“I am fire. If you have doubts about that, bring your hands forth.” – Rumi
I just listened to this NPR Speaking of Faith archive of the program The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi; a brilliant interview by host Krista Tippet with Iranian Rumi scholar Fatemeh Keshevarz of Washington University about the 13th century Sufi poet. Rumi’s poetry is so passionate and erotic. Yet also about the divine. Keshevarz says Rumi believed that the broken, incomplete and ecstatic passion we experience with other humans is God’s way of giving us insight into the power and beauty of divine love.
Some excerpts from Fatemeh Keshavarz:
The imagery is very often almost identical with profane, you know, mundane love poetry. By this, I don’t mean to give any negative connotation to it, but love that is purely sensual and emotional, human love. To me, I think it’s a statement by poets like Rumi and others like him, that there isn’t really a boundary between the two. It’s the same thing. It’s the same human experience.
And there is another medieval Sufi, actually a bit later than Rumi, who says that you can’t look at the sun directly, but you can look at its reflection in the water. Our humanly experience of love is that reflection in the water of our senses, and it’s God’s way of teaching us and guiding us from this to the actual looking at the sun when you have gained the ability.
A fragment of a SRumiq poem:
If anyone asks you about the houris, show your face, say: like this.
If anyone asks you about the moon, climb up on the roof, say: “Like this.”
If anyone seeks a fairy, let them see your countenance.
If anyone talks about the aroma of musk, untie your hair and say: “Like this.”
If anyone asks: “How did Jesus raise the dead?’ kiss me on the lips, say: “Like this.”
If anyone asks: “What are those killed by love like?” direct him to me, say: “Like this.”
If anyone kindly asks you how tall I am, show him your arched eyebrows, say: “Like this.”
So the whole ghazal is a description of the physical beauty of the lover, but at the same time, it’s a fairly long poem. At the end, it leads us to blind with envy the one who says, “How can a human being reach God?” Give each of us a candle of purity, say: “Like this.” In the end, human beings can get to that candle of purity and reach God, and all human beings can do that.
Ms. Tippett: It is also an act of pointing at what is now — right? — what is physical and human, as you say, as the only way we have of imagining.
Ms. Keshavarz: Exactly. Exactly. There’s a famous Sufi tale that this young disciple approached the master to enter the order day after day. And finally the master said, ‘Have you ever fallen in love with a woman?’ He said, ‘No, not yet. I’m only 18.’ He said, ‘Well, go try that first.’