In the long overdue move to acknowledge the many faces of Spirit, many have moved beyond the CHRISTMAS!! and Hanukkah December Holiday duo. (The font reflecting their traditional status in American culture). Though it doesn’t seem to have gained full traction, most people at least know about Kwaanza and there are a growing number of people who prefer to simply celebrate the Solstice. Diwali is gaining ground, though mostly celebrated in October and November, as is the Chinese Moon Festival. Few in the U.S. beyond a few diehard Zen students pay mind to December 8th, Buddha’s Enlightenment Day and fewer still to a holiday known as Shebi A-rus, a day celebrated by the Sufis, a mystical branch of Islam—on December 17th. That’s today.
The day commemorates the death of the poet Rumi in 1273. Because he often talked of Spirit as “the beloved,” his death marked a reunion with the Source, a “Wedding Night” with his beloved. In Turkey, an Sufi order known as Mevlevi and commonly known as the Whirling Dervishes, will perform their sacred spinning dance while reciting/singing some of Rumi’s quatrains.
Rumi’s birth name was Jelaluddin Balkhi and he was born on September 30th(my daughter’s birthday!), 1207, in Balkh, Afghanistan, which at that time was part of the Persian Empire. His family fled the invasion of Mongol armies and settled in Konya, Turkey, an area known as Roman Anatolia, from which his new name Rumi was derived. His father was a mystic theologian and when he died, Rumi took over his duties. In 1244, he met a mystic named Shams who turned his life inside out. Rumi began to spontaneously compose poetry, sing, and dance and fortunately for us, a scribe named Husam began to write down the dictated poems.
In the 1990’s, Coleman Barks translated much of Rumi’s work, freeing it from the previous stiff English translation and Robert Bly (who also tried his hand at translating Rumi) and Michael Meade began reading much of Rumi’s work out loud at various Men’s Group gatherings. Though few people in America are aware of or are celebrating Rumi on December 17th, many people are now familiar with his soul-awakening poetry.
Some seven years ago, I taught in a music retreat in Turkey with half of the students from Turkey and half from Iran (formerly Persia), both of whom rightly claimed Rumi as one of their own. In my closing remarks, I quoted a poem from Rumi that Coleman Barks translated and had one student re-translate it into Turkish and another into Farsi. That was quite a moment!
I mentioned yesterday the news of an alum school parent’s passing and today, I’m on my way to a Memorial Service for another school parent. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rumi was quoted. And this poem would be a good choice.
On the day I die, when I'm being carried
toward the grave, don't weep. Don't say,
He's gone! He's gone. Death has nothing
to do with going away. The sun sets and
the moon sets, but they're not gone.
Death is a coming together. The tomb
looks like a prison, but it's really
release into union. The human seed goes
down in the ground like a bucket into
the well where Joseph is. It grows and
comes up full of some unimagined beauty.
Your mouth closes here and immediately
opens with a shout of joy there.
Happy December 17th!