Dervish At The Door
A dervish knocked at a house
to ask for a piece of dry bread,
or moist, it didn’t matter.
“This is not a bakery,” said the owner.
“Might you have a bit of gristle then?”
“Does this look like a butchershop?”
“A little flour?”
“Do you hear a grinding stone?”
“This is not a well.”
Whatever the dervish asked for,
the man made some tired joke
and refused to give him anything.
Finally the dervish ran in the house,
lifted his robe, and squatted
as though to take a shit.
“Quiet, you sad man. A deserted place
is a fine spot to relieve oneself,
and since there’s no living thing here,
or means of living, it needs fertilizing.”
The dervish began his own list of questions and answers.
“What kind of bird are you? Not a falcon,
trained for the royal hand. Not a peacock,
painted with everyone’s eyes. Not a parrot,
that talks for sugar cubes. Not a nightingale,
that sings like someone in love.
Not a hoopoe bringing messages to Solomon,
or a stork that builds on a cliffside.
What exactly do you do?
You are no known species.
You haggle and make jokes
to keep what you own for yourself.
You have forgotten the One
who doesn’t care about ownership,
who doesn’t try to turn a profit
from every human exchange.”
From: The Essential Rumi, Translated by Coleman Barks
I sought out this poem again yesterday. I’d been reading some online interactions between a few people within and around the philosophy of religion, radical theology and ’emergent’ communities and… some of it struck me as just lacking basic human kindness – from many sides.
I wanted to ask, as the Dervish does, ‘what exactly do you do? You haggle and make jokes…‘
It struck me that there are some people who see it as their place to take cheap shots at those who are publicly trying to their best to articulate thoughts about complex philosophical, sociological and theological issues – and live out some of that in what they create too. Yes, these people are imperfect, yes what they do may fail… but the fact that they are having a go should, I believe count for something. Not everything – critique is vital and important, but it should at least be offered in some kind of framework of kindness. Not snarky.
The academy is too often a sterile and dangerous ivory tower, where confession – the hard act of living out what you spout, is often low on the agenda. And I’ve found some of the reactions from some people, in private spaces and online, frankly incredible. To use an analogy: it’s too easy to mock the unfit people you meet in the gym. But the fact is, they’re the ones trying to do something about it. What about those who aren’t even trying? They escape any critique, simply by their passivity?
I’m not interested in naming names, simply asking for each to do some personal reflection… And to those uber-critical people, those who hate so much but produce so little… I want to shit on your doorsteps, not as an act of offence, but because ‘a deserted place is a fine spot to relieve oneself,‘ and some shit might help fertilize what, sadly, can be the barren and sterile places of your snarky timelines and blogs, on all sides. Because actually, most hate appears to me to spring from self-hatred. The attacks come as some sort of defence. It’s hurtful, but it’s surely self-harm too. Makes me sad to watch.