Friday, August 20, 2010

Jesse Kornbluth on Rumi as Islamic Spiritual Guide

I wrote last Sunday that Rumi and other Islamic mystics have taught Christians much about spirituality and love of the divine.  And so I was delighted to read Jesse Kornbluth's article about Rumi yesterday at Huffington Post, which makes a similar point.

Kornbluth notes that not only is Rumi the best-known Islamic poet in cultures around the world, but the is also he best-selling poet in the United States.  And he incarnates the confluence of the three religions of the Book rooted in Middle Eastern culture: at his death, Christians proclaimed him their Jesus, and Jews their Moses.

Rumi points to what is central to--what is at the heart of--the teachings and spiritual path of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (and, indeed, of all world religions): compassion that aims at loving union with the divine, the cosmos, and fellow human beings.  We read and re-read this poet of loving mystical union because his enigmatic, ecstatic poetry dances always on the edge of the unfathomable chasm of divine and human love: it calls us to dance with Rumi and to risk falling into that chasm.  

To save our souls . . . . Because "there is some kiss we want with our whole lives," as Coleman Barks' collection The Soul of Rumi (San Francisco: Harper, 2002) has Rumi saying in one of his poems about the intersection of divine and human love, neither of which can be separated from the other.

As an aside: I'm interested that Kornbluth uses the term "lovers" to refer to Rumi and his spiritual guide Shams, without taking a stand re: the vexed controversy about Rumi and Shams' precise relationship.  What can Kornbluth mean in using a term so freighted with meaning: Rumi and Shams were lovers?  And why avoid spelling out the implications of that term?

Just as we American Christians who are intent on demonizing Islam and reducing this complex world religion to a simplistic caricature ignore its  many currents that move against violence, we also ignore the many currents within Islam that do not reinforce our own strong cultural homophobia.  We have much to learn from reading Islamic poets like Rumi.  If you are not yet convinced that we need to keep learning, see Gary Laderman's provocative analysis of the dangers of American Christianity at Religion Dispatches today.

The graphic is a depiction of Rumi and Shams from Norman D. Livergood's Other Forms of Dialectic website.