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From Coleman Barks’ Introduction to his A Year With Rumi compilation

September 2, 2014

I don’t think I’ve ever read the introduction to A Year With Rumi: Daily Readings – a book a dear friend gave me many years ago and I try to read, well, daily. Tonight, searching for some words to write my mother’s best friend who was recently informed she had a couple months (if that) to live, I started to read the introducation. My grandmother is constantly on my case for “lacking religion” – which really boils down to not being the unquestioning Catholic she is. Regardless of the hours of conversation around my spirit beliefs and things and people I love about religion and things and people who turn me off religion – she always comes back to speaking negatively of me because of this “path of unhappiness” I am on. Granted, I get that it does come from a good place within my almost 90 year old grandmother’s heart, but it would be nice if she could hear some of what I say. Particularly because I have always had a deep spiritual longing and curiousity. 

In reading Barks’ introduction tonight I found myself wishing I had the ability to capture what he captures. Alas, I do not and will just transcribe here:

“…For this open-air sanctuary that a lot of us live in, without buildings, or doctrine, or clergy, without silsila (lineage), or hierarchy, in an experiment to live not so much without religion as in friendship with all three hundred of them, and all literatures too. It is a brave try for openness and fresh inspiration.

   “It is what sent Whitman out walking around Brooklyn. His mother said, He goes out and he comes back in; that’s all he does. It is what prompted Thoreau’s rambling retreat to Walden Pond. It is Huck floating on the river at night. Melville looks out his study window in the Berkshires and writes the ocean of Moby Dick. Jake Barnes in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises slips into an old Spanish church to listen to his thoughts. Wallace Stevens speaks from inside the intensest rendezvous, where God and the imagination are one. Joseph Campbell follows his bliss, researching myth and symbol in the New York Public Library. Gary Snyder works on an ax handle in the high Sierra. Annie Dillard stares down into Tinker Creek. REM’s Michael Stipe stands on stage, Losing my religion. Iris DeMent sugguests that we Let the mystery be. We are lucky to have so many luminous figures in this country, but this lineage is not American. It comes down through such varied innumerable strands that it cannot be called a lineage at all.

   “The records of wandering kept by Basho, Cervantes, Homer, and Allan Ginsberg. Mary Oliver’s faithful early morning walks with a rainproof surveyor’s notebook in her hip pocket. John Muir and Audubon. Anyone who heads out to see what happens, just to enjoy the trip. Needn’t go far, needn’t leave town. Rumi says that merely being in a body and sentient is a state of pure rapture. Form is ecstatic. Those who know that are the ones I’m talking about, and to. Those photographers who love wilderness and the depths of a human face. The radiant noticing of animals that shows in the cave drawings. It comes through Van Gogh and Cezanne, the way they saw splendor transpiring through what appears. Dutch light. Through Blake. All religions are one, saith Willy, and energy is eternal delight. Hopkins. It comes through south India and the Sufis. Indigenous rock art, Tibet. Bodhidharma, Rinzai, and that homely flower Mahakashyap was handed by his friend Gautama. That theology-flower of suchness might be a logo for it. No, no names. No flag. Dreamtime drawings. Chekhov’s holy chuckle, Dostoyevsky’s vivid seekers. The great Greeks and their love of impossible human conversation. Socrates and Plato are saints in this tradition. Saint Francis and my grandson Tuck, too, he will be surprised to know. All children. Gurdjieff. Ramakrishna. Camus and Beckett. Plotinus. Nietzsche prancing naked. And watch as it widens out so beautifully in Galway Kinnell’s “Prayer”:

Whatever happens. Whatever                                                                                                                                                         what is is is what                                                                                                                                                                           I want. Only that. But that.

   “It is joyfully scientific, this pared-down, vast, three-ises-in-a-row petition of Galway’s. The world is so amazingly interesting. I want to be completely here for its moment. That longing is the truth I try to follow, rather than a religion’s iconography. Watch an astronomer or a molecular biologist at work, an estuarist opening the net he has pulled up out of Doboy Sound. They glow as the facts of the world surface. I have found in my experience that good scientists and good mystics are natural friends, good carpenters too. Chefs and surgeons, historians, athletes, all so full of wonder, lovingly careful, and living right at the point of contact, the nailhead of attention and spontaneity.

    “….<skipping a couple paragraphs>…The broad interest now in the boundary-dissolving poetry of Rumi is evidence of health in this rebellious, but always kind, impulse.

   “If blasphemy is possible in this experiment to know and live what is, perhaps it is in whatever insults the soul. Whiteman tells us to dismiss such things. But what are those insults? Some come from within. Boredom, cruelty, a cold unresponsiveness, a self-absorbed shyness, depression, addiction. Some from without. War by concept, the insane greed of empire, marketing sterilization and bourgeois dumbing-down…So whatever keeps the soul from moving along (motion and shapeshifting are great nourishers of soul), whatever keeps it from traveling, from expanding and deepening in love, and living the truth of expressing that, those are the “insults” we need to be alert for.”

– From Coleman Barks’ Introduction to his A Year With Rumi: Daily Readings

 

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