A disagreement with Jalal-ud-Din Rumi

Sensing whole, feeling whole, living whole, being and becoming whole. This, we believe or understand, is our holy work… the work of hosting the All-That-Is within the limited vessel which is ours to give. And yet we deceive ourselves if we think we can get there bypassing language … or our obligation to improve our use of language. We cannot be whole if we do not also think in wholes uniting into greater wholes.

I must respectfully disagree with the estimable Rumi who wrote*:

In all the worlds and heavens
not a bird moves a wing
not a straw trembles
but by God’s eternal law.
No one can explain this
and no one should try.
Who can number the roses
in the Almighty’s rose garden?
How could the Beloved be
snared in a net of words?

There is a snare of words which is a permanent Babel so many believe is human nature. But woe to one who gives up trying to understand the Whole, which surely God’s eternal law must indwell for the impulse to understand and explain is a holy impulse.

And you don’t need to pick up a shovel to know that it is hole-y, too. A hole is defined not merely by infinitely empty space but by the open container within which it subsides. Language is one such container… and as it is shaped and re-shaped it gives our holiness its substance. There is not one wholeness, but as many hole-nesses as there are symbolic containers.

The crisis of our age is that the sacred scriptural containers of ages past have been indicted by more contemporary sources of wisdom and dis-qualified in the conversations around wholeness, setting into motion violent and paralyzing and destabilizing culture wars between traditional, modern, and postmodern worldviews. Ours is in age in want and need of an Epic of Wholeness which will go where Rumi urged against: the snare of words which is the aftermath of Babel.

Babel’s days are already over, fading with each new shared understanding among people of diverse languages and cultures who meet under God’s eternal law and find a new tongue there. It’s now only a matter of time…

- Jalal-ud-Din Rumi
(Translated by Andrew Harvey from A Year of Rumi)

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  1. Frank says

    I believe this is what Rumi would have meant by the snare of words. Everyone comes to understand things through their individual perspective. Knowledge is different in different states of consciousness. As we grow in understanding and Enlightenment our appreciation of things and ideas expands accordingly. What the child can grasp is so different than what a schooled Adult can…. That is often why there is such confusion over the written word. Indoctrination of scripture for example has a huge danger of holding one in it’s grasp if insistence is used in teaching from it in a Dogmatic way. As the mind expands and grows through contact with the inner Self we naturally grow out of the hold of words.

  2. Steven Morgan says

    An interesting take on this, but I think using the Babel parable as an overlay for this poem opens the door to distorting what Rumi was getting at. My reading of Rumi’s message is more in line with the Taoist notion that once we start to name things, dualism creeps in and we start to perceive the undivided unity of creation as being made up of separate entities. The Beloved, the One Without a Second, the Tao, etc…must remain unnamed to remain whole.