Wednesday, November 24, 2010


One of the more interesting things I have begun to notice in biblical literature in my past year of reading or so is something of "uncreation." This is not necessarily the cataclysm of the end of time, although it can be that. It is not quite that final. It is more of a working backward from order to chaos in order to reintroduce an element of chaos in the world, showing that God is the God of chaos and not just order. I find traces of this in Isaiah, but it is all over the poetry in Job, including Job's own personal "uncreation" in Job 3 (an observation I owe to one of my students) to God's cosmic "uncreation" in Job 38 onward (an observation I owe to Carol Newsom's book on Job). With this interest in mind, I read the following from Rumi's poems that is almost an uncreation at points:

I am sprung from you and likewise you have devoured me,
I melt in you since through you I froze.

Now you press me in your hand, now under your foot with grief;
for the grape does not become wine until it is pressed.

Like the light of the sun, you have cast us on the earth,
then little by little carried us back in that direction.

We return from the body's window like light into the orb of a sun,
pure of sin and blemish.

Whoever sees that orb says, "He has become alive,"
and whoever comes to the window says, "So-and-so is dead."

He has veiled our origin in that cup of pain and joy;
in the core of origin we are pure, all the rest left behind like dregs

(Rumi, Mystical Poems of Rumi, trans., A.J. Arberry, pp. 302-3)

This is definitely not the same as the chaos/cosmos theme in Job or elsewhere in ancient Jewish writings. It is almost like reading Hosea (the latter chapters), Job, and the end of 1 Corinthians together. In Hosea 10 and 11, there is much talk about devouring. Job seeks "uncreation" and self-annihilation by negating his own birth. But take this language and put it into a more positive spin of returning to one's source.

The antitheses are what caught my attention: the one who created will devour (like God in Hosea? like Kronos/Saturn?); the one who froze us will melt us. In language elsewhere in Rumi and other Sufis, I take the freezing as the placement of our true essence into form; the removal of the form "melts" us, but releases our unformed/pre-formed/un-created self. That is the first part. The second part is a purification: the breaking of grapes to create wine. But the pressing of wine has the same function: the removal and destruction (death) of the solid form for the liquid essence to flow and mature. Our bodies, though, are "dregs" while our true self is the soul that is purified wine.

These two first parts, then, focus on our form and formlessness, the next part shows why we need to pass beyond our form: to return. As the diffusion of the light of the sun we were cast upon the earth. Here Rumi sounds almost Sethian as souls are presented as rays of light cast upon the earth that will return to their source--the original orb--all without a demiurgical element, though. I am struck by the fact that the light's return to its source is gradual. It is not all at once. This indicates that Rumi is not seeing the, well, annihilation of the egoistic self as it is reabsorbed into its source in terms of death (or not solely), but as a self-annihilation that occurs in life. The deathlike scene of return comes next, when one returns through the body's window (the eye) to return to the sun. Light came into the body through the window and it will escape in the same way. Whoever looks at the source will think of the soul as finally truly alive (unfrozen); those who look at the form--the grape--will see death. In another poem, Rumi says concerning the only one who truly is: "Inwardly you are the soul of the soul of the soul, outwardly you are the sun of the sun." To return, in fact, one must go into one's most inward self to find the highest element of the universe.

Death, though, includes perhaps more than just death, but as Montaigne would say how death insinuates itself into our lives through pain and as well as joy. Such distractions, for Rumi, I think would be more like death--that is to be unconnected or less aware of one's origin--whereas through self-annihilation before and absorption into the one who truly is one truly exists and lives. The death of the egoistic, solid self is the birth of the diffusive liquid self that, as such, easily blends back into its sunny source.

No comments: