Hafiz approaches his readers, as always, with tenderness and compassion and a deep desire for us to have compassion for ourselves. For those of us raised in one of the Abrahamic traditions: Judaism, Islam, or Christianity, or in cultures shaped by those religions, what Hafiz suggests might sound like heresy. We live and die by our ideas of right and wrong, good and bad, moral and immoral. How else will be know whether God loves us, or not? How else could we determine if we are on the plus-side of the Divine accounting system? Would Hafiz really have us throw it out?
And he’s not alone. Most of the mystics I’ve studied share one message. Most people with near death experience share one belief.
There is nothing “but grace” on the other side.
If we knew that, would it really make us run amok? If we stopped throwing sticks at our heart, would we really behave more badly than we do today? If we knew deep in our bones that we are sacred, our lives are sacred, this earth is sacred, wouldn’t we treat it as such? And wouldn’t that change everything?
It’s hard to believe that I made it thirteen days before I introduced a poem by Hafiz, the masterful, 14th century Persian poet and Sufi mystic. I knew once I started I would never want to stop. Thirty days of Hafiz would be a pleasure for me.
Hafiz can make me laugh and cry, feel totally understood and totally bewildered, but never, never bored. The Gift, a collection of his poetry translated by Daniel Ladinsky, is my frequent companion. It sits on my bedside table and goes on just about every trip I do, dog-eared, penciled, highlighted, and full of mementoes from various locations. Hafiz’s mystical playfulness resonates deeply with me; I am always looking for a way to joy, to fun and laughter, to companionship with the people around me and with God. I love how Hafiz refers to God as “Beloved” and “Friend, “and calls his readers by those names as well. We’re all in this together his poems seem to say.
In this poem, I love how Hafiz portrays himself as an ancient real estate broker, looking out for a special client who has fallen upon hard times. (Who among us hasn’t?) “Fear” has become their habitat and Hafiz can’t bear to see it and is confident God will feel likewise. We cannot “witness” when we are in fear, rather only when “love and playfulness” radiate from our eyes. Can we trust Hafiz to get us relocated? I think so; after all, our souls once played footsie in the “Beloved’s womb.” Having just seen pictures of a friend’s newborn baby, I can honestly say, I believe that’s exactly where she came from.
Something that might be missed in a quick reading of the poem is the line that Hafiz delivers, almost sotto voce, a little secret about prayer: “If you/ Pray/ Somewhere in this world –/ Something good will happen.” In these little lines, in the middle of this little poem, he upends everything we’ve been taught about prayer and at the same time, redeems it. From our very first moments, we are taught petitionary prayer, to ask for things, or for things to happen. Inevitably, we are disappointed when they don’t, but what if our prayers were answered, somewhere and for someone? What if the energy, intention, love, devotion and faithfulness we put into our prayers enter the Divine womb to heal and help in ways we never know about?
That’s what my friend, Hafiz, does so well: offer encouragement, wisdom, compassion and love, each and every time.
I found this photo on Facebook this morning and it inspired a little year-end review. I decided it summed up what I discovered about myself in 2015.
In 2015, a few external things changed. Keara graduated from high school and went off to college. Finn got his driver’s license and stepped into the serious college hustle of AP classes, varsity sports and a job. Molly, our baby, became a teenager and is winding up jr. high, ready to launch into the next phase of her life. I am in the stretch run of having a house full of kids, and all the care that involves. Nowhere is this transition captured more poignantly than in the Team Kirks 2015 Christmas card. You can click on the link to watch it here. In the words of REM, it’s “The End of the World as We Know It.” Despite all the changes, we feel fine.
But what I have noticed even more than the external changes in my life are the internal ones, which the quote above captured so beautifully. In 2015, through the Living School and the people I have met there, through raising teenagers and meeting their friends, through reading, writing, teaching and everyday life, I have fallen in Love over and over again. Obviously, I am not talking about romantic love here, the heart-pounding flush of infatuation and the inevitable crush that follows. I am talking about Love – the Love that says Yes to all that is. The Love that can only be discovered when people reveal something vulnerable and true about themselves.
Dostoyevsky describes this Love beautifully in The Brothers Karamazov. It’s been twenty-plus years since I last read the book, but it has been mentioned three times in the last week by people I respect, and so it goes on the top of my reading list for 2016. Here’s is Fyodor’s commandment to Love:
Love people even in their sin, for that is the semblance of Divine Love and is the highest love on earth. Love all of God’s creation, the whole and every grain of sand of it. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light. Love the animals, love the plants, love everything. If you love everything, you will perceive the divine mystery in things. Once you perceive it, you will begin to comprehend it better every day. And you will come at last to love the whole world with an all-embracing love.
This Love is a gift, though most of us treat it as a burden. We’d rather have a facsimile, projection, or image of Love than the real thing. I know for most of my life, this has been true, with few exceptions. But in 2015, I began to see my own preferences for what they were: fear and self-preservation and this is not the kind of Love Dostoyevsky, the mystics, prophets and even Jesus talk about.
This year I fell in Love with all sorts of people who showed me a piece of their soul. I fell in Love with authors: Glennon Melton, Liz Gilbert, Parker Palmer, and Omid Safi. I fell in Love with poets: Rumi, Hafiz, David Whyte and Mary Oliver. I fell in Love with mystics, musicians and artists. I fell in Love with my own friends and family. I even began to fall in Love with strangers, the refugees and homeless and victims of all the “isms” of the world, though I am not yet sure how to show that Love appropriately. I have a feeling that will be the journey of 2016 and beyond. I have a feeling that is the journey of a lifetime. How do I serve those I Love? How do I meet them where they are?
We know that real Love changes us. Once experienced, we cannot forget the joy Love brings; we cannot un-know the secrets it reveals; we cannot re-harden our hearts. We are different on the other side of Love’s door.
My resolution for 2016 is to keep stepping over the threshold.
P.S. If anyone wants to read The Brothers Karamazov with me, comment below. I’d love to get a little virtual discussion group going!
Last Saturday, Tim and I had the privilege of attending the wedding of a darling couple. I’ve known Brianne since she was just a little tyke and she’s known her now-husband, Michael, for almost that long. The wedding took place in the same church where we were married over two decades ago. It was great to be back and recall the excitement and the nerves that accompanied us that day, but also the joy and the Love we felt. Watching Brianne and Michael, I am pretty sure they were experiencing the same.
In honor of this Thanksgiving holiday, I wanted to share with you the letter I wrote to them and enclosed with their wedding gift. I am grateful for my health, my family and friends, and my home, but I am most grateful for the opportunity to Love and to witness Love wherever it takes place, whether it’s halfway around the world, or in my own backyard.
November 21, 2015
Dear Brianne and Michael Blackmun –
Granted this is an unusual wedding greeting – a missive inside a card. Wait until you open the box. It’s an unusual wedding gift as well. But you two, like Tim and I, make for an unusual couple. Personally, those are my favorite kind. So, when you open the box, this is what you will find. Two coffee mugs, two dish towels and one very special book called Big Magic.
I often give one of my favorite books on marriage, The Zimzum of Love, to young couples just tying the knot. You two, however, having been together for ten years, need a little less advice perhaps than most in that area. I love how madly in love you two still are after all this time and I’ve got a little secret for you…
You might have been told your feelings will fade, that it won’t always be like this, but I look at you and I think, “They’re wrong.” Brianne, you are clearly in love with LOVE itself (so am I – it takes one to know one) and so I think your marriage will always be full of love – the romantic, playful, silly, affectionate kind of love. Yes, there will be hard times and struggles and dry spells, but I think they will be weathered with affection, good humor, grace and forgiveness. Your marriage will always feel like an adventure, in good times and bad, something to be eagerly embraced, thinking, “I wonder what tomorrow will bring.” Brianne, this gift of Loving joyfully and whole-heartedly is not something everyone has and Michael brings it out in you, so appreciate it and use it well! You hit the Love Jackpot, not just in finding the right guy, but in having a heart made for it. Congratulations!
But there’s more, so on to Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear. The author calls it basically a permission slip for everyone to use their creativity.
Brianne, you are one of the most creative women I know. I remember going to your college graduation party with your degree in studio art and looking at all your work and being blown away by the tender beauty of it all, especially your heart sculpture. I hope you have that piece somewhere on display still! You decided not to pursue your art professionally, which I totally understand, but what I want to say, as you’re making this lifetime commitment to Michael, is that I hope you have also made a lifetime commitment to your creativity. Your artful heart and creative spirit are the essence of you. I hope this book will encourage you to continue to find expressions and outlets for the art that wants to be born from your soul. It is so important, for you and the world.
A marriage is only as healthy as each of the people speaking their vows and our culture makes it so easy to hide our truest selves behind all sorts of masks. But a marriage between two hiders can’t become the fullest expression of Love and happiness. It can work for a while, maybe even a lifetime, but it won’t allow each person to flourish and become all they are meant to be in and for the world. In Big Magic, Liz Gilbert will remind you over and over again to be Brianne! Be Michael! Commit to practices of concern, compassion and courage in your Love for each other and for yourselves as well.
You have so many gifts and cards to open that I will stop talking now. This isn’t meant to be advice. It is just meant to be encouragement to listen to what your heart already knows. You and Michael clearly Love each other and are committed to the well-being and freedom of the other person. Keep living that out, all the days of your life!
With so much Love, hope and faith in you two!
Ali and Tim
P.S. – I couldn’t end without sharing one of my favorite poems from one of my favorite poets. This kind of Love works, but only if you’re both doing it!
Adapted slightly from Hafiz, a 14th century Sufi mystic and poet.
P.P.S. I wrote that letter before the wedding and sharing it here allows me to write a second post-script. I know that brides and grooms are technically supposed to be the ones writing the thank you cards after the wedding, but every time I leave a wedding, I feel like I’m the one who should be saying thanks. Not only are wedding days wonderful parties (and it doesn’t matter how big, or small the budget), they are also beautiful expressions of the energy, hopefulness and joy that Love builds and brings to the world. Since Love is my favorite emotion, weddings and newlyweds are some of my favorite things. Thank you, Brianne and Michael for delivering big time!