MONDAY MEDS (Meditations)
[During the current COVID-19 crisis, each Monday I’m posting chapters from a manuscript (“Great Souls, Great Prayers”) as a potential source of hope, encouragement, and resolve. Partake, use, and/or share the postings as you see fit, as a resource for prayer, meditation, and/or contemplation. Each posting contains a week’s worth (7) of suggestions for use. Follow the suggestions or the leadings of your own creativity. Here’s MONDAY MED #8.]
Mawlana Jalaluddin Muhammad Balkhi Rumi was the inspiration for the Mevlevi order of Sufis, better known as the Whirling Dervishes of Sufism, which abides into the 21st century. When he died, he left behind a stunning body of work – quantitatively and qualitatively. Addressed as “Mawlana” (Master) by his disciples and adoring devotees, simply called “Rumi” (after the common Muslim term – “Rum”– for the area where he lived most of his life), Rumi has attained a rare status among religionists in world history.
Though his poems have garnered Rumi his greatest fame among contemporary readers in North America, he was a faithful and observant Muslim, best known in his time as a supremely insightful religious master. As an orthodox Muslim (following in the traditions of the Sunni sect), he fulfilled the “pillars of Islam.” He prayed five times a day, fasted, observed holy days, made pilgrimage, and regularly practiced alms-giving. (1) Encountering the mystical interpretations of the Qur’an by Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad’s cousin and successor, which form the basis for the Sufi expression of Islam, Rumi would become one of the most renown exponents of Sufism.
Championed by contemporary enthusiasts like Fethullah Gulen and translated for a new generation by Coleman Barks, Rumi has become one the most widely read religious poets of the last millennia.
Rumi’s emphasis on the universal theme of compassion for all human beings has garnered him admiration and adulation among adherents of Islam, of course, but also among followers of all of the world’s major religions.
More than eight centuries after his birth, Rumi has the distinction of being the best-selling poet in the U.S. (2) His lyrical odes to love, his deeply felt musings on God, his seemingly infinite compassion for all people, his sensitive connection to creation’s multiplicity of wonders, all combine to establish him as an extraordinary voice for goodness and an inspirational source for countless spiritual seekers of all kinds and sorts around the world.
His most esteemed work is Mathnawi (or Masnavi, or Mesnavi), a poem of 25,700 couplets written in the latter decades of his life. Diwan-i Shams-i Tabriz, consisting of 40,000 couplets, attests to the dynamics and tenets of Sufism. Diwan, consisting mostly of “ghazals,” are lyrical love poems and were supposedly composed during the state of meditation known as “Sama” (whirling meditation) as practiced by the Mevlevi order of Sufis. Sufi tradition has it that he did not inscribe any of his poems but rather spoke them as they came to him and his students wrote them down.
The predominant themes of Rumi’s poetic vision and religious teachings included: (1) love as the bridging dynamic between the human the divine,(2) a spirit and the practice of inclusion, and (3) the possibility of mystical union with God for all human beings.
Rumi’s much celebrated love poems are, at once, the stuff of human romance and religious devotion to God. With simple lyricism and searing insights he plumbs the depths of human emotions and humanity’s most profound encounters with God.
From all extant accounts, Rumi presented both a spirit of inclusion in his thinking and his religious practice. Evidence for his sensitivity about the integrity and validity of other faith perspectives is seen in his many references to Jesus and Moses throughout his writings. Testimony to the interfaith attractiveness of his teaching, his poetry, and his wide-hearted spirit began immediately after his death, when his funeral bier was carried throughout Konya with representatives of five different faiths following it.
Rumi’s meeting and subsequent friendship with the whirling dervish Shams al-Din of Tabriz led Rumi into a deep appreciation of the affective/emotional sustenance that came with the Sufi Sama (or listening) ceremony that included dikhr (remembrance of God). Thereafter he championed the practice of whirling as a physical form of meditation that could render the practitioner closer to the heart of God and God’s loving will for the world.
PRAYING WITH RUMI – SUGGESTIONS FOR USE
Day #1: Expectant of the Table of Bounty – In his poem “What Hidden Sweetness is There,” Rumi describes a the relation between emptiness and the capacity to be filled by God’s bounty.
What hidden sweetness there is in this emptiness of the belly!
Man is surely like a lute, no more and no less;
For if, for instance, the belly of the lute becomes full, no
lament high or low will arise from that full lute….
When you keep the fast, good habits gather together before
you like slaves and servants and retinue….
The table arrived from heaven to the tents of the fast, by the
intervention of the prayers of Jesus, son of Mary.
In the fast, be expectant of the table of bounty….(3)
Pray today for a fasting from that which does not fill or fulfill you , so that you can partake fully of the table of bounty that God will give to you.
Day #2: Through Love – In his poems about human relationships and his poems about God and the desire for union with God, Rumi’s focus is always on love .
THROUGH LOVE all that is bitter will be sweet.
Through Love all that is copper will be gold.
Through Love all dregs will turn to purest wine
Through Love all pain will turn to medicine.
Through Love the dead will all become alive.
Through Love the king will turn into a slave!(4)
Pray this prayer three times today, keenly aware of the gifts love (human and divine) provides for you – sweetness, “golden” character, pure wine, the experience of relief and healing,, a life which is vital and vibrant, truest servanthood and the humbling of the highest.
Day #3: Living, Praying, Being Free – Rumi consistently promoted a profound respect for the fleetingness of life and for the goodness of things as they are, for as long as they are. The following prose proem can serve as a mantra for living a present-focused life.
“I died to the mineral, and became a plant. I died to plant, and attained to the animal. I died to the animal, and became a man. Why, then, should I fear? When have I become less by dying?”(5)
Pray today for a deeper respect for the given-ness of this very day without a need to seal it up for safekeeping.
Day #4: Searching for the Clear Water – In the poem “A Marriage at Daybreak,” Rumi urges those who are spiritually thirsty to be discerning about what they sip.
You get restless, you say, when you don’t sip
the world’s fermentation. But if for one second
you saw the beauty of the clear water of God,
you’d think this other was embalming fluid. (6)
Pray today that you will be able to see the beauty of the clear water of God and also that you will be able to avoid any “embalming fluid.”
Day #5: Unseen Power – In this couplet, Rumi speaks of the presence of God giving life and vitality to all that human beings do.
We are the flute, our music is all Thine;
We are the mountains echoing only Thee…. (7)
Give thanks for God’s energizing presence in all individual and collective human undertakings.
Day #6: Trusting the God of All Life – Poets, religious seers, farmers and others who work closely with the substances of earth know the presence of the divine in the circles and cycles of life. In the following selection from a poem by Rumi, the speaker reminds us of God’s providence over all life.
I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and rose to animal,
I died as animal and I was Man.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?(8)
Pray that your trust in God’s provision for each moment of your existence and every stage of your development will be made clearer to you today and clearer still tomorrow. Pray, too, there will well up within you a mounting confidence in God’s eternal care for you.
Day #7: Come, Whoever You Are – In one of the most quoted of Rumi’s poems, we find the assurance of welcome and hospitality to anyone who would dare to want to return to God and the embrace of community.
Come, come whoever you are.
Even if you are a wanderer, worshiper, lover of leaving.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come even if you have broken your vows a thousand times.
Come, come, come yet again. (9)
Pray today for yourself to “come home” to God’s welcome and hospitality, that which we call “Amazing Grace.” Also, pray today for someone you care deeply about that he or she will know God’s liberating good news so profoundly and deeply that, like the prodigal son, they will know they can come home to God and the community of faith.
BIOGRAPHY TIMELINE: September 30, 1207, born Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi (aka, Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi), likely in Wakhsh, northeastern province of Persia, in the greater Balkh region (present-day Tajikistan), or in the city of Balkh (present-day Afghanistan), son of Baha ud-Din Walad, a theologian, jurist and mystic (known as Sultan al-Ulama or “Sultan of the Scholars”) and Mu’mina Khatun; 1215 -1220, fleeing invading Mongols, family moves westward; 1212 , family lives in Samarqand, 1216, family leaves Khorasan for Baghdad and Mecca; meets Attar, one of the most famous mystic Persian poets; 1217, family briefly lives in Damascus and Malatya; 1218, family moves to Aqshahr near Erzincan; 1221, Mongol army sacks Balkh, 1222, family moves to Laranda; Rumi’s mother dies; 1224/5, marries Gowhar Khatun in Karaman; they will have two sons, Sultan Walad and Ala-eddin Chalabi; family eventually settles in Konya (known also from antiquity to the medieval period as “Iconium”), Anatolia, then part of Seljuk Empire in the northwestern province of Persia, present day Turkey; 1228, his father is granted a teaching position in Konya by Seljuk king ‘Ala’ al-Din Kayqubad and serves as respected Islamic theologian, teacher, and preacher; Gowhar Khatun dies; marries Kira Khatun and they will have a son, Amir Alim Chalabi, and a daughter, Malakeh Khatun; 1231, at age 24, Rumi inherits his father’s religious teaching position; a friend of his father, Burhan al-Din arrived, befriends him and teaches him the rudiments of Sufism; teaches and preaches at countless mosques and halls; November 29, 1244, Shams al-Din of Tabriz, a wandering dervish, arrives in Konya, and transforms Rumi’s life; a Rumi disciple, Husam al-Din Hasan inspires him to compose poems; 1244-1254, devotes himself to writing ghazals, an ancient Arabic poetic verse from, composed of couplets (typically between 5-15 couplets); 1247, Shams is murdered, possibly by jealous disciples of Rumi; teaches and preaches at countless mosques and halls; 1262, begins composing Mathnawi; December 17, 1273, dies in Konya; buried beside his father in Konya; shrine erected over his tomb (known now as the Mevlana mausoleum) and becomes site of visitation and veneration for countless admirers;1273, the Mevlevi order of Sufis established in Rumi’s honor; 2005, UNESCO issues proclamation designating Turkey’s Mevlevi Sama ceremony as amongst “the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity.”
(1) Rumi, Franklin Lewis, trans., Rumi: Past and Present, East and West. The Life Teachings and Poetry of Jalâl al-Din Rumi. Foreword by Julie Meisami (Oxford: One World Publications, 2000, 2008), p. 12.
(2) See Ptolemy Tompkins, “Rumi Rules!,” Time, Oct. 29, 2002, and Jonathan Curiel,“Islamic verses / The influence of Muslim literature in the United States has grown stronger since the Sept. 11 attacks,” San Francisco Chronicle, February 6, 2005
(3) Rumi, A.J. Arberry, trans., Ehsan Arshater, ed. Mystical Poems of Rumi,(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009), pp. 224-225.
(4) Rumi, Annemarie Shimmel, trans., LOOK! THIS IS LOVE: Poems of Rumi,(Boston, Massachusetts: Shambhala, 1991, 1996), p. 17.
(5) Rumi, A.J. Arberry, trans. Tales from the Masnavi (Richmond: Curzon Press, 1961, 1994), p. 271.
(6) See Rumi, Coleman Barks, trans., One-handed basket weaving: poems on the theme of work (Athens, Georgia: MAYPOP, 1991)
(7) Rumi, Reynold A. Nicholson, trans., Rumi: Poet and Mystic (London: Unwin Paperbacks, 1978), p154.
(8) Rumi, as quoted in Reynold Alleyne Nicholson, The Mystics of Islam (London: G. Bell & Sons, 1914), p. 125.
(9) Rumi, Coleman Barks, trans., THE BIG RED BOOK: The Great Masterpiece Celebrating Mystical Love and Friendship (New York: HarperCollins, 2010 ), pp. 28 and 476.
FOR FURTHER READING AND STUDY
Rumi, Coleman Barks, trans., Rumi: The Book of Love: Poems of Ecstasy and Longing(New York: HarperCollins, 2003)
Rumi, Coleman Barks, trans., with Reynold Nicholson, A.J. Arberry, John Moyne, The Essential Rumi – New Expanded Edition (New York: HarperCollins, 2004)
Rumi, A.J. Arberry, trans., Ehsan Arshater, ed. Mystical Poems of Rumi, (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2009)
Rumi, Farrukh Dhondy, trans., Rumi: A New Translation of Selected Poems (New York: Arcade Publishing, 2013)
Rumi, Franklin Lewis, trans., Rumi: Past and Present, East and West. The Life Teachings and Poetry of Jalâl al-Din Rumi. Foreword by Julie Meisami (Oxford: One World Publications, 2000, 2008)