Today is December 17th. It is Beethoven’s birthday and Rumi’s Death-day. Beethoven is being celebrated on classical music radio stations, commemorating the 250 years since his birth. Rumi is being celebrated by Muslim Sufi’s in a ceremony called his “Wedding Night” that includes the whirling dervish dance he helped create over 750 years ago.
For those who don’t know, Jalaluddin Rumi was a mystic poet born in 1207 in what is now Afghanistan. He later moved (fleeing from Genghis Kahn) to Konya, Turkey. Because Afghanistan then was part of the Persian Empire, people in both Iran and Turkey equally claim him as their own. Thanks to some superb contemporary translations by Coleman Barks, Rumi has been a best-selling poet in the U.S. the last thirty years or so.
In one collection of his poems titled These Branching Moments, Barks writes:
Rumi’s era was, like ours, a time of violent sectarian conflict, with many religions jostling for power and spheres of influence. It was dangerous to be known as a mystic, but Rumi somehow became a haven on inclusiveness.
Rumi died at sunset on December 17, 1273. It is said that everybody came to his funeral—Christians, Hindus and Buddhists. His presence was larger than any doctrine or church…There is today a Christian church in Shiraz, Iran that has lines from Rumi carved in stone around the door:
“Where Jesus lives, the great-hearted gather.
We are a door that is never locked.
If you are suffering any kind of pain,
Stay near this door. Open it.”
Some eight centuries later, we still need to remind ourselves of this, as “Christians” refuse immigrant refugees and lock both the doors of their country-club church and the doors of their small hearts.
As a mystic poet, Rumi was tuned to the music of the Spirit and literally used music and dance (the whirling dervish tradition) as an inroad to God. He spoke often of music as a practice truer than mere words.
Today like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened.
Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down
a musical instrument.
Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.
And then there’s Beethoven. His way to kneel and kiss the ground was through music and he knew that this is precisely what he was born for. He said:
• Music comes to me more readily than words.
• Tones sound, and roar and storm about me until I have sent them down in notes.
• Beethoven can write music, thank God, but he can do nothing else on earth.
Like Rumi, he felt musical tones brought one closer to the life of the Spirit than mere words:
• Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life.
• Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy.
• Music is the one incorporeal entrance into the higher world of knowledge which comprehends mankind but which mankind cannot comprehend.
• Music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes, and I am Bacchus who presses out this glorious wine for mankind and makes them spiritually drunken.
So the many connections between Beethoven, the musician, the one who felt the Spirit through the music and Rumi, the poet, the one who heard the music of the Spirit. One was born on this day, one died on this day and both still have something to say and sing to us these many centuries later. If there is a Heaven where all the cloaks of different religions, races, genders, beliefs finally drop, I can see Rumi dancing to Beethoven’s Ode to Joy and Beethoven setting down a new Symphony from Rumi’s poetry.
Follow Rumi’s advice and take down a musical instrument today. If you can, play a little Beethoven. Then off to the study for a book of Rumi’s poetry. A good way to start the day on December 17th.