American society is one of consumerism. We are constantly bombarded with messages telling us about all the things we have just got to have. We shop. It used to be mostly in stores, then also in catalogs, and now it’s largely online. While the mediums have changed, the concept remains largely the same.
“What does this do for me?”
“Can I get it somewhere else for less?”
“Is it worth my time or money?
“What will others think of me if I buy this?
And while this most certainly applies to how we acquire consumer goods, it also increasingly seems to apply to our spiritual lives.
A new friend of mine introduced me to this poem the other day. It’s called “These Spiritual Windowshoppers” and it was written by a Sufi Mystic known as Rumi. It was translated into English by Coleman Barks as such:
These spiritual windowshoopers,
who idly ask, “How much is that? Oh, I’m just looking.”
they handle a hundred items and put them down,
shadows with no capital.
What is spent is love and two eyes wet with weeping.
But these walk into a shop,
and their whole lives pass suddenly in that moment,
in that shop.
Where did you go? “Nowhere.”
What do you have to eat? “Nothing much.”
Even if you don’t know what you want,
buy something, to be part of the exchanging flow.
Start a huge, foolish project,
It makes absolutely no difference
what people think of you.
There are a variety of ways we can read this poem. I’d be very interested in hearing the interpretations that others have. In fact, if you feel so inclined as to reflect on what this poem means to you, lease stop reading this post until you have had a chance to do so. I do not want my thoughts on this to unintentionally influence you.
If you have now given it some thought, I’ll share with you what I gleaned from this poem.
We live our lives seeking purpose; to find that which is greater than what we are as individual specs of dust in a seemingly infinite cosmos. We see a variety of options available to us in prominent faiths and secular causes. We consider getting involved; doing something; finding our meaning and purpose and trying to gain an understanding of the purpose of life, our Creator, and the other mysteries we ponder. We seek out various options. Even if we have chosen a given faith or cause, we consider the various ways we can be involved, how we can contribute. And yet, when we consider the costs, (What will this involve? What will it cost? What will others think? Will it really matter?) we shy away–“Oh, I’m just looking.
In our failure to do anything–to make a difference, to reach out to others and to God, to simply “look” and not truly “do” (or to be “in” but not “involved” or “committed”), we remain unfulfilled and unsatisfied. Our ability to love also lessens. (Love is truly one of those marvelous things that only grows larger and larger the more we try to give it away.) The longer we stay this way, the more of our lives we waste until we suddenly realize, it’s over.
If we do nothing greater with our lives than “make a living” without delving into the richer things of service and love, in the end, our answer to the questions, “What did you do?” “Where did you go?” “How will you be remembered?” will ultimately amount to, “not much.” This is regardless of professional/vocational/financial success. People are not remembered simply for what they did, but what they did for others.
So even if we’re not sure our choice is perfect, even if what we envision is not complete, go for it. Jump in. Do something. Have faith. Join “the flow.” Be a part of what is larger than yourself and more significant than any individual life.
Even if it’s something crazy–something that everyone else says can’t be done……..GO FOR IT! And to hell with the doubters and the trolls. Those are the folks who are scared of your success and will rejoice in your failure. But do it anyway.
Have faith. Have love. Be big. Be bold. Do good.
This is only my personal interpretation of the poem. I’m sure there are as many interpretations as there are readers of it and I would in no way claim mine to be correct nor would I claim any others incorrect. Like any other reading or form of art, we interpret what we see/read/hear through the “lens” of our own experiences and understandings of the world. (Frankly, I find that to be one of the most beautiful things about any type art–including scriptures–that each person who experiences it will have their own unique response to it.)
Should you have looked up the author of this poem, you will see that he died in the 13th century. Certainly, he wasn’t speaking about our modern society, right? I would simply say: “There is nothing new under the sun.” Human nature has been consistent for centuries. We do gradually improve, but the more primitive parts of our brains and bodies are the last to evolve.
My friend interpreted Rumi’s poem in a more Christ-focused manner and connected it with what has become one of my favorite passages from the Gospel of Matthew:
[Jesus said,] “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearl; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
If we consider the first half of this passage (the kingdom of heaven is a treasure that someone found in a field and then hid), we can see a parallel with Rumi’s poem. Both are telling us to “spend,” to commit with all that we have and all that we are. Because once we find that which is a joy–in particular, joy in Christ and the promised kingdom–we will be willing to forgo all we have to pursue it.
Of course, that is easier said than done. Take me, for example. I’m planning to start my seminary training this fall. Have I walked away from my profession to dedicate myself to this pursuit? No, I have not.
I also believe that God is working through me in his own timeframe. I do not believe that today I am the person I need to be in order to be a pastor. I see myself lacking in spiritual discipline and in the strength of my faith. I still feel the calling, and I know that I need the time to grow into what I believe God is calling me to be. As I heard in a song this morning, “God is not done with me yet.”
I mentioned this had become one of my favorite passages. This is not because of the first half, but because of the second, which my friend explained so well.
In the second portion, we easily miss that Jesus tells us that the “kingdom of heaven is like a merchant.” Because of how the first portion goes, it is easy to mistake that we are the merchant and the kingdom is the pearl. However, it clearly states that the kingdom is the merchant. This means we are the pearls.
And this is why I love this passage:
Just as the first portion says that when we find the kingdom of heaven we will willingly give up everything we have to obtain it, God, when finding us, loves us so that God is willing to give everything that we might be obtained. This refers directly to Christ’s coming to earth and his death on the cross. Because God finds us and loves us so much that God is willing to give up everything–including infinite power–to suffer as a human to prove the love that God has and to compensate for our weaknesses.
God knows that even if we are the person who finds the “treasure in the field,” we remain unable to give up all we have to acquire it. Even though we fail, God still sees us as valuable–so much that God is willing to sacrifice all God has in order to have us.
That is love.
God is love.
Go and share that love with others.