Saturday, November 27, 2010

You have a call on Line 1. Some guy named God...

With age, I've gotten better at perking up and listening whenever "The Universe" -- call it a higher power, God, whatever -- speaks to me. I know it's happening when the exact turn of phrase or unfamiliar name keeps turning up in conversations, on the radio or in something I'm reading -- and usually it's within a 48- to 72-hour period or a short string of days. By the second or third instance, I smile inwardly because I realize what's happening and that I need to investigate whatever is being put in front of me -- explore it, read more about it, take action.
The latest example involves Sufi poets, specifically the 13th Century poet and mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi. I'm sure many of my well-read friends are already familiar with Rumi, but somehow he has never crossed my radar -- until now.

I recently started taking a morning yoga class that always culminates with the instructor reading a poem from the same hardcover book that crackles with age every time she opens it. I'm picky when it comes to poetry (it can be so trite or so abstract and personal to the author that it does nothing for me), but every poem she has read from this book has felt comfortable and familiar or exactly what I needed to hear. After the second class, I went up to the instructor and learned that she was reading from "The Gift" by Hafiz, a Sufi poet.

Fast forward to a few nights ago... I was in bed and reading the final chapter of "A Geography of Faith: An Alter in the World." The last passage of this book is a quote with a footnote. The quote resonated with me because I had just spoken with a musician friend of mine who confessed to me that he was feeling disenchanted with his craft. The quote went like this:

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.

I looked up the footnote and saw that the author was Rumi (yet another Sufi poet!). I picked up my phone and texted this quote to my friend. Within minutes he replied and thanked me. Said it was exactly what he needed to hear.

The following day I was driving home from Thanksgiving with my family and halfway listening to NPR. I was a bit distracted and in a melancholy state of mind -- just feeling acutely aware of how random and fleeting life can be. In particular, I was thinking about how my life at the moment is going so, so well -- yet there are people close to me who are suffering - both in small ways that chip away at one's spirit and in big, horrible ways that make a person question God. As my mind was racing through this stream of consciousness, the radio commentator's words suddenly overrode everything and demanded my full attention. He was reading a poem called "The Guest House."

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

These words wrapped around me like a warm blanket. I had to know who this writer was. I turned up the volume on the radio, waiting to hear the author's name. It was Rumi. I looked skyward through my windshield and smiled.

A couple days later on Saturday morning I was curled up in a chair with a cup of coffee and a book called "Let the Great World Spin" by Colum McCann. It won a National Book Award, and I certainly can see why. McCann has a great command of the English language, describing very ordinary things in extraordinary ways. I've actually been reading the book with a pen in hand, just so I can underline passages that I think are particularly clever. ANYWAY, so I'm reading this one story about a hooker in the Bronx (McCann's book is a collection of short stories that take place in NYC; eventually the stories start overlapping and weaving together to form a bigger picture - I love that!) and this hooker is talking about this trick she had with a man who took her to a lavish hotel for an entire week. He didn't want to touch her; he just wanted her to lie naked and read poetry to him -- in particular, Persian poems that spoke of ancient Syria and Persia. 

So, I'm passively reading through this scene in McCann's book and then my heart leaps when I stumble across:

I left with eight hundred bucks and a copy of Rumi. I never read nothing like that before. Made me want to have a fig tree.   

Call me crazy or a romantic or whatever, but I'm 100 percent certain now that this is divine intervention. Apparently The Man Upstairs thinks I'd benefit from reading a little Rumi right about now. So, it's off to BookPeople I go!