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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice, meet them at the door laughing, and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond.
~Rumi, as quoted in Parker Palmer’s reflection on hospitality and welcoming the unexpected visitor.

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

~Rumi, as quoted in Parker Palmer’s reflection on hospitality and welcoming the unexpected visitor.

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There is a place where words are born of silence.
~Rumi
beyond by Iva N. Pavlukhin.
(via trentgilliss)

There is a place where words are born of silence.

~Rumi

beyond by Iva N. Pavlukhin.

(via trentgilliss)

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Rumi: A Perfect Voice for the Spiritual Longing and Energy of Our Time

by Krista Tippett, host

Whirling DervishPhoto by Meir Jacob/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0

There is no formula for our shows, no template. Each begins with the raw material of a conversation, and we shape its pace and sound and elements around that. I think great radio emerges when the whole feel of the experience seems at one with the words being spoken, taking the listener more deeply into the passion and intent of the voice being heard. Creating our show around the life and words of Rumi has felt a little like having magic to work with.

I take away many gems of idea and image from my conversation with one of Rumi’s delightful 21st-century interpreters and successors, Fatemeh Keshavarz. Rumi saw human life and love as the closest we come to tasting and touching transcendence, and he approached all experience with his whole mind, heart, and body.

Fatemeh Keshavarz describes Rumi’s “whirling” around a column as he recited poetry — a habit that inspired the Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlevi Sufi Order — as a way to “stay centered while moving.” He believed that, as searching and restlessness propel us to keep learning, plowing the ground beneath our feet, they are themselves a form of arrival. In Rumi’s way of seeing life, perplexity is a blessed state, sometimes a necessary state. This idea has special resonance, perhaps, in the 21st century when so many basic definitions and institutions of previous generations seem to be up for grabs.

But Rumi’s recent “discovery” in the West also holds no little irony. I found this best expressed in my research by a British journalist, William Dalrymple:

"It seems almost unbelievable in the world of 9/11, Bin Laden and the Clash of Civilizations, but the best-selling poet in the U.S. in the 1990s was not Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, nor Shakespeare or Dante. … Instead, remarkably it was a classically trained Muslim cleric who taught Sharia law in a madrasa in what is now Turkey."

Yet as Rumi has been translated and popularized in the modern West, the religious sensibility behind his beautiful, best-selling words has often been lost.

Fatemeh Keshavarz is adamant on this point: Rumi was steeped in Islam. He represents and speaks to “an adventurous and cosmopolitan Islam.” The generous, cross-cultural appeal of his words reflects ideas at the core of Islam that are muted by the extremists and headlines of our time. To the extent that Rumi would deny or subvert those, he does so through his grounding in Islamic tradition, and his profound love for it.

Fatemeh Keshavarz, who was born in Iran — the center of the vast civilization that spawned Rumi and where he remains to this day a household name — takes special solace in Rumi’s insistence that we can create worlds and possibilities by way of language itself.

Where that part of the world is now concerned, Fatemeh Keshavarz says, U.S. political culture has adopted a language of fear. Rumi champions and models a language of hope. This is not tepid and naive but full-blooded view of human reality, fully aware of the double-edged sword of the passions and pulls of real human experience. In this, Rumi speaks to those of us on both sides of a real or imagined “clash of civilizations.”

As we conclude this show, I hear Rumi as a perfect voice for the spiritual longing and energy of our time. With his vigorous and challenging language of the heart, he reminds us that we need poetry as much as we need science, alongside our politics and within our diplomacy. We need passionate searching words, not just logical decisive words, to tell the whole truth about what it means to be human, and about the past, present, and future of our world.

Here is one passage of many I’ve seen quoted of Rumi, which I’ll now hear with new layers of relevance:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

~

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
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Convent in Cuzco
by Molly Fessler, guest contributor
Rumi wrote, “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”
Several years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Latin America, and I took this picture in Cuzco, Peru, where in the courtyard of an old convent, a flower blooms. Walking through the gardens, watching the sun fall through the abbey — joy.
Molly Fessler is a sophomore at Bryn Mawr College, studying sociology and peace studies.

Convent in Cuzco

by Molly Fessler, guest contributor

Rumi wrote, “When you do things from your soul, you feel a river moving in you, a joy.”

Several years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Latin America, and I took this picture in Cuzco, Peru, where in the courtyard of an old convent, a flower blooms. Walking through the gardens, watching the sun fall through the abbey — joy.


Molly Fessler is a sophomore at Bryn Mawr College, studying sociology and peace studies.

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Iran’s Spiritual Leader Isn’t a Hardline Islamist, But a Mystic Poet

by Melody Moezzi, guest contributor

Dancing ShadowA boy dances and leaps around in the Old City of Yazd, Iran. (photo: Mohamed Somji/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0)

Iran’s officially recognized “spiritual leader” today may be Ayatollah Khamenei, but for hundreds of years before the current establishment of mullahs and ayatollahs, Iranians of all creeds have looked to another spiritual leader: Jalal ad-Din Rumi. While this 13th century Persian Sufi poet is known in much of the West as “Rumi,” he is referred to more affectionately in Iran as “Mowlaana,” or the master.

Among Iranians, he is a spiritual guide and guru whose words hold unmatched moral authority. Over 700 years after his death, it is nearly impossible to spend a day walking around any Iranian city, suburb, or village and not hear his echo. His words live on in everyday parlance: No matter one’s station, religion, or occupation, everyone in Iran knows at least a handful of Rumi’s poems by heart. They are taught in classrooms as an essential part of the basic curriculum, but more than that, they are learned in homes, cafes, bazaars, parks, and houses of worship. No place is beyond this poet’s influence.

And there is no better way to understand that influence than through Rumi’s own verse, although it often defies easy translation. Still, English speakers have a wonderful resource in understanding Rumi — and Iran — through the translations of Coleman Barks, including the following:

“Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”

Understand this poem, and you will understand the soul of Iran — not just the role of religion or dogma, but the spiritual role of faith, love, and beauty.

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The Harmonic Chaos of Icy Sidewalks with Rumi and John O’Donohue

by Charity Burns, guest contributor

In the wake of a recent blizzard, cars were buried in snow, curbs of intersections were submerged in a grimy soup, and sidewalks became paths of ice. One day I was rushing to work. The sidewalk appeared mostly clear, way more concrete than muddy slush. I passed a young woman in thermal boots that I thought was going much slower than necessary, and then, about half a block later, I slipped.

My mind had drifted, probably thinking about the coffee that I would have time to drink before work, when suddenly my thigh, then my torso, then my chin hit the pavement. It was a minor spill, more surreal than scary because it seemed to happen in slow motion. Nothing hurt, but as I slid and was pressing my mittened hands against the ice, trying to resist my fall, I almost laughed at my inability to stop myself. Then finally, the force of gravity propelling me ceased and I found myself kissing a Brooklyn sidewalk glazed with dirt and ice.

This experience reminded me of the 13th-century Sufi poet Rumi, whom I have never really liked. Perhaps his poem has never found the right translator, but I’ve always found Rumi snoozerific and a bit pedantic. Nevertheless, I have been drawn to Rumi’s ideas and beliefs.

As many people know, Rumi was part of a mystical sect of Islam that celebrated its faith through a choreographed dance of spinning in long robes, the dancers known as whirling dervishes. As Fatemeh Keshavarz made clear about the Persian poet, this dancing was symbolic of the perpetual spinning of the universe and the idea that “everything in the universe is quickened with the force of love.”

The spinning dancers represented a willingness to be in harmony with the wonderful and wondrous chaos of the world. Though I still wouldn’t consider myself a Rumi lover, we share an appreciation of just how complicated each day on this Earth is, so many restless electrons, neutrons, atoms. Add to all that chaos the complicating fact that every person is a discreet planet, each subjected to its own ever-changing weather system of emotions, blizzards, heat waves, and drizzle. Every day we face the wildness of our own human experience.

And some days I am not able to whirl through all the wildness with the grace of an atom, or a dervish. Some days, I fall on the concrete on the way to work at eight in the morning because I wasn’t paying attention.

John O’Donohue, a poet from the west coast of Ireland who passed away a couple years ago, said before his death, “The world is always larger and more intense and stranger than our best thought will ever reach.” Rumi would agree that the world is spinning more wildly than we could ever fathom, but the Persian poet might then add that we need not fear because, if we fall, wherever we fall, there is love. You can’t fall wrong.


Charity BurnsCharity Burns is an English instructor and poet living in Brooklyn, New York. Her poetry has been published in Smartish Pace, Madison Review, Spoon River Poetry Review, and West Branch, and she blogs regularly at The Beauty Works Project.

We welcome your reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.

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Rumi’s Continuing Emergence in Our Culture

by Krista Tippett, host


A young man from Islamabad, Pakistan expresses himself through photography and the poetry of Rumi. (photo: "Spirit" by Esâm Khattak)

We’ve created a memorable hour of listening that’s fresh and lush with the sounds and the texture of the great Sufi poet, Rumi.

There is no formula for our shows, no template. Each begins with the raw material of a conversation, and we shape its pace and sound and elements around that. I think great productions emerge when the whole feel of the experience seems at one with the words being spoken, taking the listener more deeply into the passion and intent of the voice being heard. Creating this show around the life and words of Rumi has felt a little like having magic to work with.

I take away many gems of idea and image from my conversation with one of Rumi’s delightful 21st-century interpreters and successors, Fatemeh Keshavarz. Rumi saw human life and love as the closest we come to tasting and touching transcendence, and he approached all experience with his whole mind, heart, and body.

Keshavarz describes Rumi’s “whirling” around a column as he recited poetry — a habit that inspired the Whirling Dervishes of the Mevlevi Sufi Order — as a way to “stay centered while moving.” He believed that, as searching and restlessness propel us to keep learning, plowing the ground beneath our feet, they are themselves a form of arrival. In Rumi’s way of seeing life, perplexity is a blessed state, sometimes a necessary state. This idea has special resonance, perhaps, in the 21st century when so many basic definitions and institutions of previous generations seem to be up for grabs.

But Rumi’s recent “discovery” in the West also holds no little irony. I found this best expressed in my research by a British journalist, William Dalrymple. “It seems almost unbelievable in the world of 9/11, Bin Laden and the Clash of Civilizations,” he wrote, “but the best-selling poet in the U.S. in the 1990s was not Robert Frost, Sylvia Plath, nor Shakespeare or Dante. … Instead, remarkably it was a classically trained Muslim cleric who taught Sharia law in a madrasa in what is now Turkey.” Yet as Rumi has been translated and popularized in the modern West, the religious sensibility behind his beautiful, best-selling words has often been lost.

Fatemah Keshavarz is adamant on this point: Rumi was steeped in Islam. He represents and speaks to “an adventurous and cosmopolitan Islam.” The generous, cross-cultural appeal of his words reflects ideas at the core of Islam that are muted by the extremists and headlines of our time. But to the extent that Rumi would deny or subvert those, he does so through his grounding in Islamic tradition, and his profound love for it.

Keshavarz, who was born in Iran — the center of the vast civilization that spawned Rumi and where he remains to this day a household name — takes special solace in Rumi’s insistence that we can create worlds and possibilities by way of language itself.

Where that part of the world is now concerned, Keshavarz says, U.S. political culture has adopted a language of fear. Rumi champions and models a language of hope. This is not tepid and naive but full-blooded view of human reality, fully aware of the double-edged sword of the passions and pulls of real human experience. In this, Rumi speaks to those of us on both sides of a real or imagined “clash of civilizations.”

As we conclude this show, I hear Rumi as a perfect voice for the spiritual longing and energy of our time. With his vigorous and challenging language of the heart, he reminds us that we need poetry as much as we need science, alongside our politics and within our diplomacy. We need passionate searching words, not just logical decisive words, to tell the whole truth about what it means to be human, and about the past, present, and future of our world.

Here is one passage of many I’ve seen quoted of Rumi, which I’ll now hear with new layers of relevance:

Today, like every other day, we wake up empty
and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study
and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument.

Let the beauty we love be what we do.
There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.

~

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.

The Rumi Collection edited by Kabir Helminski There are many English translations of Rumi’s poetry available today. But, the craft of translating is a delicate art, one that calls for sensitivity and understanding of the Sufi master and his culture. The Rumi Collection, edited by Kabir Helminski, serves as a good introduction that includes translations by Coleman Barks and Robert Bly, as well as Helminski himself — a Shaikh, or master, of the Mevlevi Order — and others.

We’ve also provided a page of translations by Fatemeh Keshavarz on our website. Not only can you read the text of each poem, but you can listen to it in Persian or English too.

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Dancing with Sidi Goma: The Black Sufis of Gujarat
Nancy Rosenbaum, Associate Producer

I recently attended a dance workshop in Saint Paul with Sidi Goma, a troupe of African-Indian Sufis from Gujarat, India who were visiting Minnesota to perform at a local festival. I’ve explored a variety of mostly West African dance styles, but this practice was entirely new to me.

The Sidi people migrated from East Africa to India 800 years ago and it isn’t clear which modern-day African countries they originally hailed from. The Sidis express their mystical Sufi Muslim faith through an exuberant dance and musical tradition. The idea, as I understand it, is for the performers to connect with the Divine and inspire the audience to experience a kind of divine transcendence through this joyful expression.

As you’ll see in the video we’ve posted of the workshop, the dancing and rhythm picks up speed and culminates in a crescendo. I wondered whether there’s a connection here with the whirling dervish who practice the sema — a form of ecstatic worship we explored in our program on Rumi. Some of the Sidi dancers’ movements are inspired by animals — notably birds. You’ll notice how they use their eyes as much as their limbs. It actually reminded me of the popping and locking break dancers are known for.

At the end of the evening, another workshop participant fetched a cowbell from his backpack. The bell is a kind of percussive instrument sometimes attached to an African drum called doun doun. It seemed like the Sidis were unfamiliar with the cowbell, but their faces beamed with delight when it was played along with their instruments. Only one member of the group spoke English but we all danced and relished in the music together — a refreshing minder that movement and rhythm can transcend verbal language.

Special thanks to The Ordway and Paul Escalante for giving us permission to post this video clip.

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Iranian Potter’s “40 Angels”

by Colleen Scheck, producer

Maryam Kouhestani's 40 angels from "Clay in Her Hands"

Fatemeh Keshavarz, our guest in "The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi," periodically distributes a personal newsletter sharing her thoughts and opinions on Iranian news, culture, and US-Iranian relations and politics. What I enjoy most about these newsletters are the visual elements she includes that highlight  photography, art, and multimedia features that you wouldn’t find in U.S. media.

Recently she included a link to a slideshow of Iranian women potters describing their art. One potter, Maryam Kouhestani, talks about her striking piece of figures worshiping behind 40 angels:

"…My angels are children who were born old. They all look rough. They have not experienced the tenderness of childhood, but deep down they are still children. One of my angels is trying to tell her fortune. I got this idea from the children there. Their lives are so much at the mercy of fate and random events that they are always trying to find out what will happen to them next."
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Lunch at the Waldorf-Astoria with George Foster Peabody, Lesley Stahl, Krista Tippett, Tina Fey, and Stephen Colbert Kate Moos, Managing Producer
Monday a few of us had the great honor and pleasure of attending the Peabody Awards ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, where Speaking of Faith was honored for its program on the 13th century Sufi mystic and poet Rumi. We were packed cheek by jowl into the large ballroom full of peers in broadcasting from around the country.
My take away was the utter gravity with which this award is taken by people at every stratum of broadcasting, as a measure of quality and as a reminder of the promise that broadcasting holds not just to entertain (though surely to entertain) but also to inform, to nourish, and to challenge.
Here, our dear host enjoys the scene with our colleague and good friend Tom Voegeli, and his son Ollie. Tom, an accomplished veteran producer of public radio, won his fourth Peabody this year for the MTT Files, a wonderful series with Michael Tilson Thomas.
Thanks to all of you — our listeners and readers — for your intelligence, your warmth, and your engagement with our work. You make us very proud, and you are the reason we do this work gladly, with or without a Peabody.
(photo: Mitch Hanley)

Lunch at the Waldorf-Astoria with George Foster Peabody, Lesley Stahl, Krista Tippett, Tina Fey, and Stephen Colbert
Kate Moos, Managing Producer

Monday a few of us had the great honor and pleasure of attending the Peabody Awards ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York, where Speaking of Faith was honored for its program on the 13th century Sufi mystic and poet Rumi. We were packed cheek by jowl into the large ballroom full of peers in broadcasting from around the country.

My take away was the utter gravity with which this award is taken by people at every stratum of broadcasting, as a measure of quality and as a reminder of the promise that broadcasting holds not just to entertain (though surely to entertain) but also to inform, to nourish, and to challenge.

Here, our dear host enjoys the scene with our colleague and good friend Tom Voegeli, and his son Ollie. Tom, an accomplished veteran producer of public radio, won his fourth Peabody this year for the MTT Files, a wonderful series with Michael Tilson Thomas.

Thanks to all of you — our listeners and readers — for your intelligence, your warmth, and your engagement with our work. You make us very proud, and you are the reason we do this work gladly, with or without a Peabody.

(photo: Mitch Hanley)

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A Peabody Award!

Peabody Award statuetteby Krista Tippett, host

We’re all a little giddy around here today. This morning we learned that we won a 2008 Peabody Award, for our program on Rumi. This is broadcasting’s highest award, and for us it is a sign of arrival. Speaking of Faith launched almost five years ago as a weekly show. In the beginning, many simply didn’t believe that it would be possible to put a program on religion on the air without alienating, inflaming, or proselytizing.

It has been a great adventure pulling that off. And it has been a team effort to say the least. I include our listeners in that - listeners who encouraged and supported us and their public radio stations along the way, saying that, yes, this subject is too important not to risk finding a way to do it differently and get it right. I’ve sensed this past year that we are hitting our stride, finding our voice, in so many ways, and this award feels like a confirmation of that.

We will keep risking, experimenting and, I hope, getting better and better. But, for today, we’re celebrating and not getting much work done! Take a look here at the great company we’re in.

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