The Question

The Answer as God in Fire

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 are not.
Whoever walks into the first 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.
This 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 moth wings
so you could burn them away, one set a night.

The moth sees light and goes into the first.
You should see fire and go toward the 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 the 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.

R.A. Nicholson: The Mathnawi of Jalaluddin Rumi

austin spring 2015

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