Türks and Persians lay definite claim to the 13th century Sufi Muslim poet. He died in Konya and wrote his poetry in Persian. And, hard to imagine, but he was named the most popular poet in the US in 2007.
I am waiting for my translation of Rumi writings and poems by Coleman Barks to arrive with our stuff being shipped. In the East, Rumi is known as Hz. Mevlana (translated as “our master”). I shared a Facebook post from my Egyptian friend Mustafa this week, one I hadn’t seen before, but I especially love:
The truth was a mirror in the hands of God. It fell, and broke into pieces. Everybody took a piece of it, and they looked at it and thought they had the truth.
One of the reasons I moved to Istanbul was to “break” open my life. Traveling to the Middle East North African (MENA) region over the last five years, then returning to reverse culture shock and the need to navigate the Islamophobic shoals in the US, has released in me the truth of this snippet of Rumi’s wisdom. I’ve been reflecting on its insights.
Some of my friends in the region are quite spiritual. Their practice of devotion resonates with my understanding of mystery. I always love being present to their disciplines, be it sitting quietly in a mosque, or as we did this week, observing the Sema ceremony in the Yenikapı Mevlevihânesi (Mevlevi Lodge at Yenikapı, Istanbul). We yabancılar (foreigners) call the Semazen “whirling dervishes”.
Our friend Kamer had organized this experience, just as she’d secured tickets a month ago to the first Istanbul celebration of Şeb-i Arus — the anniversary of Rumi’s death – an annual commemoration held in Konya, Turkey. I have seen the Sema now twice within a short time and have begun to recognize its seven ritual movements accompanied by musicians. Both times I had a camera in front of my face. I want to go back to the Yenikapı Mevlevihânesi, which offers a weekly ceremony open to those who make reservations. Next time, I will simply submit to the experience, and take no photos.
Şeb-i Arus, “The Wedding Day”, celebrates the joy Rumi felt in being united with his maker. He said to his wife who pleaded he ask God for more time:
“Am I a thief?
Have I stolen someone’s goods?
Is this why you would confine me here and keep me from being rejoined with my Love?”
The first Istanbul event was held in a HUGE new arena in Kadiköy. The long program began at 8pm and featured poetry reading in Turkish and Persian. Within the show was a part where the audience sang to songs it knew. Jim and I guessed this was similar to a cultural/religious knowledge of Christmas carols, because that huge crowd would unlikely all be practicing Sufis.
The Semazen came on last and it was quite late. The event was highly produced, and the sound unbalanced in the arena. Combining traditional ancient acoustical instruments, vocal chants and dance with large video screens, booming amplification and roving spot lights created some cognitive dissonance.
Many people, including us, began leaving the arena while the Semazen were still performing their ritual. The traffic outside was like a football playoff at home. I loved seeing the happening, but something very fundamental felt lost in that venue.
We found what was lost in Kadiköy at Yenikapı. The Sema involved the same dance with traditional orchestra. The lodge is a large open room with two floors of seating. About as large as a medium-sized church, the exquisite space offers an intimate experience.
This was a spiritual ritual in a sacred place, but it was welcoming and inclusive. Many in the audience knew and recited the prayers at the end of the program. The performance was mesmerizing and holy, even from behind my camera.
Another reflection on the “ownership” of truth occurred when Jim and I attended a meeting this week in which a high-level politician from Iraq discussed the impact of US and Western foreign policy on his country. That will be the subject of another post.