Christmas with Rumi

Drumsound rises on the air,
its throb, my heart.

A voice inside the beat says,
“I know you’re tired,
but come, this is the way.”

This holiday season contained a lot of firsts: My first time spending Christmas away from my family, my first time taking an international trip with my boyfriend, and my first time visiting Turkey, to name a few of the big ones.

After several days in Istanbul and a quick stop in Cappadocia, Christmas Day found us waking up in a hotel in Konya and setting off in the gray rain for the Mevlana Museum.  The Mevlana Museum is both a museum and a shrine for the Sufi mystic and poet known as Rumi in the Western world.  Rumi lived in the 13th century and was the leader of the Whirling Dervishes, dancers who twirl with one hand turned upwards towards Heaven to receive God’s mercy and one hand down to transmit the mercy to earth.  Through his poetry and philosophical teachings, his name has become synonymous with love and spiritual transcendence the world over.


Whirling Dervish ceremony outside the Mevlana Museum in Konya, Turkey

I first discovered Rumi by accident.  I stumbled upon a novel in high school called Chasing Rumi: A Fable About Finding The Heart’s True Desire and it looked interesting, so I bought it, read it, and liked it so much that I bought a book of Rumi’s poetry too.  Later, in college and beyond, I had friends who really liked Rumi too, and since he is one of the most quotable human beings in history, little bits and pieces of his poetry kept making their way towards me through social media and blogs.  Simply put, Rumi has a message that anyone can get behind.

We had planned a one-night stop in Konya specifically to visit the museum on our way to the coast.  The museum itself is made of gray stone and has a jade-colored tower that’s visible for miles; there are gardens, fountains, and gift shops strewn around it.  At the entrance, they have signs kindly asking you to cover your shoes and put away your cameras before entering.  Inside is beautiful, tile mosaics in varying shades of blue and red, intricate windows and ceiling designs, and dozens of sarcophagi containing Dervishes lined up in rows, Rumi’s set off a bit on a platform and with the biggest hat on top.

rumi_tomb by amber

There was a steady but quiet stream of visitors in the hour we were there.  The place has a sacred feel, and for good reason.  As my boyfriend lingered over the ceiling designs, I found a bench to the side and opened a book of Rumi’s poetry.

It was an unorthodox Christmas, to be sure– one missing many traditions and people I love dearly, and I felt that absence and ache.  At the same time, I found Rumi’s message of tolerance, love, and openness to the world poignantly apropos for the situation and not at all antithetical to the holiday season.  As we get older (or as I get older, at least), things change and decisions have to be made, forks in roads pondered, and (as Robert Frost so eloquently told us) following the one that is most familiar is not always the best choice.  Sometimes you just need to look at the world around you and focus on the similarities, not the differences, and the possibilities for growth rather than what you’re missing out on by branching out.  Sometimes you just need to read poetry in a museum on the other side of the world on Christmas Day.

This is now. Now is,
all there is. Don’t wait for Then;
strike the spark, light the fire.
Sit at the Beloved’s table,
feast with gusto, drink your fill
then dance
the way branches
of jasmine and cypress
dance in a spring wind.
The green earth
is your cloth;
tailor your robe
with dignity and grace.

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