Saturday, June 29, 2013

There is no centre

I went to the Hilton Hotel in Ankara's desk today and asked whether the city had a centre. To which the answer was no. To which, I discovered, the answer was that it used to have.

The community that nestles around the citadel, the ancient heart of Ankara, is dilapidated but being restored, slowly. Narrow lanes fade from cobbled to dusty and broken, houses fade from restored to impoverished. I took lunch in one of the newly restored houses, sitting in the courtyard, on my own, and I sat thinking, 'how extraordinary'! Here I am in the capital city of an emergent power, sitting in its ancient heart, alone, on a Saturday afternoon. It is sadly not so unfamiliar - cities that have grown neglecting their centre are deeply familiar yet how do we persist in allowing it to happen?

A deeper question is how do we allow ourselves in this expansion to the periphery so deeply to neglect beauty? The citadel, though battered, is beautiful. The traditional architecture sings of community and a blend of private and communal space. The architecture coherently blends domesticity and business - and it was wonderful to watch a traditional craftsman shape metal objects below where he lives. I fear it will, in time, become over-developed - a place to visit rather than a living place. We will visit to restore ourselves from the pedestrian everyday of our new environments - efficient, cheap, boxed. If only we could overthrow in ourselves that mentality and build around us our aspiration and needed delight.

Lunch was very nostalgic, sitting in the courtyard of an Ottoman house eating tarator (yogurt and cucumber, herbed salad) and eating lamb stew. so reminiscent of my former home in Macedonia (indeed an American accented traveler I passed in the street was comparing it to the Macedonian town of Ohrid, where I have spent many happy days).

Close by the citadel is the Museum of Anatolian Civilization. It is being refurbished and so only two galleries were open but they are wonderful. The Hittite freezes especially.

Here is an early representation of the Epic of Gilgamesh, expressing his power over the animal kingdom. They are vivid, full of life and a sense of embedded story. There was a gallery full of such quiet wonders - gods consorting with men, beings both half men and animal, men, beings, all, transforming across boundaries of possibility. Magical.

So to the surviving examples of Roman glass - fragile, clouded with age and yet resilient.

Friday, June 28, 2013

The 'Former People' once known as nobles

'Former People: The Last Days of the Russian Ancestry' by Douglas Smith is a compelling, well-written account of what happened to the nobility in post-revolutionary Russia. It is a history of the subset of the victims of the conflict but they are paradoxical victims in that they had presided over or benefited from an autocratic system of striking inequality and structural violence. This was replaced, ironically, by a totalitarian system of embedded hierarchy and greatly magnified structural violence, led, yet more ironically, by a 'former person', namely Lenin, whose family had noble origins!

It paints a vivid, personalized picture of people's multiple, complex responses both to the Revolution, its aftermath and the long journey (for those who stayed in Russia) into the darkness that was Stalin's rule.

However, in painting a picture of the nobility, it rather relegates their 'enemies' (or even friendly forces from other social groupings) to ciphers. It is akin to reading a Jane Austen novel where the servants (for the most part) are firmly relegated to 'below stairs status' or 'deus ex machina'!

We get to see the extraordinary violence that the Revolution unleashed only from one perspective and come to understand nothing virtually of why, what motivated it and why did it take hold with many but not with some? It is a history long on narrative, wonderfully organised, but short on analysis or even reflection. It restores a necessary perspective on one group but does so often by relegating other groups into a lumpen proletariat who are simply angry, envious and vindictive which is frankly too simplistic a characterization. 

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Last week a demonstration, this week backgammon

Sitting this evening on the terrace of a restaurant in Ankara, I discovered that the quiet park opposite where elderly men played backgammon and couples strolled in the quietening summer heat, was the site of Ankara's contribution to recent unrest. Demonstrations against a government perceived to be favoring an Islamic majority over a secular minority - though, in truth, the demographics of the protesters were more complex than that simple division.

All now is apparent calm and the 'foreign provocateurs' have failed, as the government narrative would have it, though I doubt whether they ever existed, and, even if they did, I wonder if anyone in government pauses to think that even a provocateur needs a pre-disposed audience. I might light the fire but the tinder must be dry and willingly ignite!

In the meantime, I hope that this extraordinarily dynamic country can find its way to a democratic form that genuinely protects diversity and recognizes that winning an election (even with a majority of the votes cast) does not constitute the beginning and the end of the democratic process and that the Prime Minister, whose career began, with certain qualifications, moderately well, does not collapse in on itself, ending forlornly.

One of the great innovations of the U.S, political system was to impose term limits on its President. They are always passing through a system and can never identify themselves with it. It is a system that I heartily commend - whether a person has been elected or seized control does not appear to matter, all, without exception, appear to 'lose it' after being in power for more than eight years. They become strangely alienated from the texture of things and their antennae appear to wither.

Better to go quietly than inflict their derangement on others, rediscovering a renewing normality.  

Monday, June 24, 2013

The timely train

In Switzerland for an impact investing conference, I took the train from Zurich to St Moritz yesterday evening and it was a beautiful journey, with the unseasonably damp and misty weather heightening rather than reducing the effects; especially with the fast flowing streams, cascading below you through narrow valleys and the mountainsides appearing and disappearing with each shift of cloud. Needless to say, being Switzerland, the train kept impeccable time.

Whist in the tunnels, I was re-reading Kyriacos C. Markides, 'The Mountain of Silence' on the Orthodox mystical tradition. I had forgotten how good it is. He as the cultured representative of 'the West' - academic, curious, skeptic and his interlocutor, Fr Maximos, the monk from Mount Athos, restoring the tradition to both men's native Cyprus.

If anyone asks me for an introduction to this tradition, this is the book I suggest. It is by no means 'conventional', Markides has a pronounced interest in 'signs and wonders' that can distract as well as allure, but for its conversational style, both 'authors' ability to tell poignant and illustrative stories and for getting the basics so right and wanting you to know more, indeed, I think, encouraging you to the necessary spiritual practice that makes genuine spiritual knowledge possible.

It is a timely book, reconnecting me to a way of life, which not my own, I partake of in the hoped for continuing practice of the Jesus prayer and an understanding of the world that is wholly congruent with it. The patient toil of recovering the likeness of our image to that of God's: how distant a prospect, how close a reality.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Beatitudes

A new (for me) sacred minimalist: Vladimir Martynov.

It is a family resemblance of music making that has deeply enriched the landscape of the last quarter of the last century and the first of this.

Compellingly it is a 'phenomena' deeply rooted in 'Eastern' Europe either by birth (Gorecki, Martynov, Part) or adoption (John Tavener) and it is a true gift of a music that transcends emotion into feeling.

I recall Metropolitan Anthony, the long running and wonderfully holy Russian Archbishop in London, describe how his choir had finally realised the difference between allowing their music to express the reality of feeling, a reality that sang through them, and imparting their emotion to the music that they were singing. The former came from a place in themselves that was beyond their egos, the latter was singing from their moods, their egos.

At their purest, the sacred minimalists allow the music at the heart of things to sing through the musicians and you glimpse time held in eternity.

As Henry Vaughan would say....

I SAW Eternity the other night,
Like a great ring of pure and endless light,
              All calm, as it was bright ;
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years
                      Driv'n by the spheres                                  
Like a vast shadow mov'd ; in which the world
                      And all her train were hurl'd.
The doting lover in his quaintest strain
                      Did there complain ;
Near him, his lute, his fancy, and his flights,                        
                      Wit's sour delights ;
With gloves, and knots, the silly snares of pleasure,
                      Yet his dear treasure,
All scatter'd lay, while he his eyes did pour
                      Upon a flow'r.                                          

...only replace seeing with hearing...chiming spheres rather than rings of light...or perhaps chiming spheres as rings of light!

A Ceremony of Healing

Ceremony is a novel written with a poet's sensibility.

The language is rich, textured and symbolically precise. No image is simply descriptive: each bears witness to an unfolding cycle of story telling where an individual's journey of healing is set within a wider, sacred story.

Tayo is a half-breed - a 'fallen' Indian mother mated with an unknown white man and before her death from alcohol and depression handed her son to her sister and her husband, brother and grandmother. Tayo grows up with his cousin, Rocky, the bright star of his mother's eye, in contrast to Tayo's ongoing witness to failure.

But it is Tayo who comes back from the war - broken by the trauma of being a Japanese prisoner of war - back to the reservation where his friends (also veterans) drink to forget not the war but their new status as discarded veterans, no longer 'honorary' white folk but back to marginalised no good Indians.

In a complex, beautifully wrought, tale Silko takes us on a journey into both the myth of the Laguna tribe and how re immersion within it slowly heals Tayo. Both the tribe and the land give him back his life. The livingness of that land, its eloquence, is one of the most haunting features of the text. We live in a living world that we constantly find ways of disregarding imagining it inert.

This giving back is also painted against the background of the original stories of the community finding their heart and rejecting the imposition of the white man. In order to do so, they must be living stories - told and re-told and transformed in the telling. The old ceremonies, the author, Leslie Marmon Silko, suggests are ineffective precisely because they have not adapted to the coming of the white man. Resistance is not in freezing traditional patterns but in creative renewal.

It is a book of both compassion for its characters and of anger for the way people have collaborated in their own repression.

I cannot thing of a text that captures the complex relationship between the dominant society and the marginalised one and what it feels like at the margins - especially the hoping to belong to the culture of the dominator and yet the shame and pain of that hoping.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Future Primal - an old/new vision of politics

In Ursula Le Guin’s parabolic novel, ‘The Telling’ an alien society has appropriated and zealously applied a one dimensional view of human culture focused on the technical, the mechanistic and the consumerist. The traditional culture of Aka is repressed and takes upon itself a counter cultural and subversive form in the practice of embodied spiritual practices and in a communal story telling that allows space for wider, deeper vision of things than that of the monologue of materialism.

Louis Herman’s book ‘Future Primal’ has as its subject the loosening of the binds of a similar imprisoning ideological commitment, whose once impressive value is delivering ever decreasing returns, namely that of ‘Classical Liberalism’ and by reinstating in new forms a primal culture that places at its heart a quest for truth and an on-going, enriching conversation about what constitutes the good life against the background of a wider and deeper story of human origin and direction.

Classical Liberalism, built on the foundations of Descartes, Locke and Newton, radically separated truth from any notion that it was grounded in a complex dialogue between subjectivity, our inner life of experience and perspective, and an objective external reality that had its origin in mystery and was evolving, complex and dynamic. What is out there was, for Classical Liberalism, law-like, quantifiable and static, completely malleable to our purposes. These purposes were essentially allowing autonomous individuals, secure in their property rights and the safety of minimalist government, to accumulate and dispense with wealth according to their lights. It is a world view that launched impressive progress (for some) and whose defense of the rights of the individual has meant liberation (for many) from varied forms of oppression. However, as the engine of growth grinds on, it over reaches itself both in fraying and fracturing a sustainable world and in alienating us from community both with one another and with the wild.

What can be done? 

The first step, Herman cogently argues, is an epistemological one in that we grasp what the political philosopher, Eric Voegelin, called the ‘paradoxical nature of consciousness’. We are all born in a particular place and time, in a particular body and culture and in both our inward and external looking our gaze, though illumined, ultimately fades into what we do not know, into mystery. We are born out of a ‘story telling us into being’, what Voegelin called the ‘It-reality’, which is ultimately the mystery out of which we emerge, into the ‘thing reality’ of objects, institutions and relationships that have been made and shaped by humans. We participate ‘in-between’ both of these and we cannot step out of either to get a whole, clear view that we can grasp hold of with certainty.

All our knowing is an enterprise after the truth and our task is to continually embody in our lives, communities and societies ever more encompassing, more compassionate and just versions of our enterprises, never assuming that we can rest content or that we finally ‘have it’!

Since the tendency towards ideological certainty is a hard one to easily surrender, we need a renewing vision of ‘politics’, of how we organize ourselves, that places the ever renewing quest for truth at its heart. What might keep this quest honest and focused on our flourishing in a sustainable world?

To answer this question, Herman offers us a ‘Mandala of Primal Politics’. At the heart of the circle is the ‘truth quest’ surrounded by four, inter-weaving quadrants: the whole person; face to face Socratic discussion; the whole community practicing direct democracy and the big picture, story or myth. Outside the quadrant are three concentric circles: civilisation embraced by wilderness resting in the cosmos.

Accompanying this structuring are two extended examples of where this patterning of politics has been lived out imperfectly but compellingly. The first is of the San Bushman of Southern Africa, our closest connection, genetically and culturally, to the first self-conscious humans, who emerging out of Africa, populated the globe. The second is of the Greek polis which gave birth to, and under the pressure of collapse, killed Socrates. Herman traces eloquently how, at their best, both cultures exhibited an ability to balance the needs of the individual and of the community and how they utilized both the resources of endlessly talking things through and the boundary crossing potential of individually experiencing the ‘big picture’ in a renewing experience of wilderness and wholeness.

This shamanic ‘boundary crossing’ is at the heart of the book. Both cultures used spiritual practices - the trance dance with the San, the Eleusinian mysteries in Greece - to allow people to break down their ego bound identities and experience a transformed and deepened sense of self within a wider, wilder mystery that embraces the unfathomed yet connecting wilderness of mind and nature. The book is worth reading alone for its beautiful account of the relationship in San culture between art, dance, hunting, wilderness and the practice of communal living that marvellously blends first person engagement, multi-disciplinary investigation and a touch of poetry to bring a culture alive as both utterly valuable in itself and as hopeful parable of future possibility.

These practices were an essential component both of individual and communal healing and of anchoring the practices of truth seeking through discussion and democracy in a context of humility (my descriptor not Herman’s). Humility, whose original root, is ‘of the earth’, of discovering your place, here and now, and speaking from it, recognizing that this is one perspective only, real yet bound. They are experiences that give you both a confirmation of a deeper sense of being and belonging but one too that anchors you in a recognition that the space that is beyond ‘you’ is always wider than ‘you’ can know. They are an education in the ‘wisdom of insecurity’ and in the importance of a shared quest that continually tests what you know with the wisdom of others and their questing journeys.

Herman then takes these models of a ‘primal politics’ and asks where we might see it being practiced today whether in individuals or communities, always alert to the fact that the embodiment is always imperfect, and finding it in diverse places from the original impetus that founded the kibbutz movement to the intentional ecological and spiritual community that is Findhorn, as well as in the practice of individuals. One of the most moving parts of the book is when he maps the life of Nelson Mandela from his native South Africa onto the pattern of the mandala and shows how Mandela’s remarkable achievement of moving his country away from apartheid and a race war into more peaceful, egalitarian possibilities illuminates his thesis.

Running through all of these models is a re-envisioning of what it means to live within the arms of an evolving cosmos that has wilderness at its centre, a reality that connects us all - and if you think that does not apply to Mandela you only have to refer to his rich reflection on the importance of gardening in his political and spiritual journey to be corrected. It is both an original story and a new one, one whose implications we are invited to explore both cognitively and in our experience as we pass back and forth between our civilised norms and our primal experience as embodied beings in a vast, inter-woven, evolving cosmic whole and allow the former to be refreshed by the latter.

Finally, one of the book’s essential merits is that it mirrors many of the features of which it speaks. It balances first person subjective testimony with rigorous argument. It expresses the virtues of creating a new synthesis whilst recognising that any account of such a synthesis is going to be an enterprise after the truth of things rather than a declaration of ‘the truth’.

In an open ended fashion, it invites further discussion and practicing of its offered model. 

Thursday, June 13, 2013

A baptism of calm

Between meetings yesterday, I did what I often do not head for a cafe to furiously beat my thumbs against my Blackberry in answer to the call of the myriad e-mail - they can wait - but step a moment into the National Gallery and find a picture.

Sometimes this is a random of gift of circumstance, sometimes it is a straight line towards a given favourite. It was the latter yesterday and Piero della Francesca's 'The Baptism of Christ'. This was originally designed as an altarpiece for a church in Sansepolcro, Piero's hometown.

The baptism takes place in a Jordan river of the painter's imagination and within the painter's place - the hills in the background are the Umbrian hills. The baptism is an event eternalising time - it is both an historical moment and one that is now and for ever. It can present itself anywhere and invites itself into our narrative now and here.

The symbolism of the painting is duly complex as was the beloved pattern of the Renaissance and of Piero's own practice. Piero was also a mathematician of note and his beautifully cool and balanced paintings are highly wrought images woven on a weft of geometry and number.

History too plays its part - the walnut tree that shelters Christ is not only an image of the crucifixion but also plays a part in the sacred history (literal or imagined) of Sansepolcro itself.

It was in the Renaissance (at its best) when the twin demands of eternity and time were perfectly balanced - this world was a celebrating image of another world neither merely an arduous waiting room for the main event in heaven or in hell nor the only world, time bound and temporary.

Yesterday, I was most drawn towards the three accompanying angels to the left. The middle angel's expression seems full of concern for what is to come, what the acceptance of baptism means in terms of crucifixion, the outlying angels appear to turn towards him with a compassionate concern. This is the taking on of a wound, a rift in the eternal patterning, that will be a blessing and a healing.

The three angels, of course, are an 'Old Testament' foreshadowing of the Trinity, symbolising God's presence, so here God looks upon his reflecting self, fully embedding in humanity, returning humanity to its full imaging of, in God.

The painting, even in the bustle of the National Gallery, manages to compose calm about it, a contemplative moment in a busying day.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Lost Horizon

Frank Capra's 1937 film was mutilated in a Second World War re-issue by 24 minutes to exclude the film's pacifist message.

Lovingly restored, offering relevant stills where the film itself remains lost, the original is a fabulous testament to an exemplary film makers art.

It is dated (as is the book) by the assumption that Shangri-La's possibility was only made possible by the entrance of a Western missionary, bearing a Christian ethic, into a hidden valley in Tibet; and, yet, it transcends that colonialist folly by offering an universalist message of hope. The founding Catholic priest, transformed into the High Lama, offers as his essential teaching: 'Be kind' and in doing so could be the present Dalai Lama.

Running through the film too is a realistic assessment of what might happen if a diverse group of people were offered 'paradise' - from willing, recognised acceptance through to slowly melting suspicion towards acceptance through to outright rejection.

The film's end has a gathering at a London club where the aristocratic pursuer of Robert Conway (who has left Shangri-La out of loyalty to his rejectionist brother but now must return) is asked whether he believes in Conway's belief in such a place. He replies, "Yes" for we must all carry a vision of paradise before us. For in believing it so, is our hope in making it so.

It is a sentiment that is, in a cynical age, either preposterous or a timely slap in the face. I tend towards the latter thought.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Tabernacle for the Sun

The poet and Blake scholar, Kathleen Raine, tells in her autobiography, of her first glimpse of the poet, Edwin Muir. He was sitting, off to one side, at a party, smoking, and gently talking to another guest in the quiet cadences of his native Orkney. She fled confronted by an image of grace and goodness that her then own carried self estimation could not bear.

There is a moment in Linda Proud's novel, 'A Tabernacle for the Sun' (the first of her wonderful Botticelli trilogy that I have just finished) when her central character, Tommaso dei Maffei, flees from a prospective encounter with the Renaissance philosopher and translator, Marsilio Ficino, with a similar fear disguising his innate goodness and taking him, temporarily as with Kathleen Raine, from a sphere of sustaining, revealing truth, embodied in a particular and receptive person.

This small episode is illustrative of much of the virtue of the book. It vignettes a psychological truth bound by a metaphysical one. We continually shy away from the sources of our own potential freedom, inwardly and outwardly, and it often appears that we do not want to be whole. Is this because our freedom is, in truth, so vast? Not simply bearing wellness but incarnating truth. Freedom is found both in a soul bearing the image of God as well as in a psyche capable of a harmonious, continual balancing of competing energies (or gods). No wonder it appears too arduous to bear.

The book weaves such invitations to thought within a compelling, richly sketched narrative whose attractions are of particular characters - Tommaso's journey from child to adult, Lorenzo dei Medici's rule over Florence - of history both cultural and political - the workshop of Sandro Botticelli and a corrupt Rome's struggle with a potentially more hopeful Florence over the 'unity' of Italy - and of plot Tommaso's coming of age against the background of an assassination plot against the Medici.

The book breathes the Renaissance - as cultural marker, as conflicted history, as renewing sign of hope.

Just as the Renaissance looked back on Greece as a source of remaking, so the book invites us to look at the Renaissance as a source of a renewing consideration. Here, amongst its finest, was a view of humankind that saw the necessity of building a balance between the quest for internal self-knowledge and for outer harmony and that saw that quest held in patterns of friendship, scholarship and common work that transcended institutions, that was carried by communities of interest and concern and was rooted in a shared philosophy that was focused enough to be animating yet capacious enough never to be dogmatic; namely, neo-Platonism, whose truths can only ever be fully known by being embodied in experience. It was a civilisation that had a divine source that danced into multiple possibilities - that contrived to be unified yet polytheistic. A world that was demanding yet tolerant.

This is beautifully evoked in a description of Tammaso encountering Botticelli's 'Primavera' (as it has become to be known). He encounters it at a moment of deep need and potential revelation that allows him to 'read' it recognising the polyvalence of its symbolism. What a painting means in the Renaissance is both what is there and what is in the reader's possibility of vision. That it should have multiple meanings is intentional for multiple are the possible pathways into a transformative vision of the one that creates all possibility. This is symbolism as divine play not as dogmatic sign reading!

Thus too can you enjoy the novel on many different levels from exemplary historical fiction to an invitation to contemplate ahistorical truths!


Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Star Trek Voyager

Gene Roddenbury the founder of the proliferating Star Trek franchise was a comitted agnostic and humanist and, thus, might be a mite unhappy about the branching out into the domain of the religious and mystical but it happened in any case. You cannot determine the life of your own creations (as I know only too well). One of the first episodes of , to my mind, the best branch of the franchise, Voyager, has the second officer, Chakotay, a Native American, introducing his captain to her 'sacred guide animal'! Fine by me but for Gene?

However, the striking feature of Star Trek is how the values established at the outset continue to inform the whole. As the Pope remarked recently, the good is not the exclusive possession of the religious (indeed the Catholic) and Star Trek is a consistent exploration of what it might be to uphold and live the good as an ideal.

The original series established that the good embraced cultural and racial difference as a given (ground breaking in the 60's in an America emerging from sanctioned racial segregation and locked in conflict with the other) and this persists as a common thread throughout.

In Voyager the good life includes a radical sense of shared community - the disparate crew seeking together their home - that requires them to test the 'Federation's principles' against the stark reality of the unfamiliar. Any community lives (and dies) within the careful negotiation of belief and the stuff that happens. Too rigid an adherence kills, too loose an adherence dissipates.

Each episode is a parable of what it might mean to be fully 'human' (and one of the tensions in the whole series is the paradox by which ' humanity'  is and is not the measure of all things). Thus in one episode the crew find themselves on a planet devoted to (apparent) hospitality only to discover that the purpose of this is to feed the host's sensuality. Can hospitality stand on the back of narcissism? To which the answer is, of course, no. However, in the process you find yourself considering what does it require of you to be the host? What does welcoming entail? What is the legitimate boundary between the pleasure in it and the duty?

What I find consistently remarkable is the ability of the series to weave lesson and drama and occupy a space of popular entertainment. The founder of the BBC, Lord Reith, famously saw it as the mission of the Corporation to educate as well as entertain, I suggest that Star Trek would be his perfect product if by education was meant an assimilation not of fact but of value.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Rumi - and the forgotten translation

There are moments of disappointment that recur. One such was working on a set of translations from Rumi that, sadly, never appeared and for which I wrote this introduction. I was reminded of it today reading of the riots in Istanbul. There is a wisdom in Rumi that ought to be contemplated by both sides of an embittering dispute - that the centre of religion rests in the heart not on prescription and that the heart of religion is a liberating offer not a repression.

"It was the eight hundredth anniversary of his birth and Istanbul was alive to his memory. At night, lasers painted colourful dancing forms on the dome of the Blue Mosque. During the day, people flocked to Hagia Sophia to an exhibition celebrating his life and that of the Mevlevi Sufi Order that he had founded.

But it was in the incongruous location of the No1 exhibition hall at the railway station that had once hosted the Orient Express that Rumi came to life. Here members of the Galatta Lodge of the Mevlevi Sufi Order were to perform their ritual, circling dance: the famous 'whirling dervishes'.

I confess an element of scepticism played within me: was this to be transcending ritual or public performance? Could the two be combined? The music began, haunting, repetitive refrains, seeking to tease you out of thought as 'doth eternity'. The dancers appeared, concentrated yet subtly aware of their audience. My scepticism, ebbing to the music as it was, held sway. Until in the dance, you slowly witnessed transformation. It was more remarkable and convincing for being a gradation between the barely transformed, yet yearning, self-consciousness of the youngest dancer to the complete absorption of the eldest. 

The eldest was transformed in his meditation, allowing the breaking in of a new world that is always present in this one for those with ears to hear, eyes to see, souls to dance. He glowed with transfiguration.

The ritual ended. This world rolled back into its place. The gate into the garden closed. Yet I had seen, glimpsed, an invitation to join the dance.

These poems invite us on that self-same journey from tentative yearning for the divine turned to holy desire, from a homeless, distracted soul toward our fulfillment in beholding the Friend, the face of the Beloved and dwelling there: our true home.

We are asked to step out of the everyday 'world of dust' and dance through an ascending hierarchy of gardens that restores one's soul to the heart; the heart to the spirit; and, in finding spirit, transcending all, remembering that we 'are the King's falcon/a spark of the Beloved/a divine wonder'!

In this selection of poems of Jalaludin Rumi - the 'Gardens of Splendour' - there are four gardens. These are the four states through which we travel on the inward journey: the Garden of the Soul, the Garden of the Heart, the Garden of the Spirit and the Garden of the Essence.

Each garden has at its centre a flowing fountain in an arbor of fruit trees. The fountain represents our perception of worlds of forms and ideas: the archetypes through which the divine fashions the worlds we see. The water is the Light that higher knowledge that flows from the Fountain of the Spirit into the Garden of the Heart and from there feeds our intuitions in the Garden of the Soul.

The water gives life to the fruit of the trees. An image that is a constant reminder that all we are, every gift we are, is a fruit of grace. Our existence is continuously made possible, right at this moment, because we are gifted into being, born continuously out of divine grace, beloved into being.

From this remembering, we learn humility. Humility is an unpopular virtue in our world. It seems to speak of something demeaning, self-effacing in a world of self-assertion. In truth, however, it speaks of what is essential.

"If you do not know yourself,
even in my presence you will be far away..."

It tells of knowing where we are, where we stand: a clear-eyed perception of ourselves from which learning is born. The mystic way is a craft and like any craft requires the sweat of practice out of which the grace of performance can break through.

Gardening too is a craft and the garden is a recurring image in the language and practice of mystical paths. A garden - traditionally an enclosure surrounded by trees, is a mandala with a centrifugal movement: outward into the paradise of nature and inward to the spiritual centre symbolized by flowing water, generating constant ripples in the fountain: the in breath and out breath of the divine awareness encompassing all.

But the garden too is a practical image of what we are called to in being human, bearing the divine image. 

For the garden is the place where all that is given is shaped into an harmonious whole. As any good gardener knows, this is achieved not by imposition, but by careful study of the potential of any particular place and, over time, the patient cultivation of all these latent possibilities into an unfolding glory, each responsive to its season.

Each of Rumi's poems is a thought filled act of cultivation, tending our potential, nurturing it to unfurl. Each poem has its place and its season in our unfolding journey. Each poem addresses an essential aspect of our selves and our journey to the Beloved.

Any creative gardener knows too that though our own attention, care and love is necessary, all that we finally achieve is born through grace: the gifting of the garden's own nature and heart. 
For we come to God by love and not by navigation. These poems are an act of love that celebrates this love and nurtures it to reality.

A love most fully expressed in the dance: where the lovers become as one.
Once again music is rising in the air 
and my soul opens its arms inviting my heart to dance. 
The whole world is smiling, wrapped in a luminous glow. 
The table is set, the guest has arrived, 
the scent of new Spring over the green meadows 
is overwhelming and I am drunk with love. 
The Beloved is the whole sea, I a curl of mist on its surface; 
He is a precious treasure, 
in His light I am just a dust particle, no one. 
But please forgive my boasting 
for I can split the moon in two with the light of my Beloved. 
I am wild with love! 

Shall we join the dance?"

Everyone is interesting, even if to requires a few sherries to find out how

V.S. Naipaul, who died recently, once asked one of his interviewers, before he would permit them to start, "What have you read? And do...