Archive for the 'Poetry' Category

Nov 14 2014

Thich Nhat Hanh – Looking for Each Other

Published by under Poetry

Looking for Each Other
by Thich Nhat Hanh

I have been looking for you, World Honored One,
since I was a little child.
With my first breath, I heard your call,
and began to look for you, Blessed One.
I’ve walked so many perilous paths,
confronted so many dangers,
endured despair, fear, hopes, and memories.
I’ve trekked to the farthest regions, immense and wild,
sailed the vast oceans,
traversed the highest summits, lost among the clouds.
I’ve lain dead, utterly alone,
on the sands of ancient deserts.
I’ve held in my heart so many tears of stone.

Blessed One, I’ve dreamed of drinking dewdrops
that sparkle with the light of far-off galaxies.
I’ve left footprints on celestial mountains
and screamed from the depths of Avici Hell, exhausted, crazed with despair
because I was so hungry, so thirsty.
For millions of lifetimes,
I’ve longed to see you,
but didn’t know where to look.
Yet, I’ve always felt your presence with a mysterious certainty.

I know that for thousands of lifetimes,
you and I have been one,
and the distance between us is only a flash of thought.
Just yesterday while walking alone,
I saw the old path strewn with Autumn leaves,
and the brilliant moon, hanging over the gate,
suddenly appeared like the image of an old friend.
And all the stars confirmed that you were there!
All night, the rain of compassion continued to fall,
while lightning flashed through my window
and a great storm arose,
as if Earth and Sky were in battle.
Finally in me the rain stopped, the clouds parted.
The moon returned,
shining peacefully, calming Earth and Sky.
Looking into the mirror of the moon, suddenly
I saw myself,
and I saw you smiling, Blessed One.
How strange!

The moon of freedom has returned to me,
everything I thought I had lost.
From that moment on,
and in each moment that followed,
I saw that nothing had gone.
There is nothing that should be restored.
Every flower, every stone, and every leaf recognize me.
Wherever I turn, I see you smiling
the smile of no-birth and no-death.
The smile I received while looking at the mirror of the moon.
I see you sitting there, solid as Mount Meru,
calm as my own breath,
sitting as though no raging fire storm ever occurred,
sitting in complete peace and freedom.
At last I have found you, Blessed One,
and I have found myself.
There I sit.

The deep blue sky,
the snow-capped mountains painted against the horizon,
and the shining red sun sing with joy.
You, Blessed One, are my first love.
The love that is always present, always pure, and freshly new.
And I shall never need a love that will be called “last.”
You are the source of well-being flowing through numberless troubled lives,
the water from your spiritual stream always pure, as it was in the beginning.
You are the source of peace,
solidity, and inner freedom.
You are the Buddha, the Tathagata.
With my one-pointed mind
I vow to nourish your solidity and freedom in myself
so I can offer solidity and freedom to countless others,
now and forever.

— from Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh, by Thich Nhat Hanh


/ Photo by paul davis /

Looking into the mirror of the moon, suddenly
I saw myself,
and I saw you smiling, Blessed One.
How strange!

I have just heard that a few days ago the beloved Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh went into the hospital with a brain hemorrhage. He has such a gentle, boyish face, that it is easy to forget that he is in his 80s. The most recent news I have heard is that he is in critical but stable condition.

Every flower, every stone, and every leaf recognize me.
Wherever I turn, I see you smiling
the smile of no-birth and no-death.

I hope you will join me in sending blessings to this great soul, for he has been a great blessing to the world through his gentle presence, clear wisdom, and peace activism.

At last I have found you, Blessed One,
and I have found myself.
There I sit.


Recommended Books: Thich Nhat Hanh

Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering Into Peace, Joy & Liberation


Thich Nhat Hanh, Thich Nhat Hanh poetry, Buddhist poetry Thich Nhat Hanh

Vietnam/France/US (1929 – )
Buddhist : Zen / Chan

More poetry by Thich Nhat Hanh

2 responses so far

Nov 13 2014

New Book: The Longing in Between is now available!

Hi All –

Several large boxes of The Longing in Between arrived on my doorstep yesterday afternoon. And the book is now officially available and ready to order, either direct from the printer or through Amazon (including Amazon UK and other international Amazon sites).

I’m really pleased with how well this book has come together. It has a beautiful cover with inspired artwork by Alice Popkorn. The book just feels good in my hands. I may be a bit biased, though. :-)

It is my sincere hope that this new anthology carries with it a sense of blessing, peace, and inspiration for everyone who reads it.

For everyone who pre-ordered a copy of the new anthology, I will be signing them and mailing them out over the next few days. You should be receiving them soon!

The Longing in Between, Sacred Poetry from Around the World, A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology, Ivan M. Granger The Longing in Between
Sacred Poetry From Around the World

A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology

Edited with Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

$16.95

PURCHASE

also
Amazon
   

A delightful collection of soul-inspiring poems from the world’s great religious and spiritual traditions, accompanied by Ivan M. Granger’s meditative thoughts and commentary. Rumi, Whitman, Issa, Teresa of Avila, Dickinson, Blake, Lalla, and many others. These are poems of seeking and awakening… and the longing in between.

Devoted readers of the Poetry Chaikhana can finally enjoy this amazing poetry paired with Ivan’s illuminating commentary in book form. The Longing In Between is a truly engaging and thought-provoking exploration of sacred poetry from around the world.

Read More…

The Longing in Between is a work of sheer beauty. Many of the selected poems are not widely known, and Ivan M. Granger has done a great service, not only by bringing them to public attention, but by opening their deeper meaning with his own rare poetic and mystic sensibility.
     ~ ROGER HOUSDEN, author of the best-selling Ten Poems to Change Your Life series


Introduction (excerpt)

a star
a tree
and the longing in between

Gabriel Rosenstock

Without even formulating a complete sentence, Irish poet Gabriel Rosenstock gives us the whole spiritual endeavor–rootedness and aspiration, life, light, a terrible void, and the aching heart that impels us onward.

The longing in between…

Each poem in this collection is born of that same longing–the crisis of longing and its resolution.

If longing poses the question, then union is the answer.

This vibrant tension between longing and union reminds me of a story told by the 10th century Persian Sufi master Junayd. When asked why spiritually realized masters weep, he responded by telling of two brothers who had been apart for years. Upon their reunion, they embraced and were filled with tears. The first brother declared, “What longing!” to which the second brother replied, “What joy!” Longing and fulfillment, the one is not separate from the other.

The mystic maps the territory between the soul and God, between lover and Beloved, between the little self and the true Self, between the transitory and the Eternal. The road connecting these is the road of longing. Mysticism is the science of longing.

The poems gathered in these pages speak to us of seeking and awakening… and the longing in between…


“Ivan M. Granger has woven these poems into a tapestry of great wisdom with his reflection on each poem. I can imagine each poem and commentary furnishing the basis for a daily meditation. I would recommend this anthology to lovers of poetry, to mystics, and to explorers of the spiritual life.”
     ~ HARVEY GILMAN, author of Consider the Blackbird and A Light that is Shining: An Introduction to Quakers


Additional Ways to Support this Anthology

If you have already purchased a copy and want to support the book in other ways, here are a few suggestions:

Give The Longing in Between as a gift
My wife knows me pretty well… most of the time she gives me books as gifts. The Longing in Between makes a wonderful gift for the book-lovers in your life. (The recent snow in our area remind me that the holidays are coming quickly.)

Post a book review
An excellent way to introduce new readers to The Longing in Between is to post a favorable review in places like Amazon and GoodReads.

Ask your local bookstore to carry The Longing in Between
I think The Longing in Between will have great appeal to people who have never heard of me or the Poetry Chaikhana before. I’d love to have this collection of poems on local bookstore shelves, just waiting to be discovered by the right browsers.

I am only just beginning to explore what a publisher must do to get books carried in bookstores, and with my available time an energy I can’t rush through the process. But you can help. Consider asking your favorite local bookstore to carry The Longing in Between among their books. Customer demand always gets their attention. This anthology has a natural appeal to metaphysical bookstores, poetry bookstores, and open-minded church/ashram/mosque/temple bookstores. If the folks at your bookstore ask, The Longing in Between is available for wholesale distribution through Ingram.

Poetry Reading and Book Signing Event

On the afternoon of Saturday, December 6, I will be doing a reading and book signing event at a cozy little coffee shop in Longmont, Colorado. If you happen to be in the area, please come by and say hello! I feel I know so many of you through the emails we share, but I have only met a handful of you in person. This is a perfect opportunity to see who this Ivan fellow is face-to-face.

Date & Time
Saturday, Dec. 6
2:00 pm

Location
La Vita Bella Coffee Shop
475 Main St.
Longmont, CO 80501

Event listing on Facebook

If my energies allow it, I hope to schedule more readings in the future. Let me know if you have any suggestions for locations.

Once again, thank you, everyone, for all of your support and encouragement in bringing this book into being!

Ivan

4 responses so far

Nov 10 2014

Jacopone da Todi – Oh, the futility of seeking to convey

Published by under Poetry

Oh, the futility of seeking to convey (from Self-Annihilation and Charity Lead the Soul…)
by Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

English version by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes

Oh, the futility of seeking to convey
With images and feelings
That which surpasses all measure!
The futility of seeking
To make infinite powers ours!
Thought cannot come to certainty of belief
And there is no likeness of God
That is not flawed.

Hence, if He should call you,
Let yourself be drawn to Him.
He may lead you to a great truth.
Do not dwell on yourself, nor should you —
A creature subject to multiplicity and change — seek Him;
Rest in tranquility, loftier than action or feeling,
And you will find that as you lose yourself
He will give you strength.

— from Jacopone da Todi: Lauds (Classics of Western Spirituality), Translated by Serge and Elizabeth Hughes


/ Photo by MustafaDedeogLu /

It is a blustery morning here in Colorado. The last of Autumn’s leaves are being blown from their branches to swirl and spin against a graying sky. It’s a moody day. Reading today’s poem is inspiring some cantankerous observations…

Thought cannot come to certainty of belief
And there is no likeness of God
That is not flawed.

The great monotheistic faiths — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — lay particular emphasis on avoiding idolatry. In its most literal form, this is understood as the injunction against making an image of God and then worshipping that image. But the way Jacopone da Todi phrases it implies that the world is filled with images of God, all of which are flawed. And he is correct: the world is packed with imperfect images of God, yet only a small percentage are found in paintings or sculptures.

Even when we worship at the most unadorned altar, still we carry an image of God before us — in our thoughts. That’s where the vast majority of the world’s idols reside. We, each of us, carry an idea of God in our minds, constructed from what our parents and friends believe, what our religion teaches us, what society tells us. Even the most staunch atheist carries this mental idol, but names it something else. The mind’s idol is that which we worship and give ourselves to. It is that which we are attached to, that which gives us identity. It is whatever we continuously fixate on. That idol may be money or position, a great romance or a great accomplishment. It can be service or escape. It can be truth. It can be love. It is what glows in our mind’s eye, continuously calling to us. It is that which we have dedicated our life force to, for good or ill. That is the image we have placed on our internal altar and worship daily — whether we think of it as worship or not.

These internal idols, even the most transcendent and elevated, are flawed, however, because they are built from a mixture of mental concepts, unexamined impulses, and one’s imperfect sense of self, all of which are necessarily limited and, therefore, incapable of encompassing the All.

We must never make the mistake of thinking that our limited mental ideas of God are the same thing as God. Only God is God. Only the All is All. Anything else is a mental shorthand and, therefore, less than the Fullness we seek. Our thoughts about God are, at best, stepping stones along the journey. They must evolve and expand as we move ever closer to the Reality we have been trying to imagine. If those mental concepts and goals remain fixed, then we have become stuck… and have fallen into the real trap of idol worship.

This is a key problem with religious fundamentalism. It requires us to set up an unchanging image of God in our minds. By definition, fundamentalist belief is built on rigid mental constructions of who and what God is. Fundamentalism is idol worship.

For this reason, it always seems hypocritical to me when someone denigrates Hindus, for example, as “idol worshippers.” It is our mental idols that stand in our way, not the physical ones. We are all idol worshippers, regardless of what rests upon our altars. We are all idol worshippers, that is, until we lose ourselves in the full vision of the Divine. So called idol worshippers are often more likely to understand this truth than the most puritanical monotheistic sects.

Whether or not we show reverence to a picture or a statue, let us not be snared by the idols of the mind and, instead, yield more and more into the full vision of the unlimited and fluid Reality that is our true home.

Rest in tranquility, loftier than action or feeling,
And you will find that as you lose yourself
He will give you strength.


Recommended Books: Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

Poetry for the Spirit: Poems of Universal Wisdom and Beauty Jacopone da Todi: Lauds (Classics of Western Spirituality) All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets, and Witnesses for Our Time


Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti), Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti) poetry, Christian poetry Jacopone da Todi (Jacopone Benedetti)

Italy (1230 – 1306) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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5 responses so far

Nov 07 2014

Gabriel Rosenstock – Look! a tree

Published by under Poetry

Look! a tree
by Gabriel Rosenstock

Look! a tree
is becoming the spirit
of the wind

— from Hymn to the Earth: Photographs by Ron Rosenstock, by Gabriel Rosenstock


/ Photo by Dave Goodman /

I was a young child in Oregon, and I remember loving trips to the coast. Unlike the beaches I knew later in Southern California, the coasts of Oregon are moody and windy, places for a child to find scuttling crabs darting among the rocks and wonderlands hidden in tide pools. Sturdy windswept trees would lean over the bluffs keeping watch over the rolling tides.

You would think long years and decades of standing in the wind currents driving in off the Pacific Ocean would cause some of these trees to lean back, with branches swept behind them like tendrils of hair fluttering in the wind. But I usually saw the opposite: These sturdy trees would brace themselves and reach forward with practiced determination. Season after season the wind rushes through the tree’s arms, and the tree slowly learns to stretch forward towards that embrace… and, in so doing, embodies the spirit of its challenging, intangible beloved.


Recommended Books: Gabriel Rosenstock

Bliain an Bhandé – Year of the Goddess Haiku: The Gentle Art of Disappearing Haiku Enlightenment Where Light Begins: Haiku Hymn to the Earth: Photographs by Ron Rosenstock
More Books >>


Gabriel Rosenstock, Gabriel Rosenstock poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Gabriel Rosenstock

Ireland (1949 – )
Secular or Eclectic
Primal/Tribal/Shamanic : Celtic

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7 responses so far

Nov 05 2014

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir – If you keep seeking the jewel of understanding

Published by under Poetry

If you keep seeking the jewel of understanding
by Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

English version by Vraje Abramian

If you keep seeking the jewel of understanding,
then you are a mine of understanding in the making.
If you live to reach the Essence one day,
then your life itself is an expression of the Essence.
Know that in the final analysis you are that
which you search for.

— from Nobody, Son of Nobody: Poems of Shaikh Abu-Saeed Abil-Kheir, Translated by Vraje Abramian


/ Photo by notsogoodphotography /

I am back. And the anthology is ready! The Longing in Between is now finalized and at the printers. I should be receiving copies next week for me to sign and send out to everyone who purchased a pre-order copy recently. I am really pleased with how this first anthology has come together. I think you will like it too!

Now then, today’s poem…

This poem speaks a direct truth that should be obvious, but somehow isn’t.

If you live to reach the Essence one day,
then your life itself is an expression of the Essence.

When we focus on a goal, when we turn our hearts and all our thoughts and energies toward it, we begin to take on the qualities of that which we strive for. We could say that we become what we seek, but that’s not exactly what Abu-Said Abil-Kheir is saying; rather, we eventually discover that we are what we seek. What we seek we find inside. It has always been there, we must simply search.

When we are reminded of this truth, a hidden tension in the soul eases. There is always a nagging question: Will I achieve my goal? Am I foolish to even pursue it? This poem’s insight dismantles that self-defeating inner dialog. Through seeking we necessarily succeed. The seeking itself defines us and opens us, awakening recognition of the goal with us always.

Know that in the final analysis you are that
which you search for.

Have a beautiful day!

Abu-Said Abil-Kheir

Turkmenistan (967 – 1049) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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3 responses so far

Oct 17 2014

Rabindranath Tagore – I touch God in my song

Published by under Poetry

I touch God in my song
by Rabindranath Tagore

English version by Rabindranath Tagore

I touch God in my song
      as the hill touches the far-away sea
            with its waterfall.

The butterfly counts not months but moments,
      and has time enough.

Let my love, like sunlight, surround you
      and yet give you illumined freedom.

Love remains a secret even when spoken,
      for only a lover truly knows that he is loved.

Emancipation from the bondage of the soil
      is no freedom for thee.

In love I pay my endless debt to thee
      for what thou art.

— from The Fugitive, by Rabindranath Tagore


/ Photo by smerfeo /

…only a lover truly knows that he is loved.

In this poem’s few short lines, Rabindranath Tagore marries the bhakti path of utter love for God with the heart of karma yoga’s union through service and action.

In traditional Indian metaphysics, the goal is usually understood to be enlightenment and freedom from the karmic tug that traps us in the cycle of earthly embodiment, “emancipation from the bondage of the soil.” But here Tagore challenges the otherworldliness that often engenders.

Even the spiritual idea of liberation can become a selfish goal. For one utterly in love with God, the paying of that “debt” is simply a labor of love. Every effort, every experience, even suffering, is simply an expression of one’s love for God. That is enough right there for the true lover of God. Rather than seeking escape from “the soil,” the world is seen as a panorama that offers endless opportunities to worship and experience the Divine.

This is the great vision of karma yoga.

It is also the attitude that finally allows us to be at rest on our spiritual journey, rather than live as a convict on the run. What some see as the prison yard, becomes instead an exercise yard… or a playground! It is a courageous way of acknowledging that freedom is not escape, it is deep presence.

And we find that we live not in fleeting time, but in the ever expanding present moment.

The butterfly counts not months but moments,
      and has time enough.

Rabindranath Tagore, Rabindranath Tagore poetry, Yoga / Hindu poetry Rabindranath Tagore

India (1861 – 1941) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu

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Oct 14 2014

Derek Walcott – Love After Love

Published by under Poetry

Love After Love
by Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

— from Collected Poems 1948 – 1984, by Derek Wolcott


/ Photo by vanillapearl /

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving

This is a magical moment, when we finally encounter ourselves… when we actually see through to something essential, when we see through to something that is what we really are.

Most of the time I think we carry a reflexive fear of that meeting, so we tense up and expend a great deal of effort to avoid it. But Derek Walcott rightly says it is a moment of elation, one that inspires a deep smile and a profound sense of homecoming.

and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Is there more to say? Perhaps also a reminder to celebrate the journey that has brought us here…

Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott, Derek Walcott poetry, Christian poetry Derek Walcott

St. Lucia & UK (1930 – )
Christian

More poetry by Derek Walcott

2 responses so far

Oct 08 2014

Yunus Emre – One Who Is Real Is Humble

Published by under Poetry

One Who Is Real Is Humble
by Yunus Emre

English version by Jennifer Ferraro & Latif Bolat

To be real on this path you must be humble —
If you look down at others you’ll get pushed down the stairs.

If your heart goes around on high, you fly far from this path.
There’s no use hiding it —
What’s inside always leaks outside.

Even the one with the long white beard, the one who looks so wise —
If he breaks a single heart, why bother going to Mecca?
If he has no compassion, what’s the point?

My heart is the throne of the Beloved,
the Beloved the heart’s destiny:
Whoever breaks another’s heart will find no homecoming
in this world or any other.

The ones who know say very little
while the beasts are always speaking volumes;
One word is enough for one who knows.

If there is any meaning in the holy books, it is this:
Whatever is good for you, grant it to others too —

Whoever comes to this earth migrates back;
Whoever drinks the wine of love
understands what I say —

Yunus, don’t look down at the world in scorn —

Keep your eyes fixed on your Beloved’s face,
then you will not see the bridge
on Judgment Day.

— from Quarreling with God: Mystic Rebel Poems of the Dervishes of Turkey, Translated by Jennifer Ferraro / Translated by Latif Bolat


/ Photo by SoulFlamer /

Yunus Emre gives us several wonderful lines in this poem…

There’s no use hiding it —
What’s inside always leaks outside.

That just about sums up the spiritual perspective of everything, doesn’t it? One way or another, the inner world always reveals itself. Whatever masks we wear eventually fall away or slowly take the shape of what lies beneath. Why hide what’s inside? We should cultivate and celebrate that inner self. It will show itself anyway.

This poem in general seems to be a critique of religious hypocrisy, and specifically it deflates the idea of religious superiority. Those first lines give us a strong image:

To be real on this path you must be humble —
If you look down at others you’ll get pushed down the stairs.

I imagine a stern qadi (or bishop or preacher or rabbi) who has spent his life carefully studying the minutia of religious law and has come to see everyone as falling short. He casts a cold eye on flawed and worldly humanity and judges them all to be far beneath him. It’s as if he is looking down a long staircase at the world.

That figure is in far greater spiritual danger than most of the people he looks down on. The thing he hasn’t recognized is how unstable those stairs are. Any distance of spiritual perfectionism we construct in our minds is inherently rigid and brittle, yet it must stand on a living, shifting ground. Those stairs will always collapse in the end.

The more people “look down on the world in scorn,” the further they fall. This is unavoidable gravity.

Even the one with the long white beard, the one who looks so wise —
If he breaks a single heart, why bother going to Mecca?
If he has no compassion, what’s the point?

Yunus Emre gives us the essential keys: humility and compassion. Everything else leads to pretense, which disjoints the soul, and false superiority, which enforces the illusion of separation and leads to collapse.

Yunus, don’t look down at the world in scorn —
Keep your eyes fixed on your Beloved’s face,
then you will not see the bridge
on Judgment Day.

We shouldn’t miss the logic of the first two lines: When we cast scornful eyes on the world, we can’t possibly see the Beloved’s face. The opposite is true, as well; when we are transfixed by the beauty of the Beloved, we see nothing but beauty. This is a clue… any religious figure who speaks with scorn, is not engulfed by the vision of the Divine and should be avoided.

The final couple of lines are also worth understanding. What does he mean about seeing or not seeing a bridge on Judgment Day? According Muslim tradition, in order to enter Paradise, one must cross as-Sirat, a bridge that is as thin as a hair and as sharp as a blade. But the purest never have to encounter the bridge. Yunus Emre is saying that it is only when we are not already lost in the vision of the Beloved that we must face the bridge. With that hair-thin bridge waiting, wasting focus on scorn is a dangerous thing, indeed.

To me, this is a powerful poem on the importance of compassion, humility, and proper spiritual focus. And it is a good reminder to us all that everything returns to the Golden Rule:

If there is any meaning in the holy books, it is this:
Whatever is good for you, grant it to others too –

Yunus Emre, Yunus Emre poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Yunus Emre

Turkey (1238 – 1320) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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3 responses so far

Oct 03 2014

Mahendranath Battacharya – Tell me, what are you doing now, Mind

Published by under Poetry

Tell me, what are you doing now, Mind
by Mahendranath Battacharya

English version by Rachel Fell McDermott

Tell me, what are you doing now, Mind,
sitting there with a blind eye?
There’s someone in your own house
but you’re so oblivious
you’ve never noticed!
There’s a secret path
with a small room at the end —
and what an amazing sight inside:
caskets filled with jewels
that you never even knew about.
There’s a lot of coming and going along that path.
Go, upstairs, to the highest room,
and you’ll see the moon rising.

Premik says excitedly,
Keep your eyes open;
if you want to be awake in yoga
you must travel this secret way.

— from Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal, Translated by Rachel Fell McDermott


/ Photo by InertiaK /

Autumn has begun to settle in where I live in Colorado. Crisp days offer new colors to the eye. The weather makes you want to wrap up warm and step outside to go in search of secret places where forgotten stories can be found amidst dappled golds and shadows. Returning home, you sip warm tea and read a favorite book.

Autumn has always seemed like the perfect season for poetry…

It is the final day of Navaratri, India’s nine day celebration of the goddess, so I thought a poem by a goddess devotee would be appropriate for today…

I love the way Mahendranath Battacharya addresses this poem to his own mind in the third person — a rather dim-witted third person, at that.

The poem becomes a sort of self-instruction while, at the same time, it gets its audience laughing. The Mind is commonly imagined to be in charge, the source of knowledge but, instead, Battacharya (like his fellow Bengali poet, Ramprasad) sees it as the fool messing everything up with its obliviousness and inability to notice what is in its “own house.” The “someone” who has crept into his house is the thieving ego.

This poem reflects the Tantric practices of Mahendranath Battacharya which emphasize a very precise knowledge of subtle energetic pathways that must be traversed by the Kundalini energy when it is awakened. With most people the Kundalini force is said to sit dormant at the base of the spine. Through spiritual practice and devotion, it is awakened as a fiery, energetic charge that rises up “the secret way” of the subtle channel along the spine, leading “upstairs” to the skull.

The “small room at the end,” the “highest room” is the mystical chamber (in some traditions referred to as the Bridal Chamber) contained in the bowl of the skull. It is here, amidst a flood of light, that the Kundalini (the Goddess Energy) joins in union with Siva (the Divine Masculine Energy), producing enlightenment and spiritual ecstasy. This is the real treasure of life, the radiant wealth each of us carries hidden within us, “caskets filled with jewels.” Find this room and “you’ll see the moon [of enlightenment] rising!”

Mahendranath Battacharya

India (1843 – 1908) Timeline
Yoga / Hindu : Shakta (Goddess-oriented)

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One response so far

Oct 01 2014

Rolf Jacobsen – Moon and Apple

Published by under Poetry

Moon and Apple
by Rolf Jacobsen

English version by Robert Bly

When the apple tree blooms,
the moon comes often like a blossom,
paler than any of them,
shining over the tree.

It is the ghost of the summer,
the white sister of the blossoms who returns
to drop in on us,
and radiate peace with her hands
so that you shouldn’t feel too bad when the hard times come.
For the Earth itself is a blossom, she says,
on the star tree,
pale with luminous
ocean leaves.

— from The Winged Energy of Delight, Translated by Robert Bly


/ Photo by ShortAxel /

It’s past the summer season of apple blossoms and well into the autumn of ripe apples (at least for those of us north of the equator), but something about this poem spoke to me today. The blossoms of the apple tree glowing beneath the shining moon, a reminder to us all that even when things seem difficult, the Earth itself — and each one of us — “is a blossom… on the star tree.” If we are blossoms, that must mean we are quietly ripening with the season, and in the natural unfolding of things we will become sweet fruit in the cosmos.

Rolf Jacobsen, Rolf Jacobsen poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Rolf Jacobsen

Norway (1907 – 1994) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian : Catholic

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Sep 26 2014

Hadewijch – The Queen of Sheba

Published by under Poetry

The Queen of Sheba
by Hadewijch

English version by Mother Columba Hart

The Queen of Sheba
Came to Solomon;
      That was in order to gain wisdom.
When she had found him, indeed,
His wonders streamed upon her so suddenly
      That she melted in contemplation.
            She gave him all,
            And the gift robbed her
      Of everything she had within —
            In both heart and mind,
            Nothing remained:
      Everything was engulfed in love.

— from Hadewijch: The Complete Works (Classics of Western Spirituality) , by Mother Columba Hart


/ Photo by priesteres /

Although my mother’s family was Catholic, my mother herself was a freethinker who didn’t want to raise me with overly rigid ideas of religion. She made sure I was exposed to the services of several different Christian, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist traditions so I could make up my own mind about God and religion as I grew up.

But that open-ended structure also meant that I came late to the Bible. I was in college before I really sat down and started reading the Bible. It wasn’t what I expected! How was I to understand these complex histories, stories, poems, and sayings? One thing was immediately obvious to me– a surface, literal reading of the Bible was not the way to understand its heart. I frequented the college libraries, checking out books of biblical commentary, from rather stuffy old tomes to modern New Age interpretations, all in an intense effort to discover what was really being conveyed by this enigmatic holy book.

You know, one of the sections that really had me scratching my head for a long time was the Song of Songs, sometimes called the Song of Solomon. In the center of the Bible was a love poem! An erotic love poem. The Song of Songs is a poem of pastoral lovers, alternating between the man’s voice and the woman’s voice. Although a reading of the poem won’t tell you this, tradition says that it is written by King Solomon and it relates his love affair with the Queen of Sheba. As lovely as the Song of Solomon is, what does it have to do with religion and spiritual truth? I mean, it is steamy stuff!

A little more background to help us make sense of the underlying meaning of Hadewijch’s poem: King Solomon was the son of the heroic King David. Solomon was considered the embodiment of perfect wisdom. Jewish, Christian, and Muslim mystics have looked to Solomon as the keeper of hidden divine knowledge. The Queen of Sheba is said to have come from Africa or Arabia. When these two great rulers met, they had a celebrated love affair.

But what does any of this have to do with spirituality? A surface telling of this story may be entertaining, but there is a deeper, esoteric meaning underlying all of this.

In the spiritual reading of this story, the figures of the Queen of Sheba and King Solomon represent the classic spiritual lover and Beloved. In this lover/Beloved dichotomy, the woman typically represents the soul and the man represents God. The journeying Queen of Sheba coming to King Solomon is the searching soul awakening to love as it approaches God in His radiant wisdom.

This is how the Song of Songs, and so many other classic poems describing passionate lovers, can be simultaneously read as spiritual works. Love and passion, separation and and loss of self and union. These teach us important lessons of the spiritual journey and the relationship between oneself and the Divine.

Keeping this in mind, reread this poem by Hadewijch.

Does it make more sense now? Hadewijch is saying that the journeying soul (“The Queen of Sheba / Came to Solomon; / That was in order to gain wisdom”) encounters the Divine Presence and yields (“she melted in contemplation”) The little self becomes nothing (“Nothing remained”), yet is flooded with the great vision of reality (“His wonders streamed upon her”) and all-encompassing love (“Everything was engulfed in love”).

This is the great spiritual formula: the sweetly melting ego leads to the Divine Self; death leads to new Life.

PS – The Longing In Between Pre-order Response

We have had an excellent initial response to my announcement of the new anthology’s release in early November. Thank you, everyone, for your support of this new publication! The final elements of the book are coming together beautifully, and I think you’ll be as pleased as I am with it.

The special pricing will remain available for pre-orders placed before October 15. For more information about The Longing In Between click here.

Hadewijch, Hadewijch poetry, Christian poetry Hadewijch

Belgium (13th Century) Timeline
Christian : Catholic

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5 responses so far

Sep 24 2014

New Book: The Longing In Between

I am so pleased to announce the upcoming publication of the new Poetry Chaikhana anthology, The Longing In Between. The final touches are being added now, and we have a publication date of early November.

The Longing In Between is a new collection poems by beloved classical sacred poets and a few modern visionaries — accompanied by my own thoughts, meditations, personal stories, and commentary.

As much as I love the immediacy of emails and the personal connection they allow, emails are fleeting. Particularly loved emails may get saved for a while, but inevitably they fade into the ethers. The Longing In Between gathers together poems and commentary from favorite Poetry Chaikhana emails, expanded and refined — in book form. For me, nothing can compare with the satisfaction of leaning back in a chair while leisurely turning the pages of a beloved book. I build relationships with books in ways that no email or website can approach. I really hope The Longing In Between will invite you into that sort of literary friendship.

The Longing In Between, Sacred Poetry From Around the World, Poetry Chaikhana Anthology, Ivan M. Granger
Pre-order Now!
= Coming in early November =

The Longing In Between
Sacred Poetry From Around the World

A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology

Edited with Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

Pre-order
before Oct 15:
$14.95
$16.95

PURCHASE

A delightful collection of soul-inspiring poems from the world’s great religious and spiritual traditions, accompanied by Ivan M. Granger’s meditative thoughts and commentary. Rumi, Whitman, Issa, Teresa of Avila, Dickinson, Blake, Lalla, and many others. These are poems of seeking and awakening… and the longing in between.

Devoted readers of the Poetry Chaikhana can finally enjoy this amazing poetry paired with Ivan’s illuminating commentary in book form. The Longing In Between is a truly engaging and thought-provoking exploration of sacred poetry from around the world.




“The Longing in Between is a work of sheer beauty. Many of the selected poems are not widely known, and Ivan M. Granger has done a great service, not only by bringing them to public attention, but by opening their deeper meaning with his own rare poetic and mystic sensibility.”

ROGER HOUSDEN
author of the best-selling Ten Poems to Change Your Life series

I am announcing The Longing In Between early because the Poetry Chaikhana is offering a special pre-order deal. If your purchase a copy before October 15th–

  • You will receive a discounted price: $14.95 (rather than the full price of $16.95 USD)
  • I will personally sign your copy
  • And, most importantly, you will be offering a big help in covering the Poetry Chaikhana’s initial publication expenses

To purchase a special pre-order copy of The Longing In Between click here or the ‘Purchase’ link above for payment through PayPal. If you prefer to pay by check or money order, you can mail it to:

Poetry Chaikhana
PO Box 2320
Boulder, CO 80306

Shipping and handling: $3 US, $4 Canada, $9 International per book
(Payments should be made to “Poetry Chaikhana.” US funds, please!
And please don’t forget to include your mailing address.)




“Ivan M. Granger has woven these poems into a tapestry of great wisdom with his reflection on each poem. I can imagine each poem and commentary furnishing the basis for a daily meditation.”

HARVEY GILLMAN
author of Consider the Blackbird and A Light that is Shining





       Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt–blessed vision!–
that a fountain flowed
here in my heart.
I said: Why, O water, have you come
along this secret waterway,
spring of new life,
which I have never tasted?

       Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt–blessed vision!–
that I had a beehive
here in my heart;
and the golden bees
were making
from all my old sorrows
white wax and sweet honey.

       Last night, as I was sleeping,
I dreamt–blessed vision!–
a blazing sun shone
here in my heart.
It was blazing because it gave heat
from a red home,
and it was sun because it gave light
and because it made me weep.

              Last night, as I was sleeping,
       I dreamt–blessed vision!–
       that it was God I had
       here in my heart.

              Antonio Machado

This is my favorite poem by the Spanish poet Antonio Machado. Actually, it is one of my favorite poems, period.

The repeated line, which I have translated as “blessed vision,” has elsewhere been rendered as “marvelous error.” Machado’s actual phrase in Spanish is “bendita ilusión,” but this “illusion” is not an erroneous delusion; it is an illusion in the same sense that a dream or vision is an illusion. It is something intangible, seen and felt but not physically there. I have the feeling that Machado is teasing us by calling the experience a dream, seeing if we are foolish enough to ignore it. Perhaps the poet can’t quite believe the beauty of his vision.

Let’s take just a moment to explore how this poem parallels the mystic’s ecstatic experience…




“The Longing In Between… presents some of the choicest fruit from the flowering of mystics across time, across traditions and from around the world. After each of the poems in this anthology Ivan M. Granger shares his reflections and contemplations, inviting the reader to new and deeper views of the Divine Presence. This is a grace-filled collection which the reader will gladly return to over and over again.”

LAWRENCE EDWARDS, PH.D.
author of Awakening Kundalini: The Path To Radical Freedom and Kali’s Bazaar




Ivan M. Granger Consider purchasing a pre-order copy of The Longing In Between and support the Poetry Chaikhana!

And thank you to everyone for all of the encouragement and support along the way!

Ivan

PS- Happy Equinox and happy New Moon!

2 responses so far

Sep 12 2014

Bibi Hayati – Is it the night of power

Published by under Poetry

Is it the night of power
by Bibi Hayati

English version by Aliki Barnstone

Is it the night of power
Or only your hair?
Is it dawn
Or your face?

In the songbook of beauty
Is it a deathless first line
Or only a fragment
copied from your inky eyebrow?

Is it boxwood of the orchard
Or cypress of the rose garden?
The tuba tree of paradise, abundant with dates,
Or your standing beautifully straight?

Is it musk of a Chinese deer
Or scent of delicate rosewater?
The rose breathing in the wind
Or your perfume?

Is it scorching lightning
Or light from fire on Sana’i Mountain?
My hot sigh
Or your inner radiance?

Is it Mongolian musk
Or pure ambergris?
Is it your hyacinth curls
Or your braids?

Is it a glass of red wine at dawn
Or white magic?
Your drunken narcissus eye
Or your spell?

Is it the Garden of Eden
Or heaven on earth?
A mosque of the masters of the heart
Or a back alley?

Everyone faces a mosque of adobe and mud
When they pray.
The mosque of Hayati’s soul
Turns to your face.

— from The Shambhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry, Edited by Aliki Barnstone


/ Photo by Jane Rahman /

There are several important themes and images in this poem, but for now let’s bask in the poem’s rich aromas. Take a slow, deep breath…

Is it the night of power
Or only your hair?
Is it dawn
Or your face?

In addition to a nectar-like sweetness, many mystics experience a scent that can be rapturously overwhelming or tantalizingly subtle. The aroma is the intoxicating scent of what I sometimes call the Celestial Drink, variously called wine, amrita, rasa, dew, honey. But this blissful scent can also be understood as the perfume worn by the Beloved that awakens sacred ardor upon the spiritual journey.

And, of course, perfume is scented oil, oil being the substance used to anoint and initiate.

Is it musk of a Chinese deer
Or scent of delicate rosewater?
The rose breathing in the wind
Or your perfume?

To suggest the almost erotic sense of divine union, sometimes the earthier scent of musk is described. Musk is the aphrodisiac oil of the musk deer. Deer, being creatures of profound silence and shyness, are themselves symbols of the elusive Beloved.

In Bibi Hayati’s poem here, she carries the language of sacred aroma over to the scent of flowers, as well. Blossoms and flowers are natural symbols for enlightenment, the unfolding of awareness and the opening of the heart. Let us not forget, though, that flowers have a direct connection to the Celestial Drink, for their sweet perfume emanates from the sweet nectar they hold.

And, of course, the flower precedes the fruit, whose juice ultimately yields wine…

Is it a glass of red wine at dawn
Or white magic?

Let’s take a moment to contemplate this image more deeply. Let this form a visual image in your mind: a glass of wine held up to the rising sun at dawn. The rim of the glass catches the light of the early sun, lighting up in a ring of white, with the sun reflecting itself as a single starburst of light along the edge — it is an evocation of the Muslim symbol of the star and crescent. The rim of a glass catching the light — that is the crescent — and within it is held the star or sun.

One way to understand this symbol is that the circle represents the world, or perhaps the individual soul. But, to be spiritually awakened, that circle must be broken open. That edge, which is the wall of separation, is broken open by the star — the light of God, enlightenment. The crescent and the star of Islam for Muslim mystics is a succinct expression of the proper relationship between the human or the worldly with the divine reality.

The closing lines get to the heart of everything:

Everyone faces a mosque of adobe and mud
When they pray.
The mosque of Hayati’s soul
Turns to your face.

Every sacred ritual is always an outer enactment of what we must realize within. What good does it do when we face a mosque or altar or the rising sun, but our souls are turned away from the all-enchanting beauty of the Beloved?

Bibi Hayati

Iran/Persia (19th Century) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Sep 05 2014

Muhammad Shirin Maghribi – Each Way I Turned

Published by under Poetry

Each Way I Turned
by Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

English version by Mahmood Jamal

Each way I turned
I turned to You;
Each place I reached
Was the path to You.

Each place of worship
I entered to pray,
I saw the arch of Your brow
In every arch and every doorway.

I saw the face of worldly beauty
But I saw it in the mirror of Your face.
In the manifest and the hidden,
In the ideal and the real,
All have looked and only to You.

Don’t ask about Maghribi.
He is by madness struck —
By those dark lashes of Yours!

— from Islamic Mystical Poetry: Sufi Verse from the Early Mystics to Rumi, Translated by Mahmood Jamal


/ Photo by AlicePopkorn /

I really like this one… It is a work of profound devotion, without an ounce of dogma.

Each way I turned
I turned to You;
Each place I reached
Was the path to You.

Each place of worship
I entered to pray,
I saw the arch of Your brow
In every arch and every doorway.

It suggests a spiritual journey of great intensity and yearning, yet, at the same time, at rest with the constant recognition of the Beloved — everywhere!

I saw the face of worldly beauty
But I saw it in the mirror of Your face.
In the manifest and the hidden,
In the ideal and the real,
All have looked and only to You.

We don’t have to strain our eyes looking, looking, looking. Wherever we are, whichever path we are on, we just have to see.

Catching constant glimpses of the Eternal in the minute and mundane and manifest, as well as in the most elevated and most inward… everything in and out and all around becomes a window to the Divine. Who can then act sober and sane?

Don’t ask about Maghribi.
He is by madness stuck —
By those dark lashes of Yours!

Muhammad Shirin Maghribi

Iran/Persia (1349 – 1406) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Sep 03 2014

Granum Sinapis

Published by under Poetry

Granum Sinapis
by Granum Sinapis (Anonymous)

English version by Karen J. Campbell

In the beginning
high above comprehension
is the word, eternally.
O rich treasure,
where the beginning eternally bore the beginning!
O paternal bosom,
out of which, in bliss,
the word flowed forth eternally.
Yet the womb still
held fast to the word, truly.

Of the two, one flowing forth,
ember of love,
binding both,
known to both,
so flows the sweetest spirit
in complete symmetry,
inseparable.
The three are one:
do you know, what? No,
it alone knows itself completely.

The enmeshment of the three
harbors deep terror.
No reason has ever
comprehended this circle:
here is a depth without bottom.
Check and mate
to time, to shapes, to space!
The circle of mysteries
is a source of everything;
its point of origin rests, completely immutable, in itself.

Leave your doings
and climb, insight,
the mountain of this point!
The way leads you
into a wondrous desert
which extends wide
and immeasurably far.
The desert knows
neither time nor space.
Its nature is unique.

Never has a foot
crossed the domain of the desert,
created reason
has never attained it.
It is, and yet no one knows what.
It is here, there,
far, near,
deep, high,
so that
it is neither the one nor the other.

Light, clear,
completely dark,
nameless,
unknown,
without beginning and also without end,
it rests in itself,
unveiled, without disguise.
Who knows what its dwelling is?
Let him come forth
and tell us of what shape it is.

Become as a child,
become deaf, become blind!
Your own substance
must become nothingness;
drive all substance, all nothingness far from you!
Leave space, leave time,
eschew also all physical representation.
Go without a way
the narrow foot-path,
then you will succeed in finding the desert.

O my soul,
go out, let God in!
Sink, my entire being,
into God’s nothingness,
sink into the bottomless flood!
If I flee from you,
you come to me,
if I lose myself,
I find you:
O goodness extending over all being.

— from German Mystical Writings: Hildegard of Bingen, Meister Eckhart, Jacob Boehme, and others, Edited by Karen J. Campbell


/ Photo by Hamed Saber /

This is an amazing poem to me. It gives us so much to explore and meditate upon, but let’s particularly look at the references to the experience of God as a desert.

This language almost has a Buddhist feeling to it, a sense of a great spiritual vastness, a living emptiness, “God’s nothingness.” You could say that the desert is what the Buddhists would call Nirvana.

The desert is eternal, “The desert knows / neither time nor space.” It is unlike anything else (since all of creation emerges from its emptiness), “Its nature is unique.”

“Never has a foot / crossed the domain of the desert…” Not only does this line tell us that the desert is not a physical location; it is also revealing the more subtle truth that you — the little you, the ego you — cannot enter the desert. The desert cannot be comprehended by the logical mind (“created reason / has never attained it”), it can only be directly experienced.

What a haunting riddle:

It is, and yet no one knows what.
It is here, there,
far, near,
deep, high,
so that
it is neither the one nor the other.

You can say that the desert is what it is, beyond the ability of the conceptual mind to define it. It is everywhere and always. It is not limited by the duality of this as opposed to that; it is the living harmony of all things at once.

I love the truth of the lines: “it rests in itself, / unveiled, without disguise.” There is no effort in its existence, and for us to perceive it, we too must become truly effortless, natural, stepping free from the constant work of the ego-mind’s distractions. To do this we must, “Become as a child, / become deaf, become blind!” We must “Leave space, leave time…” We must be completely open and free from the safe limitations of preconceptions, we must even “Go without a way…” “Then you will succeed in finding the desert.”

It is only when we leave behind the little self that we can finally discover the vast Self of God. “O my soul, / go out, let God in!” “…if I lose myself, / I find you” Then and only then do we find the “goodness extending over all being.”

Granum Sinapis (Anonymous)

Germany (14th Century) Timeline
Christian

The poem “A Grain of Mustard Seed of the Most Beautiful Divinity” or “Granum sinapis de divinitate pucherrima” (usually referred to simply as the “Granum sinapis”) probably dates from the early 1300’s in Germany.

Although its author is unknown, it is thought to have been written by a student of the great German mystic Meister Eckhart. Some suggest that it was Eckhart himself who was the author.

More poetry by Granum Sinapis (Anonymous)

4 responses so far

Aug 27 2014

Mahmud Shabistari – One Light

Published by under Poetry

One Light
by Mahmud Shabistari

English version by Andrew Harvey

What are “I” and “You”?
Just lattices
In the niches of a lamp
Through which the One Light radiates.

“I” and “You” are the veil
Between heaven and earth;
Lift this veil and you will see
How all sects and religions are one.

Lift this veil and you will ask —
When “I” and “You” do not exist
What is mosque?
What is synagogue?
What is fire temple?

— from Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from Sufi Wisdom, by Andrew Harvey / Eryk Hanut


/ Photo by Pieroc /

“I” and “You” — What is Shabistari talking about here? “I” and “You” is the normal perception of separation. Here “I” stand, and “You” are a separate entity over there. It is the perception of duality in which we see the entire universe as a fragmented existence of separated beings and objects. On the one hand, that perception allows one’s self to feel supremely important in contrast to all else, but it also isolates us and imprisons us in a physicalized notion of reality. Even when we touch, we never quite make contact. The heart ever yearns for real unity.

To show us the way out of this perceptual trap, Shabistari has given us an image to contemplate: a lamp surrounded by latticework. The lamp shines with a single light, but the lattices divide up the radiance into several individual shafts of light. He tells us the world of separation between “I” and “You” is like that — one light divided into many rays.

Think about this image a little more. So long as we look outward, we continue to only see separated beams of light reaching through the air patterning the wall. But the moment it occurs to us to instead follow the light, we turn around and discover the single light that is its source. Finally seeing that single light, we then know that there has only ever been that one light. Does the lattice somehow create many lights of the one light? No. It is still the one light, but expressing itself through the many beams. To prove this to ourselves, all we need do is remove the latticework (“lift this veil”), and then the light shines everywhere, undivided. And the whole time the light itself has never changed its action or nature.

Shabistari makes an interesting shift in the second verse. The separation of “I” and “You” is expanded to be understood in the realm of the world’s religious divisions. And the metaphor of the lamp’s lattice has become a veil (which, of course, covers the face of the Beloved). Even the many sects and religions are one — when we finally look inward toward the light that shines at the heart of each tradition. To one who has lifted the veil and witnessed the underlying Beauty, the distinctions of each tradition and theology no longer separate them. Instead, we can say that the best of each religious tradition adorns the Face differently — but it is the same Face.

Lift this veil…

…and separation is lost, the soul’s isolation ends. And every place becomes a place of worship.

Mahmud Shabistari, Mahmud Shabistari poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mahmud Shabistari

Iran/Persia (1250? – 1340) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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Aug 22 2014

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi – Secret Language

Published by under Poetry

Secret Language
by Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

English version by Coleman Barks

Every part of you has a secret language
your hands and your feet
say what you’ve done
and every need brings in what’s needed
pain bears its cure like a child

— from Secret Language: Rumi A Celebration in Song (Music CD), by Ramananda


/ Photo by woodleywonderworks /

The continuing crackdown by police against protesters in Ferguson, Missouri has inspired me to mediate on our ideas of race…

Looking at me, most Americans would call me white, but less and less does that mean something to me. Ethnically, I’m a typical American mutt, with ancestry from numerous countries, not all of them European. I have always had a diverse group of friends, from different ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds.

My closest friend in early childhood was a Nigerian boy, the son of students who had moved to the United States to attend the local university. Though I certainly don’t claim to understand race from his perspective, our friendship alerted me to questions of race and racism early on.

More recently, my friendship with a Pawnee man has led to several fascinating conversations on race and identity. He said something that startled me: There is no such thing as race. There is culture, there is appearance, but there is no race. My initial reaction was that it’s a nice idea to espouse as a countermeasure to the ongoing problems of racism, but race itself is a simple fact, isn’t it? It took a bit of deeper thought on my part before the truth of what he was saying struck me — the actual, biological truth of the statement, not simply the ethical rightness behind it.

Let’s take a few minutes together to go beyond the question of racism and see if we can dismantle the underlying presumption of race itself…

There is no such thing as race. Yes, there are noticeable physical characteristics, and we can loosely identify some characteristics with populations from specific geographical areas, but there is no such thing as a white race, a black race, or any other race we want to name.

A white person may be someone with fair skin and blue eyes and we may be accurate in saying that he has some ancestry that goes back to northern Europe, but it is false to say he is a member of the white race, as distinct from other races.

The fact is that there is no central characteristic of a white race or black race or any race. How can that be, you ask? We could mention several details like hair or eyes, but the most obvious distinction is skin color.

But think about skin color for a moment. That northern European may have very pale skin, but if we travel south through Europe to the Mediterranean, the common skin tone is much darker. Are they still “white”? Are we still talking about the same “race”? (The 19th century was uncertain on this point, by the way.)

Let’s go further south, down the boot of Italy, through Sicily, and hop the Mediterranean to northern Africa. The average skin tone has gotten darker still, but it hasn’t changed as much as some might imagine. In many ways Mediterranean Europeans have more in common with their Mediterranean African neighbors than with their fellow Europeans further north. By crossing the Mediterranean, have we switched races yet? How much change in skin tone constitutes a change in race? What is the definitive border? Can we mark it on the color wheel?

We can keep going south, across the Sahara into central Africa. And though we keep asking the same questions, the answer keeps eluding us. Where is the clear dividing point between the races?

There is no such racial borderline. The only time that border exists is when we don’t look for it. In truth, there is no race, only a spectrum of human appearance. The idea of distinct groups of people that we divide into races is an artificial cultural notion built on assumption and sloppy observation.

A question to take with you into the day: If we are not a world of black people and white people and every other race, but simply people of varied appearance, what does that mean in our day-to-day lives? What does that mean to the tensions in Ferguson?

Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi, Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi poetry, Muslim / Sufi poetry Mevlana Jelaluddin Rumi

Afghanistan & Turkey (Persia) (1207 – 1273) Timeline
Muslim / Sufi

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4 responses so far

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