The Guest House

Recently, I passed through a challenging period which left plenty of time for reflection and self-absorption. Some days, I was abounding with hope and optimism; whilst other days, I’d plummet into a pit of despair. It took little to trigger the familiar foes of fear, anxiety and dread, but what surprised me most was my reaction to the situation. Having anticipated trouble, I thought I was equipped to handle it. After all, I had my toolbox of faith and a close relationship with God, so I wasn’t unduly daunted by the task ahead. Consequently, it was quite a shock to find myself subsumed in a sea of misery, where my faith couldn’t reach me and my usual ebullience failed. Eventually, it took a thirteenth-century Persian poet to help me understand the significance of what was unfolding.

Rumi’s The Guest House, is a poem renowned for encouraging people to embrace whatever life throws at them, but I was particularly fascinated by his insistence that we welcome the dark times and “be grateful for whoever comes, because each has been sent as a guide from beyond”. The poem is an absolute masterpiece and as I absorbed its underlying message, I considered my situation from a fresh perspective and acknowledged the unintended benefits of my predicament – spiritual growth.

I have been on a spiritual journey for a long, long time. That doesn’t mean I’ve hidden away in a hermit’s lodge and meditated from dawn to dusk, in blissful isolation. To the contrary, I live with my family and juggle the usual commitments of modern life, balancing both work and home. This means that through sheer necessity, my quest to know God has been incorporated into daily life and I rely on unfolding events to progress my faith.

As I reflected on the wisdom of Rumi’s poem, I realised that when things go well, I learn very little. However, my relationship with God has developed over many years, through numerous milestones and it’s my struggles, which have been the greatest teachers. Only when I’m at my lowest ebb, vulnerable, empty and helpless have I come to see and know God at His most magnificent.

Rumi’s poem reminded me of something I’d forgotten – that the darkness is a guide. It’s during the darkness that I purge my pain and exorcise demons, only to discover they are imposters masquerading as truth. It’s the tough times, which force me to confront the authenticity of my faith and question whether I really believe in God and if I do, whether I can rely on Him. It’s hardship, which reminds me my future is dependant solely on a powerful God and not an uncertain world. On the spiritual path, these are invaluable offerings for the misconceptions they correct and the faith they inspire, ready to be deployed even as the next catastrophe prepares to strike.

So I thanked Rumi, not just for his timely intervention in bringing me perspective, but also for the spiritual alchemy which followed, when I allowed the darkness to envelop me.

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