A Longing Deeper than Tradition’s Divide

One night a man was crying,
Allah! Allah!
His lips grew sweet with the praising,
until a cynic said,
“So I have heard you calling out, but have you ever
gotten any response?

The man had no answer to that.
He quit praying and fell into a confused sleep.

He dreamed he saw Khidr, the guide of souls,
in a thick, green foliage.
“Why do you stop praising?”
“Because I never hear anything back.”
“This longing you express is the return message.”

The grief you cry out from
draws you toward union.

Your pure sadness
that wants help
is the secret cup.

Listen to the moan of a dog for its master.
That whining is the connection.

There are love dogs
no one knows the names of.

Give your life
to be one of them.

-Rumi (trans. Coleman Barks)

Rumi’s love dogs howled to me while I read an article by James Martin about Mother Teresa‘s decades long crisis of faith during which she admitted “my soul is just like [an] ice block.” I understand just enough of this unearthly longing to know that I have never been able to approach the divine so honestly and fully as to risk such unbridled need.

This poem, like so much of Rumi, thrills and terrifies me as I wonder at the exquisite madness of giving oneself completely to God. I think of all of the comfort and routine that I have allowed to define me and cherish the trappings of this life even as part of me recognizes them as so many illusions and poorly designed stage props. When Rumi’s words have bent my brain into fits of beautiful distraction, spinning between exhilaration and despair, I return to another line “he who knows himself knows his Lord.” I know that this is one of the hadith of the Prophet Muhammed and that I cannot really understand the inherent resonance of those words, but they give me great solace. Of course, one can read the phrase to mean that Teresa’s dark night was instigated by a sense of separation from her true self, and that is cold comfort to be sure. Likening it to my own experience, however, I feel like I am stepping into an eternity full of promise when I can believe that some trace of God dwells within and that journeying into myself, and thus into the sacred, is always possible.

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One thought on “A Longing Deeper than Tradition’s Divide

  1. gukseon November 2, 2007 / 9:01 pm

    Thanks for posting this…this is probably one of my favorite poems by Rumi. 😀

    The way the media portrays Mother Theresa’s private papers, one would think she had spent most of her life living a lie, doing work for the sake of a Divinity she never felt. But I think those who know what mysticism often entails have a much different take…

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