Something I wrote a while back introducing a volume of Rumi's poems, sadly yet to see the light of day...
It was the eight hundredth anniversary of his birth and Istanbul was alive to his memory. At night, lasers painted colourful dancing forms on the dome of the Blue Mosque. During the day, people flocked to Hagia Sophia to an exhibition celebrating his life and that of the Mevlevi Sufi Order that he had founded.
But it was in the incongruous location of the No1 exhibition hall at the railway station that had once hosted the Orient Express that Rumi came to life. Here members of the Galatta Lodge of the Mevlevi Sufi Order were to perform their ritual, circling dance: the famous 'whirling dervishes'.
I confess an element of scepticism played within me: was this to be transcending ritual or public performance? Could the two be combined? The music began, haunting, repetitive refrains, seeking to tease you out of thought as 'doth eternity'. The dancers appeared, concentrated yet subtly aware of their audience. My scepticism, ebbing to the music as it was, held sway. Until in the dance, you slowly witnessed transformation. It was more remarkable and convincing for being a gradation between the barely transformed, yet yearning, self-consciousness of the youngest dancer to the complete absorption of the eldest.
The eldest was transformed in his meditation, allowing the breaking in of a new world that is always present in this one for those with ears to hear, eyes to see, souls to dance. He glowed with transfiguration.
The ritual ended. This world rolled back into its place. The gate into the garden closed. Yet I had seen, glimpsed, an invitation to join the dance.
These poems invite us on that self-same journey from tentative yearning for the divine turned to holy desire, from a homeless, distracted soul toward our fulfillment in beholding the Friend, the face of the Beloved and dwelling there: our true home.
We are asked to step out of the everyday 'world of dust' and dance through an ascending hierarchy of gardens that restores one's soul to the heart; the heart to the spirit; and, in finding spirit, transcending all, remembering that we 'are the King's falcon/a spark of the Beloved/a divine wonder'!
In this selection of poems of Jalaludin Rumi - the 'Gardens of Splendour' - there are four gardens. These are the four states through which we travel on the inward journey: the Garden of the Soul, the Garden of the Heart, the Garden of the Spirit and the Garden of the Essence.
Each garden has at its centre a flowing fountain in an arbor of fruit trees. The fountain represents our perception of worlds of forms and ideas: the archetypes through which the divine fashions the worlds we see. The water is the Light that higher knowledge that flows from the Fountain of the Spirit into the Garden of the Heart and from there feeds our intuitions in the Garden of the Soul.
The water gives life to the fruit of the trees. An image that is a constant reminder that all we are, every gift we are, is a fruit of grace. Our existence is continuously made possible, right at this moment, because we are gifted into being, born continuously out of divine grace, beloved into being.
From this remembering, we learn humility. Humility is an unpopular virtue in our world. It seems to speak of something demeaning, self-effacing in a world of self-assertion. In truth, however, it speaks of what is essential.
"If you do not know yourself,
even in my presence you will be far away..."
It tells of knowing where we are, where we stand: a clear-eyed perception of ourselves from which learning is born. The mystic way is a craft and like any craft requires the sweat of practice out of which the grace of performance can break through.
Gardening too is a craft and the garden is a recurring image in the language and practice of mystical paths. A garden - traditionally an enclosure surrounded by trees, is a mandala with a centrifugal movement: outward into the paradise of nature and inward to the spiritual centre symbolized by flowing water, generating constant ripples in the fountain: the in breath and out breath of the divine awareness encompassing all.
But the garden too is a practical image of what we are called to in being human, bearing the divine image.
For the garden is the place where all that is given is shaped into an harmonious whole. As any good gardener knows, this is achieved not by imposition, but by careful study of the potential of any particular place and, over time, the patient cultivation of all these latent possibilities into an unfolding glory, each responsive to its season.
Each of Rumi's poems is a thought filled act of cultivation, tending our potential, nurturing it to unfurl. Each poem has its place and its season in our unfolding journey. Each poem addresses an essential aspect of our selves and our journey to the Beloved.
Any creative gardener knows too that though our own attention, care and love is necessary, all that we finally achieve is born through grace: the gifting of the garden's own nature and heart.
For we come to God by love and not by navigation. These poems are an act of love that celebrates this love and nurtures it to reality.
A love most fully expressed in the dance: where the lovers become as one.
Once again music is rising in the air
and my soul opens its arms inviting my heart to dance.
The whole world is smiling, wrapped in a luminous glow.
The table is set, the guest has arrived,
the scent of new Spring over the green meadows
is overwhelming and I am drunk with love.
The Beloved is the whole sea, I a curl of mist on its surface;
He is a precious treasure,
in His light I am just a dust particle, no one.
But please forgive my boasting
for I can split the moon in two with the light of my Beloved.
I am wild with love!
Shall we join the dance?