Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Poets in Hell

As part of my summer plan to catch up on some reading I've been missing, my bedstand is now occupied by a rather thick collection of the poetry of Jalalladin Rumi. Rumi is a contender for the title of Everyone's Favorite Muslim (c), and after spending an hour or so with his poetry, I can see why.

Rumi is perhaps the best known among the Sufi, that mystical strain of Islam that Westerners used to call "whirling dervishes." Though folks tend to think of mystics as austere, distant, and cryptic, Rumi is none of that. His writing wonderfully melds the earthy and the transcendent. It's full of fragrance and flavor and mischief, and through this articulates a deep and passionate yearning for reconciliation and reunion with God. While it's not Christian, sometimes...particularly when his poetry sings the praises of Jesus and the Holy's hard to tell.

What amazes me whenever I engage with someone from another tradition who is so obviously and self-evidently suffused with grace is how easily AmeriChrist, Inc. declares folks like Rumi to be hell-fodder. Sure, he's delightful and talented and gentle. Yeah, he yearns for and seeks reconciliation with God. He appears to have a deep and abiding respect for Christians and for Jesus in particular.

But having not heard The Jesus Prayer coming from Rumi's lips, our Lord and Savior is obligated to consign him to an eternity of listening to poetry that is 1) written by fifteen year old girls whose parents have recently divorced, and 2) sung aloud by Fran Drescher and Gilbert Gottfried.

Whenever I lament this rather peculiar understanding of Good News, I tend to get the same response from a particular wing of Christianity. That response is, basically: "Sure, but that's just the way it is. Either you come up at the altar call, or it's Fran and Gilbert forever." That's followed by a few choice scriptures, and an offer to earnestly pray for my evidently deluded soul.

As someone who both feels and regularly articulates the importance of Jesus of Nazareth, I know personally that deep certainty of His Wayness, His Truthness, and His Lifeness. It's a real thing. In Christ, the purpose and intent for all human beings is expressed. In him, it lives and breathes. By following that path, we find ourselves at one with God and at peace with one another. We have found the Way, and we walk it in confidence.

When others curse that path, and mock it, and live their lives in opposition to it, then I think all is not well with them. But when others come near, and smile, and speak and act well of the journey, I can't for the life of me imagine that Jesus...the source of all my somehow less graceful and less forgiving than I am.