Returning

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A flock of geese cut across my piece of sky as I walked into work this morning after five days away. Five days wrapped in a hermit’s cocoon of fatigue, an illness that bubbles up from the very place where body meets spirit, where mind confuses physical and emotional realities.  I am left to piece together whether it is more a sickness of the soul or if I can fall back on the diagnosis that can be found in a typical physician’s handbook.  What is really lying in wait – a series of dark nights that I must withstand or a virus in my bloodstream?

The geese were flying northeast, finding signs of an approaching spring that sent them over and beyond what still might look to be a hopelessly icy Hudson River.

And so, there are always signs of return and the recovery of the sort of life that is enjoyed in warmer and sunnier times.  And so I am grateful that I remembered to turn my face up to see nature’s messengers and wait for my own internal messengers to reveal their secrets.

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.