“O body that has become the spirit’s dwelling place; enough is enough: how long can the Sea abide in a water-skin?”
-Rumi, Masnavi VI
The next two chapters of the book are massive compared to the others! This week’s is about Jesus’s death and resurrection, a weighty subject if ever there was one.
Helminski notes that the early church tended to portray Jesus as Pantocrator, Ruler of All, in iconography, showing him as having conquered death. We have seen that over time, probably due to the horror of the Black Death, artists and theologians began to put more of a focus on Jesus’s suffering on the Cross to bring comfort to those who suffered during the pandemic.
To this day, many Christians struggle with this part of the story: Why did God allow this terrible suffering? How exactly did this accomplish our salvation? Helminski writes,
“Whatever our theological beliefs may be, we witness in the story of this moment a journey through intense suffering and the possibility of immense transformation. …The possibility of a human soul’s victory over the power of death through complete immersion in Spirit, the joining again of earth and Heaven in spiritual nobility and humility of personhood within the palpable Presence of Reality, frees the heart and soul like a column of Light bursting into the Infinite.”
As Christians many of the Gospels and the letters of Paul encourage us to model this transformation in our lives (Matthew 16:24; Philippians 2:5-7a). Rumi writes through a different lens but with the same spirit:
“Whoever shall strive in tribulation for Our sake,
Heaven will give support to [their] feet.
Your outward form is wailing because of the darkness;
your inward spirit is roses within roses.”
Personally, I find deep meaning in the wisdom-sharing we can trace through the Gospel of John, the most mystical of the Gospels. Starting with Chapter 12 verses 1 through 8, we see Mary of Bethany anoint Jesus’s feet with spikenard, gratitude for Lazarus pouring out in an act of pure prophecy. In Chapter 13, verses 1-17, Jesus washes his disciples’ feet in a precious echo of Mary’s act.
If we believe in the Incarnation, this is a shocking moment: God, the Ground of Being, has learned from us. God received an act of love from a woman and modeled it for the male disciples. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea offer the gift back again once Jesus has been crucified, showing that they don’t understand that he will be raised. Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb to weep, and leaves with the incredible message “I have seen the Lord!” Like Mary of Bethany, she disappears from the story after her act of prophecy. It seems clear that both experienced their own transformation:
“I am cramped like the embryo in the womb…
My mother, my bodily nature,
with its death throes is birthing Spirit,
so that the lamb may be released by the eye,
and begin to graze in the green fields.
Come, open your womb, for this lamb has grown big.”
(Rumi, Masnavi III)
One can then see that we are called to be in perpetual dialogue with the divine, who has learned from us and is continuing to share the gifts of wisdom and new life with us.