Wednesday, February 01, 2006

working for God

My faith in God is this: her eyes, their cheer,

Their drunken joy, her wild, heathen hair.

They say true faith is anything but this.

Then, by this, true faith I do dismiss.

#1316: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: God

I came up, this morning, with the strange idea of working for God, working to advance a cause that has no tribal or national or religious boundaries. But then, I realized that an atheist or secular humanist would see this idea as folly and could not relate to it. So it would not, in fact, transcend all schisms. Does polytheism, with its acceptance of religious diversity, achieve that? No, because it dissipates energy among too many causes and results in a lack of focus.

Physicist Freeman Dyson has written on contrasting ways to tackle great projects: the Napoleonic or rigid style and the Tolstoyan or chaotic sytle. (This essay might be among those in From Eros to Gaia and is mentioned here.) It takes the highly focussed, formalized and organized Napoleonic style to achieve grand technological projects such as the development of the atomic bomb and space travel. He sees NASA as having to function along those lines. By contrast, there is the more creative, diverse, flexible and fluid endeavour exemplified in great literature of the Tolstoyan kind. The arts die under Napoleonic rule.

At the level of an individual life, this translates to achieving certain long-term goals through perseverance, persistance, self-discipline, staying focussed on that goal. A certain military efficiency is required. On the other hand, to discover one's unique talents, values and dreams, one needs space in which to explore and a certain craziness in one's approach for it is so important to learn to accept the unexpected within ourselves.

In Rumi's day, and still today in most of the Muslim world, "faith" was seen as a strict adherence to dogma with no room for individual idiosyncracies. To say "I am God" or even "God has spoken to me" was utter heresy and yet this close encounter with deity is the starting point for artistic expression. To the mystic, God reveals Herself not just the once in historical time to a specially chosen hero (Buddha, Jesus, Mohammad) but at every moment, in and through every individual. The Napoleonic mind wants things set in concrete, wants a final word, an eternal truth.

In today's quatrain, Rumi asserts his own mystic's preference. If push comes to shove and he is forced to choose, he would go with the living spirit, the faith that lives on and is developed within each of us today. Rumi was faithful to the Quran and referred to it lovingly but he wrote his own ocean of Godly expression in his Mathnawi, essentially allowing God to speak anew through him. His was a prodigious talent and his reach is broad and deep. His work has far greater promise to unite humanity and transcend schisms than does the Quran. However, the science it is based on is alchemy and that is little understood by today's secular scientific mind.

What we need and we don't seem to have is a modern Isaac Newton, a genius who can marry heaven and earth like he did (showing that the same forces and the same equations applied in both spheres). However, in a modern context, it would be a marriage of the Napoleonic and the Tolstoyan arts and sciences, a true reconciliation between the mathematical sciences and the alchemical arts, both of which Newton studied with great passion.

Unlike Rumi, we cannot afford to dismiss one half of what constitutes "true faith". Somehow, we must marry the two. He did it in fact through the strict discipline of his poems which follow quite rigid rules of rhyme and metre. He was getting there and pointing the way, I believe. What he rejected or dismissed was exclusive formalism, dogma and discipline. What he rejected was the rejection or repression of the chaotic. Let both in, he asks, and let the marriage be individually conceived. Let each one of us arrive at his or her own marriage, for that's the best way to work for God.


At Friday, 03 February, 2006, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

In my poetry I often try to merge the forces of order and chaos by:

starting with a form, but modifying it to suit my purposes, still keeping within a regular pattern;

writing the first stanza freestyle, then making each succeeding stanza parallel in structure;

writing totally within a set form;

writing totally freestyle.

With this combination I try to live the Golden Mean.

At Friday, 03 February, 2006, Blogger Arizona said...

That sounds good but do you feel totally free when using a fixed form? And do you feel disciplined when using freestyle? Is it possible for order and chaos to merge so completely that neither can be discerned anymore as a separate mode?


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