An LDS Perspective on understanding Sufi Mystic Jalal al-Din Rumi’s Poem, ‘What Jesus Runs Away From’.
‘What Jesus Runs Away From’ is a poem written by a Sufi mystic named Jalal al-Din Rumi. In The Essential Rumi, a book filled with Rumi’s poems and translated by Coleman Barks, I was struck by many of the hidden messages that I found within. Even though this was not written by someone with the same Religion as I, I found common ground in the way he spoke about Jesus. Each poem about Jesus presented him in different ways: as someone who has mastered the flesh, as the Spring, as existing everywhere we look, etc. It was when I came across the poem ‘What Jesus Runs Away From’ that I came to a stop. I read and re-read the poem, but could not understand what Rumi was trying to get across to his readers. I couldn’t understand what it was that Christ was running away from and why that was important. It was this confusion that led me to study and write about this particular poem. I wanted to understand what Rumi was trying to get across- what he was trying to make others understand when he spoke this poem aloud. I honestly don’t know if I’ve quite reached what he was intending for us to know as my own beliefs, though similar, are different from the Sufi beliefs that Rumi had about Jesus, but this is what I have gained from this Poem through pondering it, studying it, and especially reading it aloud as he did.
The poem starts with Jesus running and climbing up a slope. Someone sees this, recognizes him, and is curious enough to follow after him. Why in the world is Jesus acting in such a way? The two engage in a dialogue after the man repeatedly questions Jesus with no response. Jesus’ response makes up the majority of this poem as he finally answers the person’s question. He speaks of his power over the things that surround him- his ability to change them. Jesus then speaks of the ones, though, who refuse to change at the words of Jesus. The ones who instead look to God in anger and mock those who follow God and Jesus. He states that this is who he is running from. This is a summary of the poem on the surface- it was this that I originally saw when I first read through this poem. I could tell that what I was thinking and understanding was merely the frame of the poem itself, but I couldn’t figure out how to get behind that frame and see the true meaning beyond. I felt puzzled; confused at the actions of Jesus. In my mind, Jesus has always been a man of strength, one who does not turn away from the mocking words of others. It was at this point that a realization came to me that changed my outlook on the poem: I was the someone mentioned in this poem who saw Jesus and wondered just what could frighten the powerful Jesus in such a way. It was here that my understanding began to develop past the previous frame.
This someone was a person who certainly knew of Jesus as they recognized him; knew of the power and miracles he had done. They, like me, were confused at his action’s. Placing myself in the poem as the person following Christ, I hoped that this would lead to a deeper understanding of the poem. This is the Christ who fasted for 40 days and afterwards when he was tempted by Satan, did not listen and turned him away. This is the man who was punished, spit on, mocked, and crucified by those who saw him as nothing more than a mortal man and a criminal. He faced those people and finished the task that he was sent down to Earth for. In every miracle and part of his ministry, he was reaching out to others, determined to help them in some way. It was through pondering this that I realized that I was picturing an incomplete Christ. Yes, Christ is loving and kind and always reaching out to help. But, he is also the man in John 2:13-16 who saw the Temple of Jerusalem being used by merchants and drove them all out of the Temple. He is the great and powerful Jehovah from the Old Testament who in Genesis 19:26 turned Lot’s wife into salt due to her looking back and longing for the belongings of her past and the one who warned in Luke 17:32 for people to remember Lot’s wife. He is also the bride-groom in Matthew 25:1-13 who turns away the five foolish virgins who did not fill their lamps with oil because he did not know them(or as I take it, they did not truly know him and so were merely strangers). While Christ is the Savior, he is also a just being like God is.
It was while thinking on these stories of Christ turning away many people that an LDS scripture came to mind: “For I the Lord cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance; nevertheless he that repents and does the commandments of the Lord shall be forgiven”(D&C 1:31-32). Christ is always ready and waiting at the door for those who hear his words and wish to change. But for those foolish ones- like the Temple merchants, Lot’s wife, the five foolish virgins -he doesn’t accept them. He turns them away and doesn’t invite them into Heaven. That is what I believe this poem means to me: while Christ is the loving Savior who wishes we can live with Him and our Heavenly Father, he is also the Just and Perfect Christ who must stand and judge those who go through life. If they are foolish and refuse to change, then he cannot accept them. People like this, “…remain rock, or turn to sand, where no plants can grow”(Rumi, 204). They have sowed nothing and so they have nothing to reap in the end; no fruit to eat in the afterlife as they planted now in their mortal life. As they have nothing to reap or fruits to eat after their mortal life, Christ cannot accept them and turns away from them.
These people he turns and runs away are not just foolish people, though. They are not just people longing for material things, like Lot’s wife and the Temple Merchants; or those who have not collected their oil or sowed anything. “Like cold stone you sit on a cynic steals body heat”(Rumi, 204). These people who refuse to change are not just hurting their own eternal salvation, they are also risking other’s eternal salvation. They see the warmth and truth that followers of Christ have and actively work against it, to lessen it and make it go away. They, like Satan, wish to deceive us so that we cannot return to Heaven to be with Christ and God. They are like Korihor from the LDS book of Alma, preaching to the people who follow Christ to turn their backs on Christ, calling the religious people foolish for believing in Him and God. Even more, “…this non-responding breeds violence and coldness towards God”(Rumi, 204); they are like Laman and Lemuel from LDS scripture. They gripe and complain and mock the things of God; they rebel against their father and are often driven to anger or even violence against their brother Nephi for his beliefs. People like Korihor, Laman, and Lemuel do not listen or believe the words of Christ and their stubborn attitude towards change breeds anger and violence towards God and his followers, enough that they begin to actively work against God and his followers. Most of all, instead of emulating God, they are emulating Satan. Like him, they turn their backs on God and His Truth; “He doesn’t feel the sun”(Rumi, 204)- in Sufi Poetry, the Sun is often a symbol of ‘Truth’ in this case I see it as meaning the truth of God. Korihor, Laman, Lemuel, and Satan cannot see or understand the fullness of God’s truth and so they actively work against it, destroying the lives and beliefs of many who once followed Christ and God.
That brings us to the last two sentences of the poem, “Jesus wasn’t running from actual people. He was teaching in a new way”(Rumi, 204). This is Jesus’ purpose in this poem- there is no one actually chasing him, no foolish people wishing to do harm. Christ is not afraid of them; they have already set themselves up to be locked out of the Kingdom- an eternal being like Christ doesn’t fear after their actions. No, this poem is a warning. Christ is telling this person following him(and all of us reading) to beware of foolish people like Lot’s wife and the five virgins- to beware of angry people like Korihor. He is telling us to flee like Joseph did when faced with Potiphar’s wife. Do not let people like this drag you down and steal away the Light of Christ that lives inside you; do not let their words sway you from the path that Christ has made for you. To reference the story of Alma, hold on to the iron rod and keep your eyes towards the Tree of Life- do not turn to look at the tall and spacious building of foolish people who mock your religion or your choice to follow God. Do not fall away in shame or become lost, hold on tight to the Gospel of Christ and make your way towards the Tree of Life, following the back of the Savior who was the first down the path; an example for all to follow.
In addition to this, we must remember Christ as he is. Yes, he is our Messiah and Savior- he came down to earth, created miracles like healing the deaf and blind, bled in the Garden of Gethsemane for our sins and afflictions, and died on the cross so that we may all live with God. But, he is also Jehovah and the Great Judge- he is just and cannot accept those who refuse to change their lives, to leave behind the mortal trappings they once followed. As a perfect and just Being, he will see the sins of those who refused to change and turn them away as, like the five foolish virgins, they do not know him. We must actively seek to learn, know, and understand the perfect and complete vision of Jesus Christ- to truly understand the bride-groom so that we may be able to enter into the Kingdom of God at last once this mortal life is over. That is what I have interpreted the poem ‘What Jesus Runs Away From’ by Rumi to mean within the bounds of what I understand of Christ and His gospel. It may not be what Rumi intended when he spoke and created this poem, but it is the truth that I have discovered for myself beyond the original frame of this poem.
Link to the Poem
Here is a free version of ‘What Jesus Runs Away From’ by Rumi for you to read!
Jalal al-Din Rumi, Maulana. The Essential Rumi: New Expanded Version. Translated by Coleman Barks with Reynold Nicholson, A.J. Arberry, and John Moyne. pp. 204; HarperCollinsPublishers, 1995.
The Holy Bible: King James Version with Explanatory Notes and Cross References to the Standard Works of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1979.
The Book of Mormon, The Doctrine and Covenants, and The Pearl of Great Price. Translated by Joseph Smith. Salt Lake City, UT: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, 1982.