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Rumi and St. Francis: Healing Wisdom for Today

The past week or so has seen Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, hold hearings on Muslims in America, Libya devolve into another Middle East mess with Col. Moammar Kaddafi attacking his own people, and Christians beginning the 40-day-long Lenten fast and preparation for Easter. It's as good a moment as any to pause and learn from two mystics whose lives overlapped nearly 1,000 years ago.

The Muslim poet Rumi was born in Persia in 1207, and his writings provided the people who read his work a new perspective of the world and life. A few thousand miles away, an Italian Catholic friar from Assisi named Francis lived, and by his simple actions changed his community and an entire church. Both Rumi and Francis still influence us today.

Both of these men came of age in a time of great change and upheaval, a time of bloody conflict between followers of Islam and Christianity. Both Rumi and St. Francis, through their simple words and actions, preached a path of love, forgiveness, and understanding. While each was informed by different faiths, families, and local environments, their messages couldn't have been more similar and soulful.

These thoughtful and heart-driven men believed that we are all part of the same universe created by God, interconnected in more ways than we will ever know, and that our most important obligation is to care for each other as we would ourselves, and follow a path of love. Love drove the words they communicated, whether in poems or preaching, and the actions they took in their communities to lift up their fellow human beings.

Each concentrated on the values, dreams, and desires we all share as human beings, and not on the differences between us, whether it be language, ritual, manners or even faiths. Francis reached out with a humble and open hand and heart to those of Muslim faith, even while bloodshed between Christians and Muslims surrounded him. He wanted to follow the path of love Jesus Christ laid down a thousand years before him. A path the Catholic Church had diverged drastically from in his time.

Francis realized that the truest path to God was recognizing the divinity that exists within each of us, whether we are rich or poor, healthy or sick, famous or unknown. And that upon that divine recognition our purpose becomes one of compassion and love reflected in the manner we care for each other.

Rumi wrote thousands of amazing poems and words, in a language and alphabet Francis couldn't read, about the beauty of love and the power it has to change one's own heart and those surrounding us. Rumi also lived in an environment where hate towards Christians and others not of his faith burned like a bonfire all around him. And he, like St. Francis, believed that hate would only destroy the good in us, and the true path of faith was built with bricks of love and mortar of truth and understanding. Ever the devout and faithful Muslim, Rumi is quoted as saying, "Christian, Jew, Muslim, shaman, Zoroastrian, stone, ground, mountain, river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery, unique and not to be judged."

Today we are faced with many difficult problems -- war, earthquakes and tsunamis, poverty, illness, and tremendous worry and anxiety not unlike that of Rumi's and Francis's time. We are in an era of great economic and technological change that has left many people bewildered and looking for something to hold onto and bind us together as one. Many of our institutions have failed us and we no longer trust in them, and we wander in search of a sense of belonging and purpose as one.

Today we have many politicians and leaders who may have good intentions of protecting their faith or the homeland, whether here in the states or in the Middle East, but whose words and actions don't bring us together and instead highlight our differences and the distance between us. And this leads not to healing but to further harm.

I find it extraordinary that two people growing up at the same terrible time hundreds of years ago, but living in worlds far apart in nearly every way, saw the answer to our ills in the exact same way -- the healing power of love in thought and action. And maybe it would be good to recall the words that Francis is reported to have said, "So precious is a person's faith in God, so precious; never should we harm that. Because He gave birth to all religions." And as we each act from love towards one another maybe, to paraphrase Rumi, we can begin to unfold our own myth for our country and ourselves.