Have you ever reflected on the many forms that religious experience takes, the various archetypes of the spiritual life? I don't mean designations like bishop, rabbi, imam or swami, but more essential patternings that may run across traditions and cultures. There's the hierophant or high priest or priestess, the hermit, the shaman, the healer, the humble servant, the prophet, the ascetic, as well as some less complimentary types -- but let's not go there. And then there's the Way of the Lover, the person who is simply in love with God and, as a consequence, in love with people, with nature, with all of creation as an expression of God.
One extraordinary example of this archetype, is the great 13th Century Persian-speaking mystic Rumi, who is known mostly as a great poet, but who was also a monumental figure in the history of religious thought. His six-volume "Mathnawi" is a compendium of inspired reflection, entertaining and sometimes earthy stories, sublime flights of inspiration, metaphysical subtleties and occasionally vulgar jokes, all of which relentlessly, consistently and coherently reflect his perspective on reality. One way that perspective might be summed up is to say that Rumi saw everything in existence as continually revealing the Beauty, Generosity, Intelligence, Grace and Love of the Divine Being. Rumi was awestruck, gobsmacked, blissfully intoxicated with this love-drenched Oneness. Gradually, Rumi also regained a sobriety expansive enough to contain this ecstatic intoxication and in the course of his life left us a literary legacy that has earned him the title "the Shakespeare of mystics."
For Rumi, the Divine purpose behind all of creation is to reveal the true dimensions of Divine Love. A well-known saying in Islamic tradition which he often referred to is: "(The Divine says) I was a Hidden Treasure and I loved to be known, so I created the worlds visible and invisible so My treasure of generosity and loving-kindness would be known." Allah wanted to express His/Her Love and voila creation unfolded and continues to unfold through Love! It is our task to grow in appreciation, gratitude and consciousness of this Love. There's no greater reason to be alive.
For Rumi, to be a lover of God was not to make some inflated claim for oneself, but actually to admit one's vulnerability and even helplessness before this Love:
The intellectual is always showing off;
the lover is always getting lost.
The intellectual runs away, afraid of drowning;
the whole business of love is to drown in the sea.
Intellectuals plan their repose;
lovers are ashamed to rest.
The lover is always alone,
even surrounded with people;
like water and oil, he remains apart.
The man who goes to the trouble
of giving advice to a lover
get's nothing. He's mocked by passion.
Love is like musk. It attracts attention.
Love is a tree, and lovers are its shade.
("The Pocket Rumi" by Kabir and Camille Hleminski)
Love in some way transforms the lovers and makes them a blessing within creation. Love in its most basic expression is desire, or love of the loveable. We want to possess what we love. This can lead to possessiveness, jealousy and even violence. At another stage love is the wish to share with others in a reciprocal joy. But Rumi described the highest stage of love with these words: "There is no greater love than love with no object." When a human being matures or evolves to this level of love he or she simply radiates love because he or she is love.
Rumi reached this love through a relationship with Shams of Tabriz, an enigmatic, itinerant stranger who came into Rumi's life with all the power of a Divine Epiphany. Just as Melchizedek came to Abraham, Shams' spiritual power overwhelmed Rumi. And yet it was not a typical shaikh and student, or guru and disciple kind of relationship, nor a sexual relationship (their own words and predispositions make that clear) but a mutual adoration, an intimate mirroring in which they each recognized a reflection of the Divine in each other. This was a love that unfolded like a cosmic drama. Not everyone appreciated Shams as Rumi did and after only a few years Shams disappeared. He may have been murdered, or maybe he completed what he came to do and it was time to go. Rumi was never the same. He became a poet, an ecstatic and in the end he matured through that love. What is most significant is that Rumi and Shams modeled a form of spiritual relationship, a reciprocal love, a mirroring that is the fast-track to spiritual transformation. More on that another time, perhaps.
The people of Rumi's tradition do not see Rumi as superior to other great spiritual figures of humanity, but as someone who was able to make something that was implicit much more explicit. "What about Jesus?" you might ask. Ah, the beautiful Jesus! Jesus was not a picky moralist but another great lover. And Muhammad, too, who was utterly beloved by Rumi, demonstrated his loverhood in humility and tenderness. In the end, the Way of the Lover is not just another archetype among many but the complete fulfillment of all human possibilities. And in the end, as Rumi says, Only Love can explain itself.
Love is the astrolabe of God's mysteries.
A lover may be drawn to this love or that love,
but finally he is drawn to the Sovereign of Love.
However much we describe and explain love,
when we fall in love we are ashamed of our words.
Explanation by the tongue makes most things clear,
but love unexplained is clearer.
When the pen came to the subject of love, it broke.
When the discourse reached the topic of love,
the pen split and the paper tore.
If intellect tries to explain it,
it falls helpless as a donkey on a muddy trail;
only Love itself can explain love and lovers!
The proof of the sun is the sun itself.
If you wish to see it, don't turn away from it.
(Mathnawi I: 110-116 translated by Kabir & Camille Helminski from the forthcoming "A Rumi Daybook.")
That's quite an admission from Rumi who wrote more comprehensively about love than perhaps any other human. Perhaps the difficulty of explaining love adequately is that in order to explain something you need another something more subtle and comprehensive with which to explain it. Perhaps love is the final explanation of everything...
But the words I'd like to leave us with are very simple, and yet illustrate that it is this Cosmic Love which is in fact the Creative Power behind all of existence.
The heart is your student
for love is the only way we learn.
Night has no choice but to grab the feet of daylight.
It's as if I see Your Face everywhere I turn.
It's as if Love's radiant oil
never stops searching
for a lamp in which to burn.
(Quatrains: 353 translated by Kabir & Camille Helminski from the forthcoming "A Rumi Daybook.")