Secret places inside this violent world

Time for some more of Rumi’s poetry, again in the translation of Coleman Barks, from Bridge to the Soul: Journeys into the Music and Silence of the Heart.

I am sure I have said this before, but Rumi has been an amazing discovery for me. There is profound spiritual insight in the words of this Sufi master, and there is so much here that speaks to me at such a deep level. Some of it puts into words my own recent journey in ways that I could never have managed myself. Other parts express some of my deepest hopes and longings. And then there are many wonderful insights about God, love, friendship etc.

If only more people would read Rumi’s poetry. It would open their eyes to quite a different side of Islam. But then, he apparently is the most widely read poet in America today. There is still hope then …

We must die to become true human beings.

From gardens to the gardener,
from grieving to a wedding feast.

We tremble like leaves about to let go.
There is no avoiding pain,
or feeling exiled, or the taste of dust.

I can truly relate to those reflections on dying, grieving, letting go, experiencing pain and the taste of dust.

When someone feels jealous,
I am inside the hurt and the need to possess.

When anyone is sick,
I feel feverish and dizzy.

This I find comforting: that God is inside the hurt of those who need to possess others. And that he is inside our sickness.

For the grace of the presence, be grateful.

Imagination cannot contain the absolute.
These poems are elusive
because the presence is.

‘Imagination cannot contain the absolute’. Quite. No point to even try!

No more holding back. Be reckless.
Tell your love to everybody.


Stand up. The prostrating
part of prayer is over.

the beloved is absence
as well as this fullness.

I love that attitude to praying and loving God.

Be a helpful friend,
and you will become a green tree
with always new fruit,
always deeper journeys into love.

Worth aspiring to …

Learned theologians do not teach love.
Love is nothing but gladness and kindness.

When you see a scowling face,
it is not a lover’s.

Rumi really does understand true love.

Lovers find secret places
inside this violent world
where they make transactions
with beauty.

Reason says, Nonsense.
I have walked and measured the walls here.
There are no places like that.

Love says, There are.

Lovers feel a truth inside themselves
that rational people keep denying.

This is just brilliant stuff, so true and so well expressed. Secret places in a violent world where you make transactions with beauty – that’s truly wonderful and how I wish to live.

Rumi and Coleman Barks: ambassadors of peace

Apparently, Rumi is the most widely read poet in America today. Why then does WordPress’s spell checker not recognise him?

Anyway, Rumi’s success is no mean feat for a writer who, after all, represents quite a different time, culture and religion. To be sure, his popularity has been made possible to a very large extent by the work of Coleman Barks, whose translation and adaption of Rumi’s poetry has given it a wide appeal that more literal renderings would never have achieved. True, something important may well have been lost in the process, as has been pointed out by those who charge Barks with Americanising this thirteenth-century Sufi poet. Yet something very important has also been gained, for amidst all the Islamophobia that sadly has gained such a strong foothold in parts of the Western world, there is now an increasing number of people who, thanks to Barks’s work, have encountered and learned to appreciate Rumi’s Sufist wisdom.

Does this not make both Rumi, the old master himself, and Coleman Barks, his modern disciple, ambassadors of peace?

Sleeping on the bank of a freshwater stream

Here’s my final offering of poetry excerpts from Rumi, The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing. Once again, I’m impressed and touched by the wisdom contained in these lines – as well as the beauty of the imagery.

… this is how
most people live: sleeping on the bank
of a freshwater stream, lips dry with thirst.

To your eyes it’s a drought. To me,
it’s a form of God’s joy. Everywhere
in this desert I see green corn growing

waist-high, a sea-wilderness of young ears
greener than leeks. I reach to touch them.
How could I not! …

‘The Guest House’, by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture, still,
treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

From Rumi, The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing

Best Reads 2013. VI: Rumi, The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing

Rumi, The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and LongingThis book, indeed Rumi generally, has been a revelation to me. As I have said elsewhere, I had come across him several times in the writings of Richard Rohr and others, but it was only when a woman I met at a conference recommended him with the greatest enthusiasm that I ordered my first book of Rumi poems. It happened to be this one.

This collection has been put together and translated by Coleman Barks, who has given us highly readable texts rendered in beautiful English (on Barks as a translator of Rumi’s poetry, see my earlier post And so I’m hooked. Rumi (as mediated by Coleman Barks)’). The book is divided into twenty-two chapters, each of which features an introduction by Barks. There is also an opening introduction and a brief account of the life of Jelaluddin Rumi (1207–73).

Rumi’s poems are an expression of medieval Sufist spirituality, albeit as mediated and adapted by Barks, and so it should come as no surprise that some of it feels foreign to novices like myself. It is foreign, after all! That said though, some passages have touched me in ways I have perhaps never been touched before.

How can I possibly describe its impact on me? I would have to talk about its sheer, breathtaking beauty; its role in expanding my thought, stirring my passion, offering consolation; above all perhaps, its deep and utterly compelling wisdom. But let me give you some further examples, in addition to the ones I have already provided in earlier posts.

Having gone through a prolonged period of intensely-felt grief, I have found Rumi’s thoughts on grief and pain, longing and healing illuminating, consoling and quite simply to be full of wisdom:

The cure for pain is in the pain.

Hold on to your particular pain.
That too can take you to God.

The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.

I’ve broken through to longing now,
filled with a grief a have felt before,
but never like this.

There’s a shredding that’s really a healing,
that makes you more alive!

Holding on to my pain, not running away from it, not denying it, resisting the urge to move on has been a source of profound blessing. The cure for pain is indeed in the pain in that it generates that longing that draws us toward union, as Rumi says, that longing that can take us to God. A shredding is not what I had been expecting, but strangely enough it has made me more alive.

Rumi on thinking:

… Leave thinking to the one
who gave intelligence. Stop weaving,

and watch how the pattern improves.

How I wish I had come across that advice some time ago, but even if I had, would I have been able to leave well alone? It is so true though. Our weaving does not do any favours to the pattern.

And on jealousy:

If you could untie your wings
and free your soul of jealousy,

you and everyone around you
would fly up like doves.

How true!

This is a beautiful collection of poems, full of deep wisdom and insight. It is a book that I will be returning to time and again. Who knows, perhaps some of the more mysterious sections will over time divulge their deep secrets to me as well.

Stay bewildered inside God

Here’s a slightly longer excerpt from another Rumi poem, ‘The Basket of Fresh Bread’ (published in The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing). Some of Rumi’s poetry, which I discovered only recently, resonates very deeply with me and reinforces my journey into silence and contemplation.

Don’t look for it outside yourself.
You are the source of milk. Don’t milk others!

There is a fountain inside you.
Don’t walk around with an empty bucket.

You have a channel into the ocean,
yet you ask for water from a little pool.

There is a basket of fresh bread on your head,
yet you go door to door asking for crusts.

Knock on the inner door, no other.
Sloshing knee-deep in fresh riverwater,
yet you keep asking for other people’s waterbags.

Water is everywhere around you, but you see
only barriers that keep you from water.

Mad with thirst, you can’t drink from the stream
running close by your face. You are like a pearl
on the deep bottom wondering inside the shell,
Where’s the ocean?

Stay bewildered inside God,
and only that.

I love the imagery of nourishment and refreshment: water, milk and bread. Nothing spectacular, just staples, the stuff of everyday life, but essential. ‘Staying bewildered inside God’, that’s such an appropriate description of where I have been finding myself for some time now.

Rumi on love

Look inside and find where a person
loves from. That’s the reality,
not what they say.

… and remember, the way
you make love is the way God will be with you.

If you want
to be more alive, love
is the truest health.

Lovers don’t finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along.

Rumi, The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing