Sunday, December 19, 2010

Reflections on Rumi

On Friday night, I attended a beautiful Rumi celebration in my area, filled with music, dancing, chanting, and readings of Rumi's poems. Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi was a 13th century Persian Sufi mystic whose poems celebrated union with the divine.

After all the joyful singing and dancing with dozens of people in attendance, I felt alive. This was delight, to let go and flow like rainwater with a room full of kindred spirits, where no one was an outsider. At length, we sat down to listen to readings of Rumi's poems, as local musicians strummed their guitars and tapped their drums.

One reader recited "This We Have Now", a poem about the eternal presence that everything in the universe reaches for and emerges from. Another recited "The Guest House", which urges the mystic to welcome each thought and emotion as a teacher. It was so easy to be intoxicated by the music and poetry, to be swept up in reflections on something ineffable. I am agnostic, but at moments like this, when I feel a connection to something greater, I start to wonder if something lies beyond.

Rumi's poetry, and the beautiful mood in the room that evening, reminded me of how wondrous spiritual experiences can be. They can remind us of our unity with everything around us. They show us the value of other people. They remind us that wisdom ultimately transcends dogma. They help us appreciate our world and the common humanity we share.

There was another, darker Rumi poem that stayed with me. "The Snake Catcher's Tale" tells the story of a man who found a dead dragon on a snowy mountain. Confident that people would pay to see the dead dragon, he dragged the beast back to Baghdad. When he set up shop in the city, throngs of people flocked to see the creature, which was not dead, but only dormant. Warmed by the sun, the dragon awakened and rampaged through the crowd, slaughtering bystanders as the horrified man looked on. Rumi likened the dragon to our "animal soul", our baser impulses that can cause great harm if allowed to run wild.

I began to think about this blog, and how the story could be given a modern interpretation. Some fundamentalist leaders, eager for wealth and an audience, draw in followers with appeals to people's fear of the other. The dead dragons that fundamentalists drag out of the snow are fear and hatred of LGBT people, abortion providers, independent women, and many more scapegoats. Tragically, when these dormant dragons awaken, their rampages are just as horrifying as the one in Rumi's story -- homophobic hate crimes, assassinations of abortion providers, antipathy to women's equality, and many more tragedies. Just as the dragon killed the man who showed him off, so too do these fears spiritually kill the people who harbor them, filling them with hatred and suspicion.

Let's leave those dragons in the snow, and focus instead on the things that unify us. Life is too wondrous to spend it hating.

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