Whirling Dervishes


During the recent consultation on the theology and practice of reconciliation that I was periodically writing about before things fell apart pre-Easter, Derek Poole from the Centre for Contemporary Christianity in Ireland, made one of his usual "where did that come from" asides. For those who do not know Derek, he has a unique ability to speak apparently off the cuff (though I believe he practices for hours at home, pontificating to the bathroom mirror) at length, on almost any subject... and generally sounds like he knows what he is talking about! But quite often, one image or sentence will stand starkly out from the rest, having a greater resonance than that around it, and, since he never writes anything down, unless you have been taking verbatim notes, it will be nigh on impossible to trace the reasoning that tied this brilliant, but tangential comment to the rest of his stream of consciousness. For those who do know him (and indeed Derek himself), am I being unfair?

Anyway, this time, one of the things that stood out was a comment concerning "whirling dervishes". These are a sect within the Mevleviye, one of the most well known of the Sufi orders, founded in 1273 by the followers of Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, a 13th century Persian, poet, lawyer and theologian. "The Whirling Dervishes", perform a "dance" called the sema in honour of Allah. It apparently represents the mystical journey of a man's spiritual ascent through mind and love to the "Perfect" before returning from this spiritual journey, as a man who has reached maturity and a greater perfection, so as to love and to be of service to the whole of creation. At least that's what Wikipedia tells me, and we all know that is never wrong! (Actually I checked it elsewhere and it will do for the purposes of this blog!)

But meanwhile, back to the point, what Derek said was that, as the participants dance around their sheikh in a precisely prescribed symbolic ritual, each participant raises both hands with one palm pointing to heaven and the other to the earth. As such they are engaged in a something that both bridges the eternal and the temporal, the deeply mystical and intensely physical, a dance that is both centred and traces out a wide and increasing circumference.
That is what we, as Christians should be engaged in... Something that bridges heaven and earth; something that is centred on Christ, but which reaches out further and further as the dance continues...

That is the theory... Sadly, in reality the "Whirling Dervishes" have at times become a tourist sideshow, or even a Turkish "Riverdance", trailed around big concert venues on the whirling dervish world tour. Before long it may even become a TV reality show, fronted by Graham Norton.

And our attempts to bridge heaven and earth can also become devalued... We become "whirling dervishes" with no mysical centre, no spiritual choreography to our dance, just whirling around with no rhythm, rhyme or reason... OK, so there may be reason to it, but sadly it often just gets lost in the madness...

As I return to work today after a brief post Easter break, I took a look at my upcoming diary and asked myself "Am I dancing to the glory of God... or just whirling aimlessly?"

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