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Pondering God from the dunny



On the main street where I live are three public toilets. They're set back a couple of metres from the footpath, a large square concrete basin providing the only buffer between the toilets' occupants and the locals going about their business. I was busting this day, so I used them. As I sat I noticed some graffiti on the otherwise clean door of the stall: 'What you are seeking after is seeking after you. — Rumi.'

A man looks pensively into the sky after writing philosophical graffiti on the wall of a dunny. Illustration by Chris JohnstonA beautiful, soulful verse for the frail, alienated children of late capitalism, right? An invitation to live in expectancy, as if you belong in the world. But underneath, someone had struck through the What and written Who, and the Rumi and written God.

I pondered, in the days following, why I was so peeved. It's not because God infuriates me — she doesn't, unless I'm in a too-angry-to-believe phase, or the god is a version unworthy of God status (the sociopath sending almost everyone to hell forever). It peeved me because this graffitiing of someone else's graffiti felt pedantic and slightly violent. That perfectly ripe Rumi quote, wafting a magnolia breeze of expansiveness and freedom through a public toilet stall, had been killed, there on the wall, like a joke deconstructed or a butterfly impaled on a spike.

Rumi had wafted through the quantum field, where we're all included, and then someone with an urge to crap and a texta came along and turned it into dreary obligation, needing to line God up in the correct order as if only then would the light shine in.

Reductionism can make humans violent. It felt like right there in front of me was the reason for wars the world over. It felt like the moon Rumi pointed to with his finger — those experiences of exquisite flow, when the universe speaks, the synchronicity that makes you stop and wonder just how alive it all actually is and you commune — had been, with a few slashes, squashed down into tediousness, someone's dogma.

But really, how would I know what that person's conceptions were? Just because they were slashy with a pen didn't mean they had a reductionist view — though an understandable assumption, with 434 billion pieces of singular human historical behaviour to back it up. 

This person could have as easily been driven by an urge to try (and utterly, irritatingly fail) to point towards their experience as incredibly intimate, a pervasive feeling of beingness — that they were looking at Someone looking back. That to not name them was a slight. An offence, even.


"My personal experience has been that it's people who are scared God's a massive bastard who need to pin God down and kill God in the process."


But the very best experiences of God — if indeed that's what they are — go better when they're unnamed, don't they? God goes better wrapped in poetry. God, if They are so far above us and unknowable, would do better for her own sake to be wrapped in metaphor so that we don't mistake our own psychopathy for his and project them onto it, surely?

My personal experience has been that it's people who are scared God's a massive bastard who need to pin God down and kill God in the process. Still, I was trying to give our Rumi defacer the benefit of the doubt.

Maybe for them it was like being in love, and someone saying your lover's no different to anyone else. Though you know on the mundane level they're right, you're not living in the mundane. You're in love, and your lover is the only one you are in love with and ever want to be in love with. The exclusivity of being in love makes suggestion of its commonality an insult.

It's like saying what they're feeling is just a bunch of biology, a set of chemical reactions that occur every day and they'd do just as well being in love with that person over there. You'd surmise from that statement that maybe the speaker had never been in love at all, or had forgotten.

I don't quibble with people framing the experience of that immeasurable space as God. For all we know, that could well be. Or perhaps what so many of us experience so profoundly is something less ... personal. For all we know, there's no god but the quantum field, the morphic field, the cosmic consciousness, the Us, the Whatever.

Whatever or whoever it is, it's mysterious and beautiful. Rumi was onto that. It's why he resonates. It's why you never need to mess with someone else's words when they're loving the unpinnable, that which can only be experienced. To do so is to piss into the wind.



Sue StevensonSue Stevenson has had political commentary, essays and short fiction published in Eureka Street, Southerly Journal, The Big Issue, New Matilda and Independent Australia. She is an unironical hugger of trees and a bit of an anarchistic lover of the mystic. She blogs sometimes, when the ME allows.

Topic tags: Sue Stevenson, Rumi, God



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Existing comments

Toilet humour. Or toilet seriousness. The writing on the wall. It's enough to seriously unhinge. I can only talk, and write, about the God I encounter. Through the bible, through mysterious offerings, through original perspectives and through other people. No one else's ego, or mine, should enter that space.

Pam | 24 January 2020  

There is, apparently, in each of us a hole shaped like the Hound of Heaven. There is also, simultaneously, it seems, no passion in the world equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft.

roy chen yee | 26 January 2020  

I can empathize with your being peeved - 'pissed off' to use an appropriate phrase - with the graffitied graffiti in that public bog. Perhaps a bog is not the place for spiritual reflections to be posted? As a believing and practicing Muslim, Rumi would be horrified: toilets are unclean places to them. See a loo in Pakistan and you'd understand. God is everywhere, but respect is important: it's called Holy Awe, something we seem to have lost. A pity. You certainly have a sense of the numinous in wanting not to broadcast spiritual experiences. I'm convinced most people have them, they just don't talk about them.

Edward Fido | 28 January 2020  

Thanks for the thought provoking reflection. Do we not live as communicants in a spaced and timed world of communication? Communicants, communication? Vis-à-vis a singularity which suggests an otherwise communicator beyond space and time? And why not a Self-Communicator, an Absolute, since to be otherwise is to be outside space and time? So could the mystery we live with, more or less, be an invitation to give ourselves immediately to what is mediated all around us?

Noel McMaster | 28 January 2020  

Maybe -maybe - the ‘corrector’ wasn’t really. Maybe she was just seized with sudden joy and the desire to affirm, agree, expand and join in a conversation with the original graffiti artist (who wasn’t Rumi, after all). If they’d been face-to-face, she might have cried ‘Yes! And I wonder if it isn’t God who’s searching for us?’ You can’t have conversation via graffiti, and such an awkward attempt to do so only spoiled the moment for future readers. But recognising the joy, the longing to connect and share - if that’s what it was - could be a source of joy and connection, too. Maybe?

Joan Seymour | 28 January 2020  

You're right Joan Seymour. Mevlana Rumi did not decorate dunnies. I can vouch for the fact that there is no graffiti in the toilets near his mausoleum.

Edward Fido | 28 January 2020  

I enjoyed reading this robust, feisty, mystically insightful and earthy article. The free spiritedness of expression and a sense of the sublime is a great gift as we live in a time of quick quotes and mangled borrowings of mashed-up wisdom, the origins of which we can be quite ignorant of.

Kim Elizabeth Langford | 01 February 2020  

Love this Sue. Can we love Rumi, love God and have a wee with glorious relief?

Jorie Ryan | 01 February 2020  

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