Rumi Has It

Coleman Barks
Coleman Barks

Today, like every other day, we wake up frightened.

Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading.

Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love, be what we do

There are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground. 

–Jalaluddin Rumi

I went to an elevating event with a friend last evening. Coleman Barks was reading Rumi’s poetry as part of the Indian Summer Festival. For those of you familiar with this Sufi mystic’s poetry, you will know that Barks is one of Rumi’s foremost translators. He also taught poetry and creative writing at the University of Georgia for 30 years.

I was entranced by the reading that was accompanied by a hauntingly beautiful vocalist and masterful musicians playing the sitar, the barbat and the tombak. The music was drawn from Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey, all of the places Rumi lived.

As I listened and watched, I couldn’t help thinking that all good teachers have a bit of the performer in them. As Barks read the closing poem (Dance when you’re broken open…), a whirling dervish appeared out of nowhere, transporting all of us back to 13th Century Persia. It was as if we entered a conversation between Rumi and his spiritual advisor and companion, Shams of Tabriz.

Mohamed Assani on sitar.
Mohamed Assani on sitar.

Rumi obviously understood that reading and studying aren’t the only ways we learn and that we can tap into deeper wisdom in myriad ways. It’s a tribute to his universal nature that Hindus and Muslims claim him as their own. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who noted this evening was held at St. Andrews Wesley United Church. After all, there are a hundred ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

The festival is on through July 12th and includes more literary events, yoga, and food. The Lunchbox Legends make a couple of appearances, including a feast with our own Vikram Vij. Check it out.

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