A Knowledge Born of Suffering

Albert Bierstadt, “Rocky Mountain Goats”

Spiritual Sunday

I am in Manhattan today visiting my new grandson so my friend Susan Schmidt, author of the wise and inspirational blog Let’s Choose Joy, generously contributed the following post on a Rumi poem.  The natural connection Sue sees between Jesus and a writer from Islam’s mystical tradition should undermine the hard and fast lines that believers often draw between the two religions.

By Susan Schmidt, Let’s Choose Joy

Over dinner my husband searched for words to explain someone he knows. He is really good at rooting for the underdog, he finally said. He’s concerned about the disenfranchised.

Rooting for the underdog is an American past time. Hollywood loves to give us stories of come-from-behind victories, and we love to cheer as the improbable happens before our eyes. Still in real life, we’d rather be the front runner throughout; most candidates would prefer to leave the ballots having first place secured rather than wondering when the base will begin to build. And who willingly moves on back if given the opportunity to be first?

But giving up prominence is something that Jesus thinks is essential to being a part of the Kingdom of God. “The first shall be last,” he tells his disciples, “and the last shall be first.” During his Sermon on the Mount he elaborates with lines like: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” and “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

The following poem by Rumi, the 13th century Sufi mystic, was introduced to me by a friend. For years she was housebound. Suffering from physical and emotional setbacks, there were times she despaired of literally getting back on her feet. But, like the lame goat in the poem, she has finally made it to the water and is starting to head back along the path. She brings with her a knowledge born from suffering that will, I am convinced, become a great gift to the world.

Those who struggle in the back of the pack do not often aspire to leadership. Or if they do, their infirmities, their “deficits” make it unlikely that they will be heard. But that need not matter. Although consigned to the rear, the quiet offers an opportunity to hear an oft missed voice. Left to their own devices, oblivious to any pressure to perform, they are free to take their time, exploring in their dreamy way, what others may never see. Friends, parents, colleagues may be worried about their future. Yet over time they become attuned to a presence others overlook. Perhaps no one is more surprised than they at the turn of events that brings them into leadership.

What can we learn from the lame goat? That we need not push ourselves forward, or berate ourselves for our slowness. There are treasures to be gained from walking contentedly in the back for a season. Developing a strong and confident inner life, rooting ourselves in the deep and eternal presence that undergirds all things, these practices are what develop the resources we will need when the time comes to lead the herd home.

The Lame Goat

By Rumi

You have seen a herd of goats
going down to the water.

The lame and dreamy goat
brings up the rear.

There are worried faces about that one,
but now they’re laughing,

because look, as they return,
that one is leading.

There are many different ways of knowing.
The lame goat’s kind is a branch
that traces back to the roots of presence.

Learn from the lame goat,
and lead the herd home.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

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