An Understanding of the Question

Why doesn’t a soul fly when it hears the call?
Fish on the beach always move toward the wave-sound.

A falcon hears the drum and brings the quarry home.
Why isn’t every dervish dancing in the sun?

You have escaped the cage. Your wings
are stretched out. Now, fly.

You have slept in sheds and out-buildings
so long you think you live there.

How many years, like children,
do we have to collect sticks and pieces
of broken pottery and pretend they’re valuable?

Leave childhood. Go to the banquet
of true human beings. Split open the cultural mould.
Put your head up out of the sack.

Hold this book in the air with your right hand.
Are you old enough to know right from left?

God said to clarity, Walk.
To death, Help them with discipline.

To the soul, Move into the invisible
and take what’s there.

Don’t sing the sadness anymore.
Call out that you have been given both
the answer and an understanding of the question.



*translated by Coleman Barks



The Question

One dervish to another, What was your vision of God’s presence?
I haven’t seen anything.
But for the sake of conversation, I’ll tell you a story.

God’s presence is there in front of me, a fire on the left,
a lovely stream on the right.
One group walks toward the fire, into the fire, another
toward the sweet flowing water.
No one knows which are blessed and which not.
Whoever walks into the fire appears suddenly in the stream.
A head goes under on the water surface, that head
pokes out of the fire.
Most people guard against going into the fire,
and so end up in it.
Those who love the water of pleasure and make it their devotion
are cheated with this reversal.
The trickery goes further.
The voice of the fire tells the truth saying, I am not fire.
I am fountainhead. Come into me and don’t mind the sparks.

If you are a friend of God, fire is your water.
You should wish to have a hundred thousand sets of mothwings,
so you could burn them away, one set a night.
The moth sees light and goes into fire. You should see fire
and go toward light. Fire is what of God is world-consuming.
Water, world-protecting.
Somehow each gives the appearance of the other. To these eyes
you have now, what looks like water
burns. What looks like fire
is a great relief to be inside.
You’ve seen a magician make a bowl of rice
seem a dish full of tiny, live worms.
Before an assembly with one breath he made the floor swarm
with scorpions that weren’t there.
How much more amazing God’s tricks.
Generation after generation lies down, defeated, they think,
but they’re like a woman underneath a man, circling him.
One molecule-mote-second thinking of God’s reversal
of comfort and pain is better
than any attending ritual. That splinter
of intelligence is substance.

The fire and water themselves:
accidental, done with mirrors.

*translated by Coleman Barks

Richard Rohr

We live and move in an entirely symbolic universe. Symbols are in fact the only solid way to experience substance. (The Greek root sym-bolon means “a throwing together.”) True symbols somehow are the thing itself. Our mind throws together meanings largely without realizing we are even doing it. Poets, artists, and storytellers have always known this, and now scientists are honest enough to realize that they too need metaphors to point to reality (for example, black holes, string theory, and the big bang). Without new symbols, which are sometimes also words, unconscious meanings never break through to consciousness, and the invisible has no way of becoming visible. We remain bored and boring. We do not experience our experiences–and there is surely no knife edge to our experiences that cuts us open and lances our wounds or refines our happiness.

Symbols allow us to reframe, reorganize, and reset the core meanings of our lives again and again. Many have called our postmodern world “a crisis of meaning,” a world where things do not mean anything. It is very lonely in such a universe. Humans cannot live happily without meaning–and ever deeper meaning. Symbols have the power to give meaning–the meanings we wake up for each morning. Religion should be a master at such mining for meaning.

Peace When There Is No Peace

The cloudy circumstances and conflicting reports and varied information and misinformation surrounding the situation with Michael Brown and Darren Wilson sparked not only protests, but also a lot of contention among people, most of whom seemed bent on taking a side. Who was in the right? Who was in the wrong? What should justice look like in this situation?

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