlds.
Set me on fire
if my heart settles on anything
but You.

translation by Azima Melita Kolin and Maryam Mafi

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At Thursday, 09 February, 2006, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

Been reading Rumi and Hafiz lately. Also Erich Fromm's The Art of Loving, which quotes Rumi. Just as we seemed to have a Buddhist explosion in America while fighting Vietnam, we now seem to be having a Sufi explosion while fighting Islamic extremists. Ok, granted, Fromm wrote many decades ago, but he's still in print.

It seems some of us try to understand the best our enemy has to offer once we come to grips. Of course, the extremists probably disown the Sufis, but they are still part of their heritage.

At Thursday, 09 February, 2006, Blogger Arizona said...

I reread some Fromm recently and his message certainly remains pertinent. That's a really nice observation that we do soak up a bit of our enemy and hopefully the best bits.

Internal to Islam, the Wahhabi/Salafi interpretations are, indeed, at loggerheads with Sufism. The extremists have almost all had their roots in the first. However, it is a comfort to the ordinary Muslim that we appreciate at least one facet of their religious heritage and many young Muslims in the West are drawn to Sufism because of that. It's a place where we can all get together and hold hands.


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