“Endeavour to gain refreshment from God’s cup of Love – then you will become selfless and have no will but God’s.” -Rumi, Masnavi V
In this chapter Helminski details Jesus’s miracles of healing, nourishment, and resurrection. Jesus’s reputation as a healer is one of the few things about which all recorders of his life, Christian and non-Christian alike, agree.
Helminski begins with the story of the wedding at Cana, detailed in John 2: 1-11. This is a much beloved story among Christians in particular, although there are many ways to interpret what is going on here. Some see it as a beautiful portrait of the Son of God as one who celebrates love and abundance. In seminary I was taught that the conversation between Mary and Jesus was full of sacrificial overtones pointing toward the Crucifixion, which brings a helpful context to Jesus’s cryptic response, “My hour has not yet come.”
When I read this story now, however, I am thrown into a wonderful ocean of Sufi imagery. Sufi poets constantly use wine and drunkenness as metaphors for spiritual ecstasy and divine wisdom. One of my favourite sayings of Hafez, translated by the Persian artist Rassouli, runs,
“O preacher! Don’t be upset
that I am devoted to the master
of the wine house, for you offered
promises, but he made them happen!”
Helminski, being a Sufi scholar herself, immediately makes the same connection:
“The metaphor of drunkenness became indicative of the ‘intoxication’ with God’s love, and annihilation in God – when the wine, the cup (or the flagon), and the Cupbearer become one.”
Through this lens, Mary’s murmured declaration to Jesus becomes something more than a mother’s pressing her child into service. Instead, Mary, spiritually mature practitioner that she is, turns to her son, master of the wine house, and in effect says, “These people need to take their joy to the next level.”
And likewise, Jesus’s answer might sound more like, “What am I supposed to do about that? It’s not time for the ultimate ecstasy of the Cross and resurrection yet.”
While we’re not given a sense of his tone, I imagine it as being rather playful, at least while I’m reading the story through this lens. Maybe it came with a wink.
However it came, Mary enlists the servants to help transform this ordinary home and everyday celebration of love and union into the wine house, a place where we encounter true, deep, spiritual union. The promises of religious officials are fully realized by God, outside of tidy and mediated religion.
“O You who without a cup gave to the soul
an ecstasy better than eternal drunkenness,
come, if only for a moment.
Give us the blessing of that moment,
so empty of everything
How long must we wait for that one moment?
Open the lock of the heart,
walk toward the treasure.
With this treasure, you’ll have the answers
to all the questions in both worlds.”
-Rumi, excerpted from a ghazal, tr. Nevit Ergin and Camille Helminski