In this enlightening collection of lectures, conversations, discourses, and ruminative riffs, Jalaluddin Rumi (1207 - 1273) refers again and again to the yearning for God. He tells this story:

"A teacher was so destitute that during the winter he had nothing but a length of linen. By chance a flood had caught a bear in the mountains and swept it down with his head under the water. Some children saw the bear's back and cried out: 'Teacher, here is a fur coat fallen in the ditch. Since you are cold, take it out.' The teacher was in such need and so cold that he jumped into the ditch to get the fur coat. The bear dug its claw into him and held him in the water. The children cried, 'Teacher, either bring the fur out or, if you can't, let it go and come out!'

" 'I've let the fur go,' he said, 'but it won't let me go!"

Yes, according to Rumi, that which we desire desires us just as much, if not more so. The Beloved just won't let us go.

In some of these talks, the great Sufi master celebrates the unknowability of God. In others he identifies the presence of the Holy in the lives of ordinary people. "Everyone, sinner and saint, obedient and disobedient, demon and angel, is performing servitude toward God." Both the thief and the good person can help us learn about ourselves and others. "All people then do God's work, ignorant though they may be of God's purpose and even if they have in mind another purpose entirely."

Many of these conversations contain imaginative leaps that resemble Rumi's poetry. In 71 chapters, this Sufi teacher challenges us to consider God's awesomeness, the play of opposites, the sleep of heedlessness, the wisdom of Muhammad, the abundance of grace in our lives, the best way to read the Koran, birthing Jesus, and other aspects of the spiritual life.