When Was I Less By Dying?

This Fall’s Arched Cathedral

I Died As A Mineral

by Rumi

I died as a mineral and became a plant,
I died as plant and became animal,
I died as animal and I was human.
Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?
Yet once more I shall die, to soar
With angels blest; but even from angelhood
I must pass on: all except God perishes.
Only when I have given up my angel-soul,
Shall I become what no mind has ever conceived.
Oh, let me not exist! for Non-existence
Proclaims in organ tones, To God we shall return.

If you google this quote from Rumi you will find many different English translations but rarely the entire passage from which it comes. This has been a favorite of mine from Rumi for many years. I discovered it during a focused time of spiritual re-awakening that coincided with a period of some of my most productive creative writing.

I wrote Noble Light in the fall of 2014 and it was one of two poems that unknowingly at the time, formed my jumping off point into what has become my obsession with sonnets. You could say Noble Light was my gate way drug. Obviously it is not a sonnet, but this poem was one of the most difficult I have ever written. I had dozens of drafts that I worked on for over a month that eventually I came to the realize, was actually two poems, not one. Once I dissected the lines and phrases and ideas into their respective corners, each poem on its own came together rather quickly. The other poem, also a poem of forgiveness, vaguely resembles a sonnet and Noble Light typical of my free verse, has just a tinge of rhyme to help the flow.

Back in those days, I would often share a finished draft of a new poem with my Mother via email as part of our daily correspondence. She often had interesting insights or suggestions for edits that made my writing better. It was fun to share with her the thrill of creativity and our mutual love of poetry. At that time I was writing so prodigiously I rarely went back to reread what I had written earlier, I filed poems away in the cloud of my little google Chromebook and moved on to the next poem and the next and the next. And so it surprised me a year later on one of our poetry nights, where each of us brought 4 to 5 poems to read, always from other poets not our original work, that she surprised me by selecting Noble Light to read back to me as one of her current favorites. I was honored and after she read it she shared her perspective of why this poem resonated with her. During that conversation, I made the mental connection between what was at the heart of my poem and some of the ideas in Rumi’s poem above, connections that were not obvious to me at the time I wrote it but were suddenly clear.

The next spring my Mother suffered a severe heart attack and wound up in two weeks of rehab following 10 days in the ICU and hospital. It was a long slow recovery. I visited her as often as possible and usually brought poetry. It became a regular ritual for her to ask at some point during our conversation and visit, “please read Nobel Light.” I am not sure how she in that moment connected to the whole of the poem, but the line; But next spring, buds shall swell with longing to be green again, resonated with what she was clinging to in that moment of recovery – hope, a hope that could carry her to wellness and be green again. It was humbling to have a line of my poetry mean that much to my Mother and I was pleased that she never tired of hearing me read it to her. I don’t revisit this poem very often since her death, but every fall, when I am on a walk and encounter popular leaves rattling their sacred song high in the canopy of the forest’s arched cathedral, I think of her and this poem. Happy Birthday Mom.


Noble Light

by T. A. Fry

In October, when infinite shades
of red, orange, green and yellow burn
bright against a brilliant sky;
Bathing everything in noble light
Do you pause in wonder?

Do you close your eyes
And listen to leathery poplar leaves
high in the canopy
rattle a sacred song?

In that moment
if you are drawn to forgiveness,
what do you put asunder?

When the wounded deer
bounded across our path
as we walked in the forest’s
arched cathedral; I could not
hear absolution in the crow’s
caw to the wolves.

But next spring, buds shall swell
With longing to be green again.
The winter’s snow will melt and sanctify
All remains obscured in these woods.

And the warmth of spring renewal
Will release countless bleached bones
From their sepulcher of snow.
To emerge cleansed to bask
Swaddled in hallowed leaves.

If You Want To Last, Hold On To Nothing

Masked

Where is God?

by Mark Nepo

It’s as if what is unbreakable—
the very pulse of life—waits for
everything else to be torn away,
and then in the bareness that
only silence and suffering and
great love can expose, it dares
to speak through us and to us.

It seems to say, if you want to last,
hold on to nothing.  If you want
to know love, let in everything.
If you want to feel the presence
of everything, stop counting the
things that break along the way.

 


 

I Saw Sorrow

by Rumi

I saw Sorrow
holding a cup of pain.
I said, hey sorrow,
sorry to see you this way.
What’s troubling you?
What’s with the cup?
Sorrow said,
what else can I do?
All this Joy that you have brought to the world
has killed my business completely.

 

Grateful For Whoever Comes

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St. Stefan’s Romanian Orthodox Church in St. Paul

The Guest House

by Rumi

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.


I attended a funeral today in St. Paul, remarkable for its authenticity of grateful sorrow for the life that was celebrated.  The funeral was for a woman who had lived a good portion of her life on the same block that the church is located.  A woman whose mother was the first baby baptized in the church when it opened in 1928.  The priest who co-lead the service gave a touching homily about what made Maria special; her ability to be genuine in her encouragement and to make an impact on those who crossed her path. Maria had a gift for providing encouragement and led a life of perseverance by example. She worked as a social worker, part time, right up until the week before her hospitalization, brief illness and death. She had over come multiple health issues over the last several decades of her life, marching onward, with a green thumb, a love of gardening, cooking and family.

We lose something when we lose a connection to the spiritual center of our neighborhoods, of our community. Maria embodied spiritual connection in her community. I looked around the tiny church, where she had marked so many celebrations and sorrows during her lifetime and was honored to be present. The majority of the service was sung in Romanian, the tunes familiar even if the words less so.  God Bless Maria, her family and all she touched in her lifetime.

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Maria Jura Ticiu (1945 – 2019)

 

If You’re Not Here, Nothing Grows

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Rumi, my roomie.

“Be like the cat, so alive after the mouse, never wondering or questioning why,

when there is really only God, only God…
touching our

paws.”

Rumi  – The Purity of Desire, translated by Daniel Ladinsky

Those Who Surrender

by Rumi
Translated by Coleman Barks

I have been tricked by flying too close
to what I thought I loved.

Now the candle flame is out, the wine spilled,
and the lovers have withdrawn
somewhere beyond my squinting.

The amount I thought I won, I’ve lost.
My prayers become bitter and all about blindness.

How wonderful it was to be for a while
with those who surrender.

Others only turn their faces one way,
then another, like pigeons in flight.

I have known pigeons who fly in a nowhere,
and birds that eat grainlessness,

and tailors who sew beautiful clothes
by tearing them to pieces.


It’s incredible how the smell of a cat’s stomach fur while lying together in a sunshine patch on the carpet in the living room, can transport me back to my childhood completely. Maybe that’s the secret elixir of eternal youth? Ponce de Leon didn’t have to risk life and limb traipsing about the New World searching for the fountain of youth.  He failed to recognize it was waiting for him, curled up purring, in his living room.

I adopted Rumi on Wednesday from the local Humane society. Rumi seems a fitting name for a love cat and he’s my roommate. My house finally smells like home, a faint odor of cat food musking the kitchen with eau de Purina.

As for Rumi the poet, there are almost not enough words for the wonder that his poetry conveys. His friendship with Sham and his joy are something we can all aspire to find one tenth of what he savored in his life.  I found a reference on the internet that Rumi is the most read poet in English today.  If that’s true, I wonder what Rumi would think about that fact?  Creating multiple international, timeless best sellers I doubt was on Rumi’s list of things to do as he sat down each night to write another poem.  Or maybe he would be ecstatic that his messages of love, transcendence, spiritual unity with the universe are being embraced around the world eight centuries after his death.

Picking out only two Rumi poems is like trying to eat only 2 slices of pie at Thanksgiving when there are four to choose from.  Inevitably you are going to come back for seconds  or thirds to nibble on the ones you passed by the first time.  There are too many good Rumi poems to pick from that I dared not even try to share my absolute favorite(s). It would be like violating the secrets Rumi whispers in my ear every time I read them.

I do love the lines in the poem below:  “There is a secret medicine given to those who hurt so hard they can’t hope. The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.” If you’re a hoper you’ve already been given the medicine.  If you are hurting so hard you can’t hope, take some Rumi daily, you’ll feel better.

Do you have a memorable Rumi poem or quote?  Please share it in the comments section, just don’t share your favorite, that would be violating a thing that’s sacred between you and Rumi.


 

My Worst Habit

by Rumi
Translated by Coleman Barks – The Essential Rumi

My worst habit is I get so tired of winter
I become a torture to those I am with.

If you’re not here, nothing grows.
I lack clarity. My words
tangle up and knot.

How to cure bad water? Send it back to the river.
How to cure bad habits?  Send me back to you.

When water gets caught in the habitual whirlpools,
dig a way out through the bottom
to the ocean. There is a secret medicine
given only to those who hurt so hard
they can’t hope.

The hopers would feel slighted if they knew.

Look as long as you can at the friend  you love,
no matter if that friend is moving away from you
or coming back towards you.