Fall in Love the Rumi Way

Intimacy with other people and with the divine is more about friendship--and hard work--than romance.

Continued from page 1

They seem to do that, for me. Other people see him as an Islamic poet, but I like to hear in him that which calls us beyond the boundaries that separate us.

So if Rumi were walking around today, where would he worship?

He might go to almost any church, I think.

Which religious figures pop up most in Rumi's poems? I've seen Muhammad, Moses, Joseph, Abraham...

Moses, yes. Jesus is very prominent. Some Sufis feel that the same energy that came through Jesus came through Rumi. His attention to the neglected, children, the beggars, the poor seems like a characteristic of Jesus, too.

Which sacred texts speak to you, and where do you see threads between specific verses and Rumi?

You can read the Mathnawi [Rumi's collection of poems] as a commentary on various texts of the Qur'an. It's certainly true that he does expand on the lines there-sometimes explicitly, sometimes without quoting the text.

But I said in the introduction to [my earlier book] "The Soul of Rumi" that I disagree with the idea of sacred texts as a category. When the living descendant of the lineage of Rumi-his name was Jelaluddin Chelabi-visited Atlanta, he sat me down and said "What religion are you?" I just threw up my hands. He says, "Good. Love is the religion, and the universe is the book."

So everything is a kind of sacred text. The books that have been sacred texts to me are things like "Catcher in the Rye," because [when I read it in the 1950s] it felt so truthful. Walt Whitman, and even the raunchy love poems of e.e. cummings: they deepened my own sense of being. Cormac McCarthy is better than the epistles of Paul. James Agee is better than the Qur'an. I'll eventually be shot for these statements (laughs).

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But I think each person has his own Bible. You make your own anthology of texts that have been sacred to you. They would also be memories, people you've met, people who have loved you, pets you've had. That would be your sacred book. Evidently, at the end, we'll get to have a life review and look at them all again, they say. My teacher, Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, says try to make your life as though it's a movie, and you and God are going to watch it. Try to make some parts that he'll like.

The mass market-the greeting card industry, etc.-has picked up a lot of your Rumi translations. Are there poems that are underappreciated or undiscovered?

Well, a poem like 'Clear Being' has that sort of Zen sense of emptiness and clarity:

I honor those who try
to rid themselves of lying,
who empty the self
and have only clear being there
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Interview with Coleman Barks
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