As I continue to read my way through the poetry of Rumi, I pranged against an interesting spin on one of the more challenging things about a mystic approach to faith.
The poem is entitled "Chickpea to Cook," and its focus is a reluctant chickpea, which doesn't want to be part of the stew a cook is preparing. The chickpea has no desire to be eaten, to lose its sense of self and identity. It doesn't particularly want to be cooked, either.
The cook, on the other hand, thinks the chickpea is being selfish. "I'm giving you flavor," he says, "so you can mix with spices and rice and be part of the lovely vitality of a human being."
What Rumi is articulating is a desire that weaves through all of the mystic traditions within each of the world's great faiths. It's the yearning to lose oneself completely in God, to be utterly subsumed into the glory of the divine. As it's expressed in this wee bit of theological whimsy, Rumi articulates our purpose in being as giving God "...something good to eat."
This, I think, is the problem most human beings have with mysticism. There is nothing, nothing, nothing that we cherish in the world more than our own sense of self. We don't want to cease to be as we are. We cling to the unique assemblage of memories that form us, enfleshed in our uniquely patterned organic neural network. It is our existence. It is us. We don't want to let ourselves go.
When we conceptualize heaven, this is why we want it to be a place where we remain eternally as we are. Maybe a bit younger or a bit older, maybe a bit thinner, maybe with a full head of hair, but still us. This has never really appealed to me, or made any sense theologically. Here in creation, our "self" is a complex intermixture of genetic predisposition, experience, and memory. But moving into a direct and unmediated experience of God would seem to be something of a gamechanger for us as persons.
We know that individual experiences or events in our lives can have radically transforming impacts on our sense of self. After that first kiss, you are not the same person. After the first death of a dear, dear friend, you are not the same person. Why would we expect not to be utterly changed by God's presence, which is several orders of magnitude more intense?
If God is, as we faith-folk tend to say, both infinitely good and infinitely loving, why wouldn't we want to lose ourselves in God?