Skip to main content
Center for Action and Contemplation
Mystics on Fire with Love
Mystics on Fire with Love

“Cooked” by Love

Thursday, February 15, 2024

Author and educator Belden Lane recounts backpacking in the Ozark Mountains and finding inspiration in the work of Sufi mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi (1207–1273).

I’ve brought along an intriguing companion on this trip, the thirteenth-century Persian poet Jalaluddin Rumi. One couldn’t ask for a more down-to-earth, exuberant, God-intoxicated hiking partner. Conversations with him under the stars at night can be …  peppered with earthy imagery and raucous laughter. He talks of God in relation to chickpeas cooking on an open fire, the moon reflected on a pond’s surface, the scent of willow trees, or the longing of Potiphar’s wife for Joseph’s striking beauty. For Rumi, the encounter with the holy is always anchored in earthy human experience. Knowing the Great Mystery—discerning the will of Allah—is, for him, more like falling in love than like receiving instruction from a written text.…

The heart of Rumi’s teaching lies in the Sufi concept of tawhid (or “oneness”). This is a longing for mystical union with the Beloved, with the divine lover from whom one has been separated. In the opening lines of his most famous work, the Masnavi (his “flute songs”), Rumi portrays the soul as a reed cut from the damp reed-bed of God’s own heart. It yearns to return to its source, finding a transient joy in becoming a reed flute through which the divine breath of love’s fire passes. [1] Like a drunken fool, Rumi is smitten by love. He can think of nothing else.

The core of discernment for him, therefore, isn’t a question of “What should I do?” or “What is expected of me?” It is rather “What do I love? What arises now most naturally from my heart?” For this thirteenth-century Persian poet, religion isn’t primarily what you think, or even the actions you perform. It is what you desire.

Belden mentions “the shepherd,” a frequent stand-in for a regular person in Rumi’s poetry:

To borrow another of Rumi’s metaphors, the shepherd has been “cooked” and softened—roasted over a fire so as to be transformed at last into the shape of love. This radical change can be excruciating. The chickpea screams when the cook throws it into the boiling water: “Why are you doing this to me?” But when he understands that the cooking is meant to give him flavor, vitality, and an altogether new life, the bean stops resisting and welcomes the process of conversion. “Boil me some more,” he cries. “Hit me with the skimming spoon. I can’t do this by myself.” [2]

Discipline is necessary to transition from the raw to the cooked. Only over time is the lover transformed into the image of the beloved…. Love is a school of fire, Rumi teaches. You embrace its mystery only in losing yourself, in finally becoming what you love. In the process, you discover that what you had thought to be entirely outside had been within you all along.

[1] Jalal al-Din Rumi, Masnavi 1.1–10, in The Masnavi, book 1, trans. Jawid Mojaddedi (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 4–5.

[2] Rumi, Masnavi 3.4162–4164, 4200–4201, in The Masnavi, book 3, trans. Jawid Mojaddedi (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), 252, 254. Lane’s paraphrase.

Belden C. Lane, Backpacking with the Saints: Wilderness Hiking as Spiritual Practice (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 158, 159, 160.

Image credit: Wonderlane, Untitled (detail), Seattle, 2020, photograph, public domain. Click here to enlarge image.

A fire of love can fill us up and shine out with great strength.

Story from Our Community:  

I’ve realized something—the only difference between live and love is a vowel. We all have the capacity to wield the force of love. Sometimes it can seem almost insignificant because it adds up slowly—incrementally. But cumulatively, it is the greatest (really, the only) force in all God’s creation. —John M.

Navigate by Date

This year’s theme

A candle being lit

Radical Resilience

We live in a world on fire. This year the Daily Meditations will explore contemplation as a way to build Radical Resilience so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or burning out. The path ahead may be challenging, but we can walk it together.

The archives

Explore the Daily Meditations

Explore past meditations and annual themes by browsing the Daily Meditations archive. Explore by topic or use the search bar to find wisdom from specific teachers.

Join our email community

Sign-up to receive the Daily Meditations, featuring reflections on the wisdom and practices of the Christian contemplative tradition.

Hidden Fields

Find out about upcoming courses, registration dates, and new online courses.
Our theme this year is Radical Resilience. How do we tend our inner flame so we can stand in solidarity with the world without burning up or out? Meditations are emailed every day of the week, including the Weekly Summary on Saturday. Each week builds on previous topics, but you can join at any time.
In a world of fault lines and fractures, how do we expand our sense of self to include love, healing, and forgiveness—not just for ourselves or those like us, but for all? This monthly email features wisdom and stories from the emerging Christian contemplative movement. Join spiritual seekers from around the world and discover your place in the Great Story Line connecting us all in the One Great Life. Conspirare. Breathe with us.