Of course, Heaven described as “streets of gold” (Rev 21:21) must be metaphoric, but of what? The lines from Rumi lead to musing about Paradise and the way.
1. Heaven’s structure is not of this world’s building materials (not of “dead water and earth,” line 476); instead of bricks of any color, paradise is founded on “knowledge and action.” But with so many books and even quite diverse notions of what counts as knowledge, where is the kind that builds Heaven? It must be that which “exists in the heart.” Then what action is also needed for the foundation? Recent pondering points to experience that is fashioned by reflecting out “the microcosmic form of the Divine Being” (from Henry Corbin, Alone with the Alone, p. 222; see previous blog).
2. Words are risky. Paradise “comes not on to my tongue.” When we have the same word (i.e., “knowledge” as well as “action”) being applied to different worlds, we risk overimposing false meanings. When Alan Williams articulates seven forms of discourse (“voices”) interwoven in the syntax of Rumi’s Mathnawi, he includes “hiatus.”
“The ‘voice’ of hiatus signals the limit of spiritual discourse and the return to silence. Hiatus questions the wisdom of continuing to speak, having reached the brink of incoherence because of the unattainability, or inexpressability of what the poet is trying to evoke." (Rumi: Spiritual Verses, p. xxv)3. Advanced understanding and heightened consciousness depend on “getting it” through a form of knowing that differs from the usual rational process.
So much of this world’s enactment of “knowledge” is irrelevant to the spiritual world; head-stuff easily turns arrogant, dismissive of any other kind of knowing. For example, academics often label the knowledge found through storytelling as imaginary, childish, and of little to no value. If a person is dominated by the view of knowledge learned in most schools, chances shrink for entering the Imaginal World (c.f. Alone with the Alone), and that’s possibly disastrous as far as building a dwelling place into the divine. We need to teach and learn the difference between imaginary and imaginal. We’re stuck in elementary school if we haven’t progressed beyond the false dichotomy that facts are true and fiction false.
Facts and scientific proofs have their purposes, but “knowledge” has many constructions. Wikipedia surveys some possibilities, starting with epistemology and then moving through situated knowledge and on to religious knowledge.
Of course, when a person enters a religious institution, the shift from head to heart does not automatically happen. On the contrary, terms that spiritual leaders use for the heart level easily turn upside down when manipulated by the head and for power trips. Look at all the managed confusion related to “jihad” mixing up 1) the intense struggle for inner cleansing with 2) terrorism. Or, again, consider the head vs. heart on “immigrants.” Who is the “neighbor” Jesus talks about and how are persons of God to care for the stranger?
This is what the Lord says: Do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.(Jeremiah 22:3, NIV)
Preparation for Paradise depends on a kind of knowing other than that of the head. Heart-knowledge is approached as a mirror. We move into the unknown through likeness. The Imaginal World forms out of continuing to interpret. Knowing comes by seeking and realizing the truth, often found in a leap from one experience into awe. . . “out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing…”
My favorite and most generative experience for making these leaps comes in horsemanship (and they come without leaving the saddle as well as without physically jumping fences). My aim in this horse/human experience is health, relationship, and exuberance. Leg’cy today looks more fit than before we began working together. Her history of lameness has been replaced with happy cantering. Catching her in the paddock used to be a frustrating challenge; now she runs to the gate and willingly accepts the halter. My vitality gets a boost from our time together and I believe she’s humming also.
Through these experiences with rider and horse, I’m beginning to realize glints of insight about the meaning of the teaching: He who knows himself (his soul) knows his Lord (cf., Me and Rumi, quoted in previous blog; Alone with the Alone, e.g. p. 266; He Who Knows Himself Knows His Lord). For example, I have a feeling of joy when my intention takes powerful form in Leg’cy. It’s as if she claims our “action” as her own idea. I’m happy with her empowerment even as I also credit the many hours I’ve spent preparing for and signaling the “leap” she takes. Looking at this dynamic, I gain appreciation for the “set up” provided for me by my Lord, including experiences that, at the time, I felt were harsh and frustrating. Perhaps when I feel I’m acting with integrity to my self/soul, my Lord has led me there and feels joy.
Of course, any speculation I have about the divine is a leap and must be held with humility and with the hiatus that goes with “the brink of incoherence because of the unattainability, or inexpressability” in approaching the Divine Presence. Yet these wonderings are precious because they allow the growth of certainty that I find described in the writings of and about Rumi and Ibn ’Arabi (c.f., Corbin and Chittick).
I’m just working and playing my way in the building of Paradise with the advance of knowledge and experience. Words cannot clearly voice the knowing of heart, but we venture closer with story, and increased knowing forms through authentic action/experience, often rather inarticulate yet warm.