Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
April 2019 - Volume 19, No. 4
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Rumi’s Field (part 2 of 2)

At the beginning of my last newsletter, I stated:

We are living in a time where the human proneness to divide primarily means divide and destroy. This is sadly true in psychology, religion and politics. And sadly, so often in families.

I’ll Meet You There

As I began last month, I’m looking for a way to get to that place the 13th century Rumi hinted at in his words,

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.”[1]

What I discovered in my search was a need to consider two previous[2] primary ways of ordering the question of what is right and what is wrong - one essentially vertical and one essentially horizontal in the quest for a human order. Only then I could be free to posit a ‘third thing’ as represented by Rumi’s field.[2]

A peculiar pattern of my own thinking is to purposefully contradict myself in order to avoid falling into a too narrow pattern of thinking. So whenever I or someone else makes a declarative statement, inside I’ll always check for the advice of its opposite.[3]

For example, when I consider Rumi’s field, I easily recall the heady and ecstatic exuberance of the 1960’s.[4]  Even today we ask the question of some personality or behavioral change - is it the drugs, or is it a step forward in the enhancement of a person’s potential.  (Remember the question, “Is it real or is it Memorex?”)

Is this “third thing”, this quest for a unifying order, considered within the heritage of the previous history of this quest (as I spelled out last month), or is it an attempt to destroy its heritage, in order that a “new thing” can emerge?

In my view, much of the 60’s had to finally collapse, because it failed to honor that heritage that otherwise could feed it. And yet, in spite of the temptation to revolutionary destruction, by which the bottom fell out of the visionary unifying of an otherwise soul-starved generation of ‘young’ people, much creativity and beauty emerged.  I think especially of the music that emerged from that time. People of my generation still look back and see there’s been nothing since then to equal it.  (My children tend to disagree - but then they’ve been fed by more recent creative giftings of their culture.)

I sing with the Flint Symphony Chorus, the excellence of which I am sometimes and sometimes not worthy. But so often our long time conductor, Enrique Diemecke will remind us before a concert just how valuable the medium of music can be as a mystic bringing together of disparate peoples - all over the world. That’s why he remains with Flint. And the City of Flint continues to offer him full support to gift his passion back to us. I’ve long enjoyed our Symphony, because so many of the diverse parts of our larger community gather together and enjoy his spirited enjoyment of who we are and who we can become.   

Again and again we are reminded that the arts are a primary medium for allowing ourselves into Rumi’s field. Examples of this have been popping up all over the place since I began working on this subject.

I’ll use the imagery of the ever-popular in psychology, bi-polar mood disorder. The bi-polar world is in many ways can be either a natural phenomenon or a highly destructive disorder.  When it becomes a destructive disorder, it’s because the two polar worlds have lost a middle, nothing holds them together. Any potential for Rumi’s field collapses.

The Transcendent Middle

The middle is often the only place from which there can be a transcendence.  (You may find that I’ve written of this elsewhere.)

It’s our ability (or sometimes our necessity) to let go of both one side and another, and make our home in the ‘neither this nor that’ of the world. (If only our government could re-earn that.) To stand in the middle, and be willing to stay there. The theologians will speak of our being both saint and sinner, not one or the other, but to stand fully in the midst of each. Being a saint is a gift, and being a sinner is unavoidable. When we can within each, and within the impossibility of being each, we are in a place of transcendence. For me, it’s the only place where we can truly know God - partly because that’s the only honest place he/she can know us. And it’s the place where life and death are no longer separate, yet completely separate. As it is in Rumi’s meadow.

For example, each of us may know being in the presence of an agony of the dying of a beloved friend, family partner, or a child. We can know the aching desperation of the thousands of refugees in our world. We can know the heroism of those who will give themselves fully to save another. We know the beauty of life and the agony of death - and maybe there too, let ourselves stand in the middle.

Often after performing with the Flint Symphony, or watching a Met Opera Live broadcast, or seeing a great movie, or hearing great jazz, feeling the breeze and the stars from a night in the woods - I’ll often feel the honest freedom to say to my soul, “now I am free to die.”

And it’s that freedom to let it all go, that gives me that greatest freedom and desire to also be fully alive. I find that the older I get, the closer those ecstasies can co-exist. And I know I am approaching the knowing of one of life’s great secrets.

Sadly, for so many, the loneliest places in the world are in our marriages. That’s why I’m so willing to work for them. And it’s the place of so much suffering where there’s still a hunger for life.

At it’s best, marriage is/can be a primary material for Rumi’s field. And to read Rumi (which is really not difficult) is to know somehow he knows marital and sexual ecstasy - he knows the ‘field’ to which his words invite.[5]

Some Final Words of Hope

Yes, It is true the greater world seems to be falling apart. As I’ve recounted a number of times, the institutions of our time are often collapsing, even rotting, from within. How many of us that recent Monday evening felt the fear that Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral would collapse completely from the fires raging within from its center. Then to discover in the morning that it miraculously hadn’t.

For the time, life is leaving many of our ‘institutions.’ But it does not die. It maybe goes down into the ground, following those hidden streams that meander through the depths of our darkness, and emerge in the ‘little’ places of our world.

The Spirit of things, by whatever name we know it, bids us follow to the little places - as Rumi’s words bid us to the many ‘little places’ of his meadow.

Strange to say, we are fed there, where we are more free than ever to care for and love each other.    

And strange to say, his meadow may be very close by.

Pay attention.



[2] In many ways each of my three primary orderings have been co-present in some manner throughout human history, it’s only that in my seeking an order to history that I posit them as sequential.

[3] I may write more fully about this is a future article.

[4] By age, I was a little bit older, but by temperament, I was quite at home with the children of that culture.

[5] Truth be told, I began this quest for Rumi’s field by beginning an article on “Sex and Marital Sex.” But I just couldn’t pull it off till I realized I had to do the work of these past couple Newsletters instead. I think I’ve accomplished my purpose, at least for the time being. And I am comfortable now in letting it rest.

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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