“Such a spirit thinks of the body it has as a camel and goes down the roads of life on that camel.
And the roads it travels are graced with the light of its self-disclosure.”
Listen: Commentary on the Spiritual Couplets of Mevlana Rumi
by Kenan Rifai and translated by Victoria Holbrook, p. 250.
While building up the fire in our wood stove in the meditative time closer to midnight than dawn, the reflective time perhaps more open to be “graced with the light,” I noted the time/space calling for a comparable branch, midway between twig and log. Without that progression, the passionate first blaze fizzles, for densely-textured maturity waits upon the mid-range. A culture addicted to fiery youth—intoxications, excitements, flashy power—disdains the moderate climb, the development of moral sense; and without the enduring warmth of mature wisdom, the short-sighted body, or nation, seldom endures the night.
The phrase “path of attraction” notably commanded my attention about a decade ago. Fortunately, I was already past midlife, and so the seductive allure of “attraction” had already progressed from blonde to silver. Attraction’s range of meanings, like fire, spans from the quick blaze to enduring coal. By midlife, the gold of detachment-from-applause glimmered on the horizon, hinting that path-of-attraction gains value only according to the purity of the enacting vision. False gold coats the surface of snakeskin; it takes mature insight to penetrate to the depths of the mine that’s close to the source of gold, the home of goodness, the love of God.
Attraction can be like the twigs; love, lies so elusive, so easily mistaken for complete when but a taste of the sublime. Falling in love can be so easy, even addictive enough that when seared and burnt out, one still seeks the rush again, sometimes slanted into substitute romance, as in books or bottles, instead of suffering the midrange of passion. The path of attraction that leads toward the divine demands the desert, for without it, no oasis.
So Rumi tells of camels. In one passage, the camel represents the human body possessed by lust and greed, so deluded to believe the thorn is the rose or the sweet date:
“The thorn-eating body is like a camel…/ O camel, you carry a bale of roses / A hundred rose gardens grow from its fragrance / Your preference is for sand and great big thorns… / How long will you cry, ‘Where is that rose garden?’”
(Mathnawi, Book I, couplets 1995-1998, p. 246 in Listen)
The world around is grazing on thorns as if in a bed of roses, as if thorns taste sweet as dates, as if greed/lust/hate compose love. Prophets across time have called, “Wake up!” But perhaps to advance the stream of consciousness a mid-range is required, a camel-journey. Immediate apprehension of the tragic thorn diet, like a flood of fire, hurts too much.
Rifai in his commentary on Rumi’s camel talks of this:
“But you who have lost the ability to tell the difference between good and evil due to varied kinds of greed you cannot see the matchless purity. . . In reality it is when you have begun to see the dates of worldly lust and greed as thorns that your spirit, unconquered by the soul, will taste the felicity more delicious than the most delightful dates.. . . Such a spirit thinks of the body it has as a camel and goes down the roads of life on that camel. And the roads it travels are graced with the light of its self-disclosure. Although that is the case, the camel is usually unaware of the rose garden it carries on its back. The camel is unaware that because of the rose scent it carries, many a rose garden sprouts up on the roads it travels, and many a rose of gnosis blooms in these gardens. Because its eye is always on the thorns and sandpits of the world. Every soul looks out for the food and worldly goods it desires. But let us see how long he will believe that a rose will bloom from a giant thorn, how long will he live with the goal of picking roses from desert thorn bushes. If the thorns of soul-mouthfuls stick in the eye of one’s spirit, one is probably deprived of the capacity to see . . . How will such people see God’s rosebeds of gnosis; how can they stroll these gardens? This is such a strange self-disclosure that sometimes a person cannot fit in all the world. Then you see that he is wandering around on the head of a thorn (pp. 249-250).
To tend a fire through the long night, like a camel crossing the desert, needs a scent of the water of life, like the path of attraction. Love, of course, is the answer. It’s an act of faith, and in all faiths, the ultimate answer is the love of God. Yet the answer holds a great mystery. In this camel section, Rumi tells the problem: “Love and spirit are, both of them, veiled and hid” (couplet 2021, p. 247 in Listen).
And yet, for the lifetime journey on the path of attraction, we have good stories and spiritual verses to light the way. An oasis comes in Rumi’s Mathnawi and, of course, the spiritual verses of all faiths.
from Rifai’s commentary on the Mathnawi, page 252:
“Consider that in my tongue words like love, spirit and beloved are in reality metaphorical ways of speaking. When I say “love,” I mean love of God; if I say “spirit,” I mean the light separated off from God, and if I say “bride” or “beloved” I mean only that greatest Beloved.”
from Deuteronomy 10:12-13
“And now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God demand of you? Only this: to revere the LORD your God, to walk only in His paths, to love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and soul, keeping the LORD’s commandments and laws, which I enjoin upon you today, for your good.” [Tanakh; new JPS translation]
from Micah 6:8
“It hath been told thee, O man, what is good, And what the LORD doth require of thee: Only to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” [Tanakh; new JPS translation]
from I John 5:3; I Cor 13:13
“For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments” "the greatest of these is love"
from Qur’an 2:165
“those who have attained to faith love God more than all else”