Inspired by the poetry of Jalāl ad-Dīn Muḥammad Balkhī (b. 1207 - d. 1273)
Listen to presences inside poems,
Let them take you where they will.
Follow those private hints,
and never leave the premises. (99)*
These are the final words your eyes skimmed before you drifted off to sleep, the book of poetry falling open onto your lap. These are my words; not in any language I knew in life, but mine nonetheless. How is it I have found my way across the continents and weightless centuries to you, the reader of my words? Your room is fascinating and mysterious to me, the meanings of its shapes and surfaces difficult to divine. If I draw no insights from your alien surroundings, what truths can you derive from my ancient scribbling?
I see that you have marked a page in the open book of my words, a corner of paper folded over, a verse underlined by your hand:
Death is a wedding feast,
and the secret of that
is that God is one.
Sunlight comes in through the windows
and gets reflected around the room.
Then the windows are closed.
Individual grapes become one dark wine. (289)
Do the metaphors of a room full of sunlight and grapes becoming wine suggest to you that all of life is interconnected, that you and I are the same life -- the Life of Creation? And what about Tawhid, the first principle of Islamic faith, that "God is one"? I wonder if you have selected these lines because you intuit the ramifications of this principle. Even devout Muslims sometimes rush through the recitation of the first Shahada ("There is no god but God") without contemplating how this simple idea changes all reality.
God is not just one; God is all that there is in the universe. It is the universal presence of God I address in this stanza:
You're sitting here with us, but you're also out walking
in a field at dawn. You are yourself
the animal we hunt when you come with us on the hunt.
You’re in your body like a plant is solid in the ground,
yet you’re wind. You're the diver’s clothes
lying empty on the beach. You’re the fish. (51)
The concept of God's omnipresence is found in the tenets of all religions; yet I suspect your awareness of this has come not just through the teachings of your faith, but from the instinctive knowledge of your heart. Although we learn from the world around us, the heart is also our teacher. What further proof do we need that God is at once without and within? Islam has words for this.
"Tanzih" and "tashbih" are the components of God's oneness, perhaps likened to Taoism's opposing forces of yin and yang. Ask yourself, can anything in God's creation compare with God himself? Of course, the answer is both yes and no. God is unlike any created thing (tanzih), because all created things -- even the heavenly bodies -- are temporal and finite, whereas God is eternal and infinite. To discover this truth, you must look beyond yourself. This, dear friend, is transcendence. And yet, God is like every created thing (tashbih), because each item of creation bears God's imprint, and is beholden to God's divine spark. This knowledge is found only deep within yourself, and is called immanence. Can you detect the evocation of transcendent tanzih and immanent tashbih in these lines I fashioned so long ago?
If the beloved is everywhere,
the lover is a veil,
but when living itself becomes
the Friend, lovers disappear. (171)
Or in these?
The minute I heard my first love story
I started looking for you, not knowing
how blind that was.
Lovers don't finally meet somewhere.
They’re in each other all along. (106)
How captivatingly beautiful is the paradox of God's creation! All things are simultaneously similar to God and incomparable with Him. He creates, He destroys. He bestows mercy, He exerts wrath. You, in your slumber, are both close to God and distant from Him. But it is the nearness to God that is the Sufi way. Drawing ever closer to God is the path of the Sufi, and the light of that path is love.
I wonder how you interpret the Sufi allegory of the lover's pursuit of the beloved. Even in my own time, people often judged it to be overtly sensual, and rejected it as sinful. The metaphor of drunkenness, they saw as debauchery. The union with God, blasphemy. Yet even in that ancient era, there were those who read, and understood. For those who long for the intoxication of God’s love, the meaning is clear.
The water of realization is the wine we mean
Where love is the liquid, your body the flagon.
Grace floods in. The wine’s power
breaks the jar. It’s happening now. (354)
If you are a seeker of this love, then you know of the second paradox -- that although God is in all things, due to the blindness of human nature, we have difficulty seeing Him. We reach out, we delve within, every glimmer of God draws us to seek Him further. We can never be close enough. This is why the metaphor of lovers, like the idea of a mesmerized moth consumed by flame, is so perfect.
All people reach out, and delve within. For most, the transcendent search may lead to God; but for the Sufi, it is the immanent exploration wherein God is revealed. We look ever inward, because we believe that tashbih wins out over tanzih -- God's mercy exceeds God's wrath. This is why the universe is ultimately a realm of joy.
But listen to me: for one moment,
quit being sad. Hear blessings
dropping their blossoms
around you. God. (8)
I think of God's blessings as I listen to your breathing. I am astounded that you and I, through the miracle of language, have shared something of our otherwise disparate lives. I lay down my pen, you pick up a book, and the oneness of God is revealed. I would wake you, if I could, to look into your eyes and indulge in our unity. But instead I will just sit with you awhile. I will bask in the glow of your sleeping presence, and drape love across you like a blanket.
* All poems and excerpts from poems quoted in this paper are taken from The Essential Rumi, translation by Coleman Banks, San Francisco: Harper, 1995.