Wednesday, 20 November 2019

Rumi: The Shakespeare of Mysticism ANN ROCHFORD

An original hand drawn and painted illustration of Rumi
created by Debra Styer with watercolor and gouache.

On Tuesday the 19th of November Ann Rochford conducted a Spiritual Reading Group in the Carmelite Library on the Sufi mystic and poet Rumi. Here is Ann’s introductory paper to that session.

Rumi is not an obscure topic.  He is a great thirteenth century mystic, and is universally known across all major religions.  Much has been written about him and I will only reach the tip of the iceberg in the one and a half hours we have today.  I want to start from a personal contemporary position.

I first learnt about Rumi in any depth in 2000, when I went to offer my services to the Kilbride Centre.  Rumi was having a very serious revival at the time and we seemed to be running endless seminars about his work.

In 2012, my husband and I did a tour of Turkey (highly recommended).  As we were travelling towards Cappadocia our tour guide started talking to us about Mevlana.  Mevlana was very well loved in Turkey and perhaps we would like to go to a ceremony still carried out by his followers. We had never heard of Mevlana.

The guide kept mentioning the possibility of attending this ceremony and eventually said Whirling Dervishes.  Then the penny dropped and I said do you mean Rumi?  Rumi has many names; in Turkey he is known commonly as Mevlana, which means master. In the West we call him Rumi, which refers to the sultanate of Rum, which was the ruling entity in that part of Turkey at the time Rumi lived there. (Rum is Roman)

Some of us did go to the ceremony.  Strict rules applied to the attendees.  No talking, no clapping and of course no cameras.  It started with a long musical introduction, then the master came out, and finally the dervishes arrived one by one.  The purpose of the master is to stop the dervishes whirling off the track.  They began to whirl, always left to right, and moved into their meditative trance.  It was quite mesmerising and went on for over an hour.  The music eventually changed and brought them out of their trance and that was it.  Some of the Dervishes then came back and did a few whirls so that the camera-deprived could get one shot for their memory bank.

It was Sunday when we visited the Rumi Museum in Konya.  It was for many centuries a Madrassa.  Islamic leaders had offered it to Rumi’s father, Baha ad Din Waled who was also a famous teacher, and called the Sultan of Scholars.  Rumi inherited it from him, and then his son after Rumi’s death in 1273.

When Ataturk came to power in Turkey after the First World War, the Madrassas were closed down. Dervish ceremonies were prohibited.  Eventually, in the 1950’s, a whirling ceremony was allowed to be performed, at Konya, once a year.   As Rumi is so significant in Turkish Islamic spirituality, this Madrassa became his museum and a place of pilgrimage.  Adherents of every religion visit it.  The mosque contains his mausoleum along with those of his father and other leading scholars.  There is a display of the dervish ceremony and a few artefacts that actually belonged to Rumi. As he was an ascetic, his possessions were not plentiful.  Today Ataturk’s laws have been watered down and Dervish ceremonies are more easily celebrated……….although not popular with right wing elements in Islam.

The most amazing thing to me was the mix of people who were there that day.  It was very crowded.  There were tourists like myself, nuns in the garbs of many congregations, ordinary Turks, some of the women in hijabs, a few Buddhists, and quite a few Saudis, with women in their black burkas.  An amazing mix of people, all here because of their common interest in this man, who lived and died in the thirteenth century.

Time to find out a bit more about him.


Mevlana Jalauddin Rumi to note some of his names was born in Balkh, which was then in Persia and is now part of Afghanistan, on the 30th of September 1207. He died in his long time home of Konya, in Turkey in December 1273. Rumi is known as a Persian poet, a Jurist, Islamic scholar, theologian and great Sufi Mystic.

He is the founder of a form of the ascetic dervish movement in Sufism. (There are a number of different forms of Dervish Sufism)  Rumi is the founder of the group of Dervishes famous for their whirling trances. It is properly known as The Order of Mevlevi.  Their prayer services are called Sama.  They consist of music, which creates a rhythm, a master to keep dervishes centred and a number of whirling devotees (always to the left) who enter into deep trances, which can go on for hours. Rumi started this form of mystic devotion by circling around a pole in order to clear his mind and connect with the spiritual.

Rumi believed in the use of music, poetry and dance as a path for reaching God.  He said that music focuses the whole being on the Divine.  In the whirling dance the practitioner turns towards the truth, grows through love, abandons the ego and arrives at the perfect.

Rumi came from a family tradition of liberal Islamic preachers of the Hanafi rite. They were Sunni Muslims.  It was an automatic assumption that Rumi, this only son to survive childhood, would follow in the family vocation. By 1220 the family had fled their home in Balkh due to the Mongol invasions.  They wandered across the region for a number of years.  To Mecca, Baghdad, Damascus, and Karaman where they lived for seven years, before settling in Konya in 1228, after an invitation to his father to set up a Madrassa.

Prior to arriving in Konya, at the age of 18, Rumi met the Sufi, Attar, in the Iranian city of Nishapur.  Attar was a very renowned Sufi who was generally held in awe in the Islamic world. Rumi was greatly attracted to Attar and became a constant follower.  He was searching for deeper religious understanding and had investigated a number of other belief systems, including Christianity.  Attar recognised Rumi as potentially a great leader.  When he saw Rumi walking behind his father, Attar described the father as The Sea---- followed by the Ocean.  Further encounters with Sufi’s in Bagdad ensured that by the time he reached Konya, Rumi was a committed Sufi.

Konya had been a Roman settlement. (Rum) At that time it was a thriving, cosmopolitan city with Jews, Christians and Muslims living in harmony.  It proved a fine place for a young Sufi to create a following.  When his father died, Rumi succeeded him at the Madrassa.  He was just 25.

Rumi is sometimes acclaimed as the Shakespeare of Mysticism.  His poetry and mystical insights were respected and loved across religious traditions in his lifetime, as they still are today, eight centuries after his death.

He has left us his seminal work the Mathnavi, considered one of the greatest poems in the Persian language.  This is a poem of six volumes, which took the last 12 years of his life.  It contains 27000 lines each consisting of a couplet with an internal rhyme.  It covers many topics, including right living, wisdom, justice the wonder of the natural world and love. Images of the natural world and love in its various forms are major themes which he comes back to constantly. 

We have the works of Shams-e Tabrizi, Rumi’s teacher, which contain 35000 Persian couplets and 2000 Quatrains. It is written mostly in Persian but also in Turkish, Greek and Arabic. We also have seventy-one lectures and talks, sermons, and letters, which were written to friends and family.   A huge legacy, which is requires great skills in translation from its ancient languages to modern idioms. Rumi’s renown is such, that a number of modern scholars have devoted their lives to translating his works, e.g. the translator Coleman Barks.

An important part of Rumi’s spiritual formation was his friendship with Shams-e  Tabrizi.  They met in 1244, when Shams went to Konya and sought him out. They were spiritual soul mates who engaged is mystical conversations which enriched each other’s deepest understandings.  Shams was with Rumi for five years and then went away never to return.  What happened to him is not known, but Rumi grieved his parting for the rest of his life.  Shams is often mentioned in his poetry and there are many verses devoted to him

Rumi married twice.  He had two sons with his first wife and after her death, a son and a daughter with his second wife.

When he died in December 1273 the Christians and Jews of Konya joined his funeral procession a tribute of his great spirituality, which was above religious divisions.

Finally, because of my own interest, I have to point out that Rumi was a contemporary of both Saint Francis of Assisi and Meister Eckhart.  What was there about the 13th century that brought into the world such a wealth of mystical insight?

Thursday, 10 October 2019

A Visit to The Biblioteca Carmelitana in Rome PAUL CHANDLER

A visit in April 2004 to the Institutum Carmelitanum in Rome by the librarian of the Carmelite Library (Paul Chandler O.Carm.) in Middle Park brought an unexpected windfall of rare books to the library.

 The Carmelite Order began at the end of the 12th century in Crusader Palestine, and later became one of the four principal mendicant orders of the Middle Ages. The first surviving Carmelite literature dates from the 1270s. Although the order was never as large or intellectually significant as the Dominicans or Franciscans, there is nevertheless a large literary production from across these seven centuries: largely biblical, theological and philosophical before the 16th century, and predominantly spiritual and mystical thereafter, but ranging across almost every field from astronomy and belles lettres to canon law and psychology, even to a 1998 translation of Aristotle’s Ethics into Welsh.

Every monastery had a library, large or small, and the principal studia in the university cities usually had quite large collections. There were, of course, various destructions and depredations, but the systematic suppressions of the 19th century were the most severe blow to the Order’s libraries, with many of the most important dispersed. The Carmelites reached a low intellectual ebb in the 19th century (an old barb counted a learned Carmelite among the seven wonders of the ecclesiastical world, along with a simple Jesuit, a poor Franciscan, a humble Dominican, and a few others). The Order’s failure to re-establish an international graduate faculty in Rome or elsewhere also slowed attempts to reconstitute library collections that would represent the Order’s rich bibliographical heritage.

Although many smaller libraries remained intact, a definitive revival really came only with the establishment of the Institutum Carmelitanum in Rome in 1950. Its tasks included historical research and publication, an annual bibliography (Bibliographia Carmelitana Annualis, 1953-  ), and administration of the Biblioteca Carmelitana, which incorporated what remained of the Order’s principal Roman libraries. Today consisting of about 25,000 volumes by or about Carmelites, the BC is the most comprehensive such collection in the world. Other significant Carmelitana collections include, more or less in order of importance, the Carmelitana Collection in Washington, DC, with 14,000 volumes, the Teresianum in Rome, and the Nederlands Carmelitaans Instituut in Boxmeer. In a field where there is little competition, our small Carmelitana collection at Middle Park, with about 5,000 volumes, is not insignificant.

I spent some time in Rome in the early ’80s doing graduate work in theology, Latin, and paleography. The Biblioteca Carmelitana had a doubles room, where duplicate books from the library were kept. Legend had it that Fr Kilian Lynch, a Irishman of aristocratic bearing who was the last of the old-style priors general, had been horrified to discover the neglected state of various Carmelite libraries in Italy in the impoverished years just after the war. Supposedly, in one house he had found the exceedingly rare Speculum Carmelitanum of 1507 in a stack of books being used page by page as toilet paper. The story goes that he summoned Fr Pio Serracino-Inglott, then librarian, from Rome to the offending Sicilian convent and instructed him to remove all books of value on his authority. Other monasteries neglectful of their cultural goods were similarly stripped of them, and the library in Rome began to collect numerous duplicates of even the most valuable books. A collection of them was finely bound, furnished with bookplates bearing the prior general’s arms, and presented to the refounded 13th-century house at Aylesford in England, which had been suppressed in 1538 and regained in 1949. Others went to help establish the very fine collection in Washington, DC. By the ‘80s, however. the doubles room was no-go territory. Despite much trying, I never managed to get in.

It was a bit of a thrill, then, to be given the key and invited to ransack in April 2004, a process which took two days, and a third for packing up eighteen large boxes of books. Nearly all were hard-to-find titles which have considerably strengthened the obscurer corners of our collection. 120 were pre-1800 titles, which have been added to our Rare Book collection, which now includes about 500 per-1800 volumes, mostly Carmelitana. ANZTLA members might be interested to know of some of them.


Tuesday, 24 September 2019

Pope Francis addresses the General Chapter of the Carmelite Order

              The Holy See
Consistory Hall
Saturday, 21 September 2019

Dear brothers!

With joy I greet you, called to celebrate the General Chapter, and through you I greet all the
members of the Carmelite Order. The theme at the centre of your Chapter reflection is “You are my
witnesses” (Is 43: 10); from one generation to the next: called to be faithful to our Carmelite
charism (cf. Const. 21).

God has blessed Carmel with an original charism to enrich the Church and to communicate the joy
of the Gospel to the world, sharing what you have received with enthusiasm and generosity:
“Freely you have received; freely give” (Mt 10: 8). I would like to encourage you in this by pointing
out three lines of action.

The first line is fidelity and contemplation . The Church appreciates you and, when she thinks of
Carmel, she thinks of a school of contemplation. As a rich spiritual tradition attests, your mission is
fruitful to the extent that it is rooted in your personal relationship with God. Blessed Titus
Brandsma, a martyr and mystic, said: “It is proper to the Order of Carmel, although it is a
mendicant order of active life and living among people, to maintain great esteem for solitude and
detachment from the world, considering solitude and contemplation as the best part of its spiritual
life”. The Constitutions of 1995, which you are currently revising, underline this: “The great spiritual
teachers of the Carmelite Family have always returned to this contemplative vocation” (17). The
Carmelite way of living contemplation prepares you to serve the people of God through any
ministry or apostolate. What is certain is that whatever you do, you will be faithful to your past and
open to the future with hope if, “living in allegiance to Jesus Christ” (2), you have at heart in
particular the spiritual journey of people.

The second line is accompaniment and prayer. Carmel is synonymous with the inner life.
Carmelite mystics and writers have understood that “being in God” and “being in His things” do not
always coincide. If we become anxious about a thousand things related to God without being
rooted in Him (cf. Lk 10: 38-42), sooner or later he presents us with the bill: we realize that we
have lost Him along the way. Saint Mary Magdalene de' Pazzi, in her famous letters on the
Renewal of the Church (1586), provides that “lukewarmness” can creep into the consecrated life
when the evangelical counsels become only a routine and love of Jesus is no longer the centre of
life (cf. Apostolic Exhortation Evangelii Gaudium, 264). And so worldliness can also creep in,
which is the most dangerous temptation for the Church, especially for us, men of the Church. I am
well aware, brothers, that this temptation has entered and done serious damage even among you.
I have prayed and I pray that the Lord will help you. And this Chapter is a providential occasion to
receive from the Holy Spirit the strength to fight together against these pitfalls.

Generations of Carmelites and Carmelites have taught us by example to live more “inside” than
“outside” ourselves, and to go towards “el más profundo centro – the deepest centre”, as Saint
John of the Cross says (The Living Flame of Love B, 1,11-12), that is where God lives, and there
He invites us to seek Him out. The true prophet in the Church is he and she who comes from the
“desert”, like Elijah, rich in the Holy Spirit, and with the authority that belongs to those who have
listened in silence to the subtle voice of God (cf. 1 Kings 19: 12).

I encourage you to accompany people to “make friends” with God. Saint Teresa said: “I hardly
ever tired of speaking or hearing about God”. Our world thirsts for God and you Carmelites,
teachers of prayer, can help many to leave behind the noise, haste and spiritual aridity. Of course
it is not a question of teaching people to accumulate prayers, but of being men and women of
faith, friends of God, who know how to walk the ways of the spirit.

From silence and prayer are renewed communities and authentic ministries will be born (cf. Const.
62). As good artisans of fraternity, place your trust in the Lord by overcoming the inertia of
immobility and avoiding the temptation of reducing the religious community to “working groups”
that would eventually dilute the fundamental elements of religious life. The beauty of community
life is in itself a point of reference that generates serenity, attracts the people of God and spreads
the joy of the Risen Christ. The true Carmelite transmits the joy of seeing the other as a brother to
be supported and loved and with whom to share life.

And finally the third line: tenderness and compassion. The contemplative has a compassionate
heart. When love is weakened, everything loses its flavour. Love, caring and creative, is a balm for
those who are tired and exhausted (cf. Mt 11: 28), for those who suffer abandonment, the silence
of God, the emptiness of the soul, and broken love. If one day, around us, there are no longer sick
and hungry people, abandoned and despised – the minores of which your begging tradition
speaks – it will not be because they are not there, but simply because we do not see them. The
little ones (cf. Mt 25: 31-46) and the discarded (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 53) will always be there (cf.
Jn 12: 8), to offer us an opportunity to enable contemplation to be a window open to beauty, truth
and goodness. “Whoever loves God must seek him in the poor”, in the “brothers of Jesus”, as
Blessed Angelo Paoli said, and whose third centenary of death you will soon celebrate. May you
always have the goodness to seek them out! Blessed Angelo Paoli’s absolute trust in divine
providence made him exclaim with joy: “I have a pantry in which nothing is missing!” May your
pantry overflow with compassion in the face of all forms of human suffering!

Contemplation would merely be momentary if it were to be reduced to raptures and ecstasies that
distance us from the joys and worries of the people. We must be wary of the contemplative who is
not compassionate. Tenderness, in the style of Jesus (cf. Lk 10:25-37), shelters us from “pseudomystics”, “weekend solidarity” and the temptation to keep our distance from the wounds of Christ’s body. Three dangers: “pseudo-mystics”, “weekend solidarity” and the temptation to keep our
distance from the wounds of Christ’s body. Jesus’ wounds are still visible today in the bodies of
our brothers and sisters who are despoiled, humiliated and enslaved. By touching these wounds,
caressing them, it is possible to worship the living God in our midst. Today there is a need for a
revolution of tenderness (cf. Evangelii gaudium, 88; 288) which will make us more sensitive to the
dark nights and dramas of humanity.

Dear brothers, I thank you for this meeting. May the Virgin of Carmel always accompany you and
protect all those who collaborate with you and draw from your spirituality. And, please, entrust me
also to her maternal protection. Thank you!

*Bulletin of the Holy See Press Office, 21 September 2019

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