New column: about love
Tarari que te vi
The Tiatines are an old order from the times of the Jesuits. Their church is the vast Sant’ Andrea della Valle, close to the Piazza Navona in Rome. In the hundreds of years old vaults of the monastery attached to it is the refectory where we are eating. The superior-general, Valentin Arteaga, born in La Mancha, won a world prize for mystical poetry last year in Quito, the Fernando Rielo-prize. He had a new slogan today. When a thing like that goes through his mind, you’ll hear it for days.
Tarari que te vi.
J lo que te rondaré, morena.
It means something like … how long must I still revolve around you, brunette. Tarari sounds like a round of rifle-fire. The girl is startled by it. The young man is full of confidence. He grants the lady some time to play hard to get, but eventually she must give in and she will. Of course love poems aren’t commonly the talk of the day at the monastery, but any love poem of some standing can be explained mystically. After all, the relation with God is also all about love. That is the sole content of it. There is no other possibility of traffic with God than through the vehicle of love. The experiences of mystics are therefore to be categorised under love and they cannot be distinguished from it. Replace the name of the loved one in any decent love poem with the word God and you have a mystical poem. Otherwise the Song of Songs would of course never have made the Bible.
The tarari is about man, whose sole inclination is towards God, but who receives no answer. He could complain and blame God for this, or he could stop believing in God or he could take the blame on himself, for maybe he is not worthy of God’s answer. These are three wrong solutions. Every man of good will can open the doors of Heaven and is actually worth it, for Maulana Jalalu-‘d-dín Rumí says about that …
Know this for ‘He loves them that love Him.’
The sum is this, that whoso seeks another,
The soul of that other who is sought inclines to him.
And also by Maulana Rumi …
Nobody seeks unification with his loved one,
without that loved one seeking unification with him.
So if we feel God is silent and if we suffer because of it this in itself is proof beyond a shadow of a doubt that He is also looking for us. This is quite a reassurance and a further-reaching consolation than we ever dared dream of. Of course it is also the real content of Anselm of Canterbury’s proof for the existence of God, the ontological one. If I can think God, He exists. But thinking is not a category that belongs to God and to man it is no substantial category. You just love God. What is being said here by the mystics can be put seamlessly alongside the thoughts of Saint Anselm.
The lover of the tatari does not doubt that he will conquer the lady, or that he himself is handsome. He is full of confidence, that he will reach his goal. The conquest is part of it, but she shouldn’t make an exaggeration out of it. In such a way man can also trust God and associate with him confidentially. He knows he is desirable to God, without a sole imaginable exception. And that is quite unlike common love-life. Here the comparison fails. Not many can afford to say … woman, will you please get going. And that she jumps up at that. But one can say that to God. The poem is hard on hard. He is certain of his case, that Spanish Don Juan. But man seeking God can be certain of his case too. A lover who doubts lacks hope. He does not believe in himself enough and then it won’t work. And those old, medieval tools of man’s love to God, they were after all faith and hope.
According to Rumi we can say the tarari in front of the tabernacle. And then the tabernacle will shake and tremble a bit. A man praying: for him God has fallen already. We are allowed to have this much hope, for He will give in eventually, for God is no God of vengeance, he is no wrathful God, but a God of love …
Did not I engage thee to call upon me?
That calling ‘Allah’ of thine was my ‘Here am I,’
And that pain and longing and ardour of thine my messenger;
The struggles and strivings for assistance
Were my attractions, and originated thy prayer.
Thy fear and thy love are the covert of my mercy,
Each ‘O Lord!’ of thine contains many ‘Here am I’ s. …
Maulana Jalalu-‘d-dín Rumí.
It can be a very painful experience, if God stays away very long. You have abandoned one lover, the world and its emptiness, and the new lover is tardy, so says Teresa. No man seeks suffering, or it has to be for some good reason. The mystics did it all for something fantastically attractive and if it stayed away, they found that impossible to bear. Rabindranath Tagore complains in the Gitanjali …
Clouds heap upon clouds and it darkens.
Ah, love, why dost thou let me wait outside
at the door all alone?
In the busy moments of the noontide work
I am with the crowd, but on this dark lonely day
It is only for thee that I hope.
If thou showest me not thy face,
If thou leavest me wholly aside,
I know not how I am to pass these long, rainy hours.
I keep gazing on the far away gloom of the sky,
And my heart wanders wailing with the restless wind.
And Søren Kierkegaard then says encouragingly … without the death throes that are the birth pangs of faith, without the shudder that is the beginning of worship … one cannot immediately and directly come to know what cannot be known directly …
A true lover proves himself through the pain of his soul,
no sickness is worse than the sickness of the soul … Maulana Jalalu-‘d-dín Rumí.
So fasten your seatbelts. Every lover knows, that love also hurts, that it even hurts very often. We should therefore not lament, because it hurts. Teresa of Avila could bear it all because of the visions she had of His Majesty, the meetings with Him, because of the embrace He has prepared for the blessed, as Thomas à Kempis says. She would suffer anything for that moment. Bernini strikes it well in his sensual sculpture of her, as she is struck by the arrow of an angel, who looks more like a cupid than a winged messager from Heaven.
So sighing there must be, but not in a dull and wordless manner, as if there were no hope. The real lover should float between love on one side and faith and hope on the other. Suffering cannot be eliminated from this, but it is not a senseless suffering. It is no despair. Every sincere prayer is heard, yes every grievous sigh is heard and never forgotten. And so the great ones say, that He himself is the source of this. If you feel that, God exists and He is working on you. Maulana Rumi speaks here … he would have felt deep sorrow and have heaved many sighs, and each of these sighs would, in the sight of God, have counted for as many as two hundred ordinary prayers ..
. An Islamic wise once went to Mecca, but he did not find the Ka’ba there. They told him … the Ka’ba has left to welcome a woman … Rabi a al- Adawiya. The wise man was shocked, for he had prayed for fourteen years for this moment and now the Ka’ba wasn’t there. When he ran into Rabi’a later on, he told her … Yes, indeed, for fourteen years I traversed the desert in prayers! Rabi’a said ‘you traversed it in prayer, I in longing.
Philo of Alexandria, the Hellenistic Jew, says … but God … gladly invites all who choose to honour him under any form whatever, deeming no one to be deserving of contemptuous dismissal. It is happiness at another level. What the body and the mind feel here on earth does not matter much. The suffering on earth is pale in the indescribable light of His Majesty, Teresa would say. The saints have done something to suffering, that eventually destroyed it. The Bhagavad Gîta … from the world of the senses, Arjuna, comes heat and comes cold, and pleasure and pain. They come and they go: they are transient. Arise above them, strong soul … the man whom these cannot move, whose soul is one, beyond pleasure and pain, is worthy of life in Eternity …
The great have lived for happiness and love alone and walked their path for bliss and joy. Saint-lives are always love-stories with God, but also with their fellow human beings, often as stormy and tumultuous as those of a teenager. The kingdom of heaven of which the entrance is so narrow according to Jesus must certainly be something fantastic. But the prizes in store for those who serve me for myself will be those of friendship … says Philo of Alexandria and that is the best thing that can happen to a human being. For the advanced long forgotten words such as love and friendship return. Life does not become crazier, on the contrary, it becomes more normal, but with a glow of gold revealing and imbuing its splendour. Hell, Teresa once looked into it. She does not want to go there and she knows she will not go there. She belongs there, she thinks, but she will not end up there. All the dreadful things the saints went through was worth the effort and the dreadful things they later were still going through in the eyes of the people were like nothing in their own eyes. Because of what was instead. They would suffer anything for that one moment with the Beloved. This is where the experience of Saint Stephen lies as he prays for those who stone him. The church celebrates his feast on second Christmas day. Stephen was born a Saviour and nothing could happen to him after that. The seemingly irreversible black has often changed into happiness, and not just as a feeling but as something real. Philo of Alexandria … but meeting is often without one’s volition, and this is so in order that the divine Logos, manifesting itself suddenly as a fellow-traveller to a desolate soul, might tender it an unexpected joy, greater than hope.
And the consolation is this …
When in this heart the lightning spark of love arises,
Be sure this love is reciprocated in that heart.
When the love of God arises in thy heart,
Without doubt God also feels love for thee. … Maulana Rumi
I have prepared for my righteous servants that which no eye has seen, which no ear has heard, and which has not occurred to the human mind … says al-Ghazzali. No soul knows what comfort is laid up for them secretly … says the Qur’an. And the Bhagavad Gîta … thus joy supreme comes to the Yogi whose heart is still, whose passions are peace, who is pure from sin, who is one with Brahman, with God. The Yogi who pure from sin ever prays in this harmony of soul soon feels the joy of Eternity, the infinite joy of union with God. The Bhagavad Gîta does not weary of describing this miracle. That there can be happiness on this earth. That there is a heaven on earth. And it is never too late. There are no lost ones.
The superior-general goes right back to the attack today. I can tell from his eyes that he has himself painted in war colours. La vita è bella, non è vero, dottore? Of course … I say. That can be agreed to. Life is beautiful, or you’re not seeing it right. But then … e la morte è bella. I hold out. Certo, padre, certo. Of course if life is beautiful, death is beautiful too. Otherwise you’re spending your entire life worrying about death, and then life is no longer beautiful either. The fear of death is the motor behind many a consultation in my office. I make a living out of it. La morte è la pienezza della vita. Death is the fulfilment of life. It reminds me of that nun in Turin, born in the rugged mountains of Southern Tirol, who told me … they can take everything away from me, but they can’t take away my death. She was looking forward to it, really. That is also the martial, Spanish mysticism that shines from the poems of this other man of La Mancha, Valentin Arteaga, the superior. And the final blow comes triumphantly … e la sofferenza è bella. Suffering is beautiful. Don’t say that in Tegelen. It might put me out of business. But well, it’s the way it is after all. The path to happiness in this life leads over this road only. Certo, padre, certo.