Guest post from James Cowan
Shems of Tabriz was a spiritual iconoclast. He willfully broke down forms. He delighted in confrontation, in the use of shock tactics. In the process, he released powerful forces of love within the breast of Rumi whose sensibilities were over-turned. He became a new man who used the reality if love in a way that had never been used before. Islamic spirituality employed the device of love purely as a poetic device. Shems made it into fireball.
Compare Sham’s love to that of Simone Weil, the modern French thinker. They are similar in that they demanded a totality of belief which previous forms of God-love did not. Simone Weil made herself a slave to love. Shems demanded that Rumi submit to a form of slavery also.
Shems represents a true ‘edge-man’: that is, one who is prepared to sacrifice his head to realize his aim. His gesture is reminiscent of St John Perse’s remark that ‘one must place one’s head in the mouth of the tiger’ in order to bring fruition the very fulness of being. Edge-men are those who are prepared to sacrifice – or at least risk – their lives for spiritual conquest. For them, the realization of gnosis is like climbing the Everest. Few have the courage to attempt it, and even fewer succeed.
Shems ruled in favour of physical anarchy. He was only interested in the oligarchy of the Spirit in which all men should acknowledge God as fundamental to life. At the same time, he devised a regime designed to break man’s dependence upon realism, on the rational mind. His techniques are reminiscent of Zen Buddhism. He could see that a man must subject his spirit to fire. Asceticism did not count for much in Shem’s mind.
Indeed Shems relied on the Power of Love – a love that stemmed from loving another as a reflection of the Divine. By substituting Rumi for the Divine Presence, it was possible for him to draw nearer to that Presence. The relationship between Shems and Rumi was a syzygy which created a more intense, mutual love of God.
In our age God has withdrawn from any immediate contact with man. He has been forced to do so by spiritual indifference. Shem’s method of ‘firing the spirit’ on the other hand is a way of releasing the Divine from the coldness of distance so that It might once more enter the spiritual orbit of man. His method is not unlike that of tribal initiation. The Spirit must also subject Itself to various tests if It is to realize itself fully in the minds of men.