Rumi, With Music

Paint Branch UU Church
February 15, 2004

Assembled by Jaco B. ten Hove, presented with John Bartoli, 2nd reader, and Diana McFadden, cello, and Mary Tyrtle Rooker, percussion

Preceded by Song #188, "Come, Come, Whoever You Are" — words by Rumi, music L. Ungar:

Though you’ve broken your vows a thousand times,
Come, come, whoever you are,
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
Ours is no caravan of despair.
Come, yet again come.

(The service also included four excerpts from Rimsky-Korsakov’s
Scheherazade, selected and played by David Chapman, piano.)

Jelaluddin Rumi was born in 13th century Persia (in an area now covered by Afghanistan and Iran), but, as a youngster, his family fled the invading Mongols and emigrated to Turkey. His father was a mystic theologian Sufi, and Rumi also became a religious scholar, largely in dialogue with a Sufi dervish community, where he spent much of his life.

In this ongoing conversation he wrote and dictated most of his enduring poems, which range from theory, folklore and jokes to teaching stories and ecstatic poetry. The messages he offers still ring as instructive and challenging, often lifting up the mystical vision of unity with God, unity with All. Sometimes this comes as practical advice about living day-to-day; sometimes he uses lover-language to address his God directly, as, say, the Beloved.

Rumi's expressions and images were so inclusive and inspiring, and his reputation so favorable that his funeral was attended by representatives from many of the major religions. In the midst of the Crusades and other violent sectarian strife, Rumi said things like: "I go into the Muslim mosque, Jewish synagogue, Christian church, I see one altar."

I've chosen parts of a dozen different pieces of his to weave together this morning; a smattering, really, of what I find to be the more accessible among the many poems found in Coleman Barks popular translation, The Essential Rumi. I am especially grateful to John as a second reader, plus Mary Tyrtle and Diana, who are improvising in and around our spoken words after only a few rehearsals.

These poems of Rumi's help me to remember to be alert and appreciative, to be simple but not dull, to not let critics of mysticism diminish my truth, to be present to each rich moment, to be easy-going and powerful.

Of his craft, Rumi writes, speaking maybe to the God who is All, aka the Beloved, or a Friend: "In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems. You dance inside my chest, where no one sees you, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art."

For those who consider his work, he invites us to deepen the craft of receiving: "Listen to presences inside poems; let them take you where they will. Follow those private hints, and never leave the premises."

[Singing Bowl…Music…Singing Bowl]

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.

[Pause…Transitional music]

The Prophet said,

"There are some who see me by the same light in which I am seeing them. Our natures are one. Without reference to any strands of lineage, without reference to texts or traditions, we drink the life-water together."

Here’s a story about that hidden mystery:

The Chinese and the Greeks were arguing as to who were the better artists. The king said,

"We’ll settle this matter with a debate."

The Chinese began talking, but the Greeks wouldn’t say anything. They left.

The Chinese suggested then that they each be given a room to work on with their artistry, two rooms facing each other and divided by a curtain.

The Chinese asked the king for a hundred colors, all the variations, and each morning they came to where the dyes were kept and took them all.

The Greeks took no colors.

"They’re not part of our work."

They went to their room and began cleaning and polishing the walls. All day every day they made those walls as pure and clear as an open sky.


There is a way that leads from all-colors to colorlessness. Know that the magnificent variety of the clouds and the weather comes from the total simplicity of the sun and the moon.


The Chinese finished, and they were so happy. They beat the drums in the joy of completion. The king entered their room, astonished by the gorgeous color and detail.

The Greeks then pulled the curtain dividing the rooms. The Chinese figures and images shimmeringly reflected on the clear Greek walls. They lived there, even more beautifully, and always changing in the light.

The Greek art is the sufi way. They don’t study books of philosophical thought. They make their loving clearer and clearer. No wantings, no anger. In that purity they receive and reflect the images of every moment, from here, from the stars, from the void.

They take them in as though they were seeing with the lighted clarity that sees them.

[Pause…Transitional music]

There are two kinds of intelligence:

one acquired, as a child in school memorizes facts and concepts from books and from what the teacher says, collecting information from the traditional sciences as well as from the new sciences.

With such intelligence you rise in the world. You get ranked ahead or behind others in regard to your competence in retaining information. You stroll with this intelligence in and out of fields of knowledge, getting always more marks on your preserving tablets.


There is another kind of tablet, one already completed and preserved inside you. A spring overflowing its springbox. A freshness in the center of the chest. This other intelligence does not turn yellow or stagnate. It’s fluid, and it doesn’t move from outside to inside through the conduits of plumbing-learning.

This second knowing is a fountainhead from within you, moving out.

[Singing Bowl…Music…Singing Bowl]

The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you.

Don’t go back to sleep.

You must ask for what you really want.

Don’t go back to sleep.

People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open.

Don’t go back to sleep.

[Pause…Transitional music]

When I am with you, we stay up all night. When you’re not here, I can’t go to sleep.

Praise God for these two insomnias! And the difference between them.

[Singing Bowl…Music…Singing Bowl]

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Ideas, language, even the phrase each other doesn’t make any sense.

[Pause…Transitional music]

Moses heard a shepherd on the road praying,

"God, where are you? I want to help you, to fix your shoes and comb your hair. I want to wash your clothes and pick the lice off. I want to bring you milk, to kiss your little hands and feet when it’s time for you to go to bed. I want to sweep your room and keep it neat. God, my sheep and goats are yours. All I can say, remembering you, is ayyyy and ahhhhhhhhh."

Moses could stand it no longer. "Who are you talking to?"

"The one who made us, and made the earth and made the sky."

"Don’t talk about shoes and socks with God! And what’s this with your little hands and feet? Such blasphemous familiarity sounds like you’re chatting with your uncles. Only something that grows needs milk. Only someone with feet needs shoes. Not God! Even if you meant God’s human representatives, as when God said, ‘I was sick, and you did not visit me,’ even then this tone would be foolish and irreverent.

Use appropriate terms…Body-and-birth language are right for us on this side of the river, but not for addressing the origin, not for Allah."

The shepherd repented and tore his clothes and sighed and wandered out into the desert.

A sudden revelation came then to Moses. God’s voice:

You have separated me from one of my own. Did you come as a Prophet to unite, or to sever? I have given each being a separate and unique way of seeing and knowing and saying that knowledge…Ways of worshiping are not to be ranked as better or worse than one another.

Hindus do Hindu things. The Dravidian Muslims in India do what they do. It’s all praise, and it’s all right. It’s not me that’s glorified in acts of worship. It’s the worshipers! I don’t hear the words they say. I look inside at the humility… not the language. Forget phraseology…Burn up your thinking and your forms of expression!

Moses, those who pay attention to ways of behaving and speaking are one sort. Lovers who burn are another.

…Don’t scold the Lover. The "wrong" way he talks is better than a hundred "right" ways of others. …(I)t doesn’t matter which direction you point your prayer rug! The ocean diver doesn’t need snowshoes! The love-religion has no code or doctrine. Only God. So the ruby has nothing engraved on it! It doesn’t need any markings.


God began speaking deeper mysteries to Moses. Vision and words, which cannot be recorded here, poured into and through him. He left himself and came back. He went to eternity and came back here. Many times this happened…

Moses ran after the shepherd. He followed the bewildered footprints, in one place moving straight like a castle across a chessboard. In another, sideways, like a bishop…Moses finally caught up with him.

"I was wrong. God has revealed to me that there are no rules for worship. Say whatever and however your loving tells you to. Your sweet blasphemy is the truest devotion. Through you a whole world is freed.

Loosen your tongue and don’t worry what comes out. It’s all the light of the spirit."

The shepherd replied, "Moses, Moses, I’ve gone beyond even that. You applied the whip and my horse shied and jumped out of itself. The divine nature and my human nature came together.

Bless your scolding hand and your arm. I can’t say what has happened. What I’m saying now is not my real condition. It can’t be said."

The shepherd grew quiet.


When you look in a mirror, you see yourself, not the state of the mirror. The flute player puts breath into a flute, and who makes the music? Not the flute. The flute player!

Whenever you speak praise or thanksgiving to God, it’s always like this dear shepherd’s simplicity.

When you eventually see through the veils to how things really are, you will keep saying again and again, "This is certainly not like we thought it was!"

[Singing Bowl…Music…Singing Bowl]

We are tasting the taste this minute of eternity.

We are pain and what cures pain, both. We are the sweet cold water and the jar that pours.

[Pause…Transitional music]

I used to want buyers for my words. Now I wish someone would buy me away from words.

I’ve made a lot of charmingly profound images…[but now] I’m so tired of what I’ve been doing.

Then one image without form came, and I quit.

Look for someone else to tend the shop. I’m out of the image-making business. Finally I know the freedom of madness.

A random image arrives. I scream, "Get out!" It disintegrates. Only love.

Only the holder the flag fits into, and wind. No flag.

[Singing Bowl…Music…Singing Bowl]

If anyone asks you how the perfect satisfaction of all our sexual wanting will look, lift your face and say,

Like this.

When someone mentions the gracefulness of the night sky, climb up on the roof and dance and say,

Like this?

If anyone wants to know what "spirit" is, or what "God’s fragrance" means, lean your head toward him or her. Keep your face there close.

Like this.

When someone quotes the old poetic image about clouds gradually uncovering the moon, slowly loosen knot by knot the strings of your robe.

Like this?

If anyone wonders how Jesus raised the dead, don’t try to explain the miracle. Kiss me on the lips.

Like this. Like this.

When someone asks what it means to "die for love," point


If someone asks how tall I am, frown and measure with your fingers the space between the creases on your forehead.

This tall.

The soul sometimes leaves the body, then returns. When someone doesn’t believe that, walk back into my house.

Like this.

When lovers moan, they’re telling our story.

Like this.

I am a sky where spirits live. Stare into this deepening blue, while the breeze says a secret.

Like this.

When someone asks what there is to do, light the candle in (their) hand.

Like this…

A little wind cleans the eyes.

Like this.

When a friend comes back from (a journey), he’ll put just his head around the edge of the door to surprise us.

Like this.

[Pause…Transitional music]

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field.

I’ll meet you there.

[Singing Bowl…Music…Singing Bowl]


We meet here on Sunday mornings…like this…to share space and time and each other…and music, some of it performed for us, and some we get to make together, as we will now by singing #17, Every Night and Every Morn. This is a rather haunting and poetic piece that I picked because William Blake’s reminder dances well with Rumi’s messages, I think.


Perhaps you have tasted the taste of eternity this hour, or heard the presences inside some poems.

We have come, come, whoever we are, to let the beauty we love be what we do.

May you now select clothing for the soul divine off racks of the shimmeringly diverse. For ours is no caravan of despair; forget phraseology. Go forth and see your neighbors by the same light that they see you. Go forth, but never leave the premises.

Meanwhile, let’s help sing the Spirit of Life onto the one altar of our one world. #123…

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