One of the constant themes in our household is wondering how people did things, built things, discovered things back in the day. Do you wonder that too? Like when you see an image of Chartres Cathedral, consecrated in 1260, and you think, "How in the world did they build this beautiful church without electricity, without cranes, without....well, everything it takes to build a building?" And who designed it? Who even conceived of such an edifice in the 1190s, flying buttresses and all?
Can you imagine living in the 13th century? Does it seem so primitive? Like ancient history? Imagine if you were a soldier with Genghis Khan? What would your life have been like? Maybe you wonder what it would have like to travel with Marco Polo who traveled from Venice all the way to China to reside in the court of Genghis's grandson, Kublai?
Rumi, the beloved and famed Persian poet, was born in what's now Afghanistan in 1207. Interestingly, his family moved to modern-day Turkey to avoid the marauding armies of Genghis Khan. Small world. Ha. How far apart are Turkey and China today? Oh, right. Same as they were 810 years ago. Even then, one far-away country could intimidate another.
Think it's bad now? Overall, the 13th century was a busy time. There were the Crusades -- the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth; an ill-fated Children's Crusade was an abysmal failure. English noblemen force King John to sign a document presaging a trial by jury of one's peers. Zen Buddhism arises. The Inquisition begins. Jews in England are restricted to living in established Jewish communities only. The works of Thomas Aquinas are declared to be heresy by the Archbishops of Paris and Canterbury, and Salvino D'Armate invents eyeglasses. The first college is founded in England. William Wallace attacks England in a bid for Scottish independence.
In this one so-long-ago century, remember, this is simply how the world was. No comforts of home as we know it. No electricity. No plumbing. No rights for women or children or most of the men. No refrigeration. No heat.
And yet. And yet! Just look at the mind-blowing activities that went on.There was brilliance. There was magnificence. There was ... well, there was life just exactly as we know it. There was love, devotion, connection. There was creativity and imagination. There was hope, inspiration, belief and aspiration. There was mindfulness and joy. Hadewijch of Braban wrote this then:
You who want
see the Oneness
the clear mirror
That could have been written yesterday. There was, and there always is, humanity.