from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Sunday, 27 November 2011

'The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death'

Not long after 9/11, I was due to lead a workshop with primary school children in rural Devon. As in many rural areas, multiculturalism as a lived concern is an irrelevancy, as other ethnic groupings are almost non-existent. Also, as in many rural areas in England, especially impoverished ones, the prevailing political current is right-wing, and not terribly well-informed. (Obviously, I'm making a gross generalisation here; but having been brought up in rural Devon myself I'm allowed to pronounce!)

Going about the place after 9/11 it was common to hear children spout deeply anti-Muslim stuff, presumably having heard it from parents.

The workshop was to take place in a museum which also houses a collection of fine Barum ware: pottery thrown from the local earthenware clay.

Like so many of us, I feel deeply troubled by divisiveness and its implications, and by how swiftly hatred is inflamed. Driving up to the venue I was musing on the tragic events of the past weeks, politically, while a bit of my mind was occupied also by the day ahead, and how, as workshop leader, I can encourage children to think inclusively in relation to the world we live in. Suddenly inspiration struck: I know by heart a little poem by the Muslim mystic and weaver Kabir, the C15th poet reputedly connected with Sufism (which the exquisite mystic poet Rumi is credited with starting).

The poem was to prove a good starting point for a discussion of what Islam has brought the West (it's easy to forget the elegance, wisdom and breadth of Islamic art and culture, brought by the troubadours through Spain to Provence whence it spread; and not least the Courts of Love, so embraced by Eleanor of Aquitaine, which changed forever not only our relationship to – believe it or not – the Divine Feminine but also to romantic love, which simply didn't exist in northern Europe before the C12th. See also my novel Imago.).

As well as providing a counterpoint to knee-jerk anti-Islam fundamentalism, the poem was also literally relevant to the pottery collection  on which the first part of the workshop was to be based, as well as opening a discussion about who we are and about inclusiveness (yes I did indeed feel very smug!).

The reason I mention all this is because I have been listening to the wonderful album 'The mystery of love is greater than the mystery of death' by the late Scottish Romany musician Jackie Leven, who died a few weeks ago. The poem here is recited on the album by the deep-voiced Robert Bly, he of Iron John fame.

'Inside this clay jug
there are canyons and pine mountains
and the maker of canyons and pine mountains.
All seven oceans are inside
and hundreds of millions of stars.'

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