“The Essential Rumi” translated by Coleman Barks

“The Essential Rumi” translated by Coleman Barks

Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī (Sept. 30, 1207 – Dec. 17, 1273), better known as Rumi, was a Persian born Sufi Muslim teacher, religious leader, poet, and Islamic scholar. Since the day that they were written, Rumi’s poems have been enjoyed by countless people in multiple languages. In recent decades, his poems have enjoyed a renaissance in America with Rumi becoming “one of the best-selling poets in the United States.”[1] As a Sufi Muslim, Rumi was follower of “Islam’s immensely complex and infinitely diverse mystical tradition.”[2] Though rooted in the core beliefs of Islam, Sufism is a “medley of divergent philosophical and religions trends”[3] with concepts borrowed from Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, and other religions. This background allowed Rumi to become “dissolver of boundaries” with poems that speak to the heart of humanity regardless of religious affiliation. This mystical belief in the connection of all of humanity can be seen most clearly in Rumi’s statement that he saw “one altar” and not three when he went “into the Muslim mosque and the Jewish synagogue and the Christian church.”[4] Rumi’s poems are characterized by his usage of “anything human beings do, no matter how scandalous or cruel or silly, as a lens to examine soul growth.”[5] This style, though effective at one level, also tends to drive away some readers due to the crude and unrefined nature of the poems. I, for one, fall into this latter group as I did not find Rumi’s poems to be enlightening, enriching, or beneficial. Rather I found them to confusing and unhelpful in stimulating personal spiritual formation. Part of this, I readily admit, may be due...
No god But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan

No god But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam by Reza Aslan

Islam rose to the forefront of the global consciousness on September 11, 2001 through the bloody actions of several self-proclaimed followers of Islam. Yet in spite of the almost constant barrage of information since then by news pundits, political leaders, and religious personalities, it seems that most people living in the United States still don’t understand the basic concepts, history, or divisions within the religion. Written four years after the 9-11 terrorist attacks by Reza Aslan, a Sufi Muslim immigrant to the USA from Iran, the book No god But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam seeks to provide the reader with a basic understanding of Islam.[1] Using chronological time as a scaffold, Aslan focuses on telling the theological history of Islam rather than outlining the territorial spread of the religion. This focus on the theological development of Islam allows Aslan to highlight the various reformation movements within the religion. In fact, Aslan goes as far as to say that the book itself is less about the origins of Islam as much as it is “an argument for reform.”[2] Though not widely known in the United States, “Islam has been in a constant state of evolution”[3] since the very beginning. Hence the power and glory of Aslan’s book is that it informs the readers of the struggles within Islam as its religious followers try to adapt their religion to a changing world while remaining true to their traditions, scriptures, and deity. A good example of this struggle is the ongoing debate over the role of human reason in reading and understanding the Quran. The Rationalist school of...
Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea

Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea

            Though it is common to think that that we who are alive are the ones who are braving new territory, the reality is that we are always following someone else. In his book Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter, Thomas Cahill shows that for those of us steeped in Western thought and culture it is the ancient Greeks who got there before us. As Cahill so eloquently states at the end of the book, “whatever we experience in our day, whatever we hope to learn, whatever we most desire, whatever we set out to find, we see that the Greeks have been there before us.”[1] Cahill, however, makes it clear that his book contains “no breakthrough discoveries, no cutting edge scholarship.”[2] Rather his approach is to draw together the various pieces of the past and “try to remain in their presence till [he] can begin to see and hear and love what living men and women once saw and heard and loved.”[3] This method of reviewing history proves to be extremely effective in drawing out the humanity of the ancient Greeks that so often gets buried under the text of their mythology and philosophy. The book itself is divided into seven chapters plus an introduction. Each chapter is preceded by a fragment of Greek mythology that corresponds to the theme of the chapter.[4] The chapter titles themselves summary the concepts explored by Cahill: The Warrior (How to Fight), The Wanderer (How to Feel), The Poet (How to Party), The Politician and The Playwright (How to Rule), The Philosopher (How to Think), and The Artist (How to...
Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling

Michelangelo and the Pope’s Ceiling

Born in Florence at the beginning of the Italian Renaissance on March 6, 1475 when “Mercury and Venus were in the house of Jupiter,” [1] Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni seemed destined to become a famous in the arts. And as fortune had it, he was able to study at the famed Garden of San Marco started by the famous patron of the arts, Lorenzo de’ Medici.[2] Michelangelo’s skill as a sculptor soon became apparent with him creating “two extraordinary bas-reliefs, the Madonna of the Steps and the Battle of the Centaurs”[3] by the age of fifteen or sixteen as noted by Thomas Cahill. However it wasn’t sculpting that would propel him into the realm of the uber famous, but rather it would be his skill with a paint brush that would set him apart. The canvas for his art, as the fates would have it, was a box-shaped chapel in Rome whose foundation was laid a mere two years before his birth.[4] The journey from sculptor to painter was not an easy one for Michelangelo. Rather it was a journey full of political upheavals, family drama, personal rivalry, and four long years perched on a scaffold bend backward staring at a ceiling. In his book Michelangelo & the Pope’s Ceiling, Ross King weaves these complex issues together into a single story showing how Pope Julius II pushed Michelangelo beyond his comfort zone and into the history books. Like most people I had heard about Michelangelo’s paintings on the vault of the Sistine Chapel and even seen replicates of famed Creation of Adam fresco. However my knowledge of these...
Embracing the Victory

Embracing the Victory

A look through the Scriptures, especially the New Testament, reveals a lot of passages about the victory that comes through the new life in the kingdom. We become new people with a new family built upon love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. No matter what pain or sorrow we have experienced before, we now have a chance at a new life. The old is gone; behold the new. Sadly, a lot of people fail to embrace fully the victory of Jesus in their lives. The scars of the past are so deep and numerous that it is hard to trust again. What happens if I open up my heart and Jesus fails me? What if I try to fight the chemical, emotional or spiritual addictions in my life and I fail? Perhaps it is just safer not to dream of victory; instead I will just push on through this life, hanging onto the promise of healing in the next life at the resurrection of the dead. As it has been said, the pain that I know is better than the pain that I don’t know. Not wanting victory may sound crazy to some people, but there are a lot more of us out there who are afraid of change than those who embrace the change of life that comes with Jesus. I’m reminded of the time when Jesus went to the pool of Bethesda, which was a sort of hospital and healing spa (John 5:1-15). Walking among the sick and hurting, Jesus stopped next to a gentleman who had been sick for 38 years and asked him the most important...