I want to share with you a poem I read this evening by the famous Persian poet Rumi (Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rūmī ) entitled “Be Lost In the Call,” translated by Kabir Helminski:
Lord, said David, since you do not need us,
why did you create these two worlds?
Reality replied: O prisoner of time,
I was a secret treasure of kindness and generosity,
and I wished this treasure to be known,
so I created a mirror: its shining face, the heart;
its darkened back, the world;
The back would please you if you’ve never seen the face.
Has anyone ever produced a mirror out of mud and straw?
Yet clean away the mud and straw,
and a mirror might be revealed.
Until the juice ferments a while in the cask,
it isn’t wine. If you wish your heart to be bright,
you must do a little work.
My King addressed the soul of my flesh:
You return just as you left.
Where are the traces of my gifts?
We know that alchemy transforms copper into gold.
This Sun doesn’t want a crown or robe from God’s grace.
He is a hat to a hundred bald men,
a covering for ten who were naked.
Jesus sat humbly on the back of an ass, my child!
How could a zephyr ride an ass?
Spirit, find your way, in seeking lowness like a stream.
Reason, tread the path of selflessness into eternity.
Remember God so much that you are forgotten.
Let the caller and the called disappear;
be lost in the Call.
As is clear, there is a lot going on in this poem. You have David and God in conversation about creation. Then God responds as reality itself, and speaks to us as we are, prisoners of the limitedness of our perspective as beings in time. Yet, though our perspective is exceedingly narrow, God reveals to us God’s grace of the two-fold creation of heart and world. God is the ground of our being — in fact, the being, the reality in, through, under and behind all things — as well as the source of our loving, made to take in the splendor of creation with eyes of compassion and desire.
Back and forth it goes: we, as finite beings made of mud and straw, get in the way of the fullest revelation of the splendor and glory of God. Our own limitedness is in the process of fermenting, or maturing and growing so that we can learn to get out of the way and allow God’s glory to shine effervescently as does the tickle of alcohol to an intoxicated brain. We hear overtones of the prophet Isaiah: “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) Before the majestic splendor of God, we can humbly and joyfully proclaim that we return to the dust, but the glory of God is eternal.
Two major questions come at us in this poem: what is that strange “alchemy” that transforms the transitory perspective of our flesh into the flowing waters and rushing wind of the Spirit? Rumi’s reference to Jesus here is very interesting. That Rumi was a Sunni Muslim poet in the Sufi tradition and that he touches upon the ineffable nature of the union between the two natures of Christ ought to give pause to the theological systematician. Jesus both rides the ass into Jerusalem, yet he is by his very nature a zephyr, a breeze symbolizing an eternal expression of God’s very being. How can the breeze become solid, and more than solid, like us, with us? How can Spirit become flesh, and flesh Spirit?
The mystery that borders on an answer is that this strange alchemy is the divine gift of grace found in the fact that we exist at all. God not only creates something other than God’s self, that creation flows out of the rivers of inexpressible love at the heart of God. The best our utterances come to rightly understanding this gift is the archaic tool of reason that can only hope to lose itself in eternity. Rumi is playing theological jazz here, and we ought try our best to keep up with the beat.
The second question which flows from this riff on the being of God and our transitory existence is how, exactly, we can lose ourselves in God’s eternity? Heed the final lines: “Remember God so much that you are forgotten. Let the caller and the called disappear; be lost in the Call.” If our existence flows from the inexhaustible well of the love of God, then love is the only way back home. Loving God tears down the dualistic dividing wall between God and the world, God and us, and even ourselves and the created order. We disappear, God appears; we inhale God’s loving breath (ruach), and God exhales us into existence and out into the world.
Remembering God so much that we forget ourselves is to do what both Moses commands in Deuteronomy 6:5 and Jesus in Matthew 22:37: “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” At the heart of the religious experience is an encounter with the love of God wherein we both lose ourselves and we find ourselves, our true selves as we were created to be. (Mark 8:35) It is from this vantage point we see Rumi and John the Apostle speak the same language: God is love. (1 John 4:8)
Therefore, the only truly human life we can and should want to live is the call to be lost in the ocean of God’s eternal love. Anything less that this complete loss is a half-step in which our mud and straw obscures the shining mirror anchoring the world.