One dervish to another, What was your vision of God’s presence?
I haven’t seen anything.
But for the sake of conversation, I’ll tell you a story.
God’s presence is there in front of me, a fire on the left,
a lovely stream on the right.
One group walks toward the fire, into the fire, another
toward the sweet flowing water.
No one knows which are blessed and which not.
Whoever walks into the fire appears suddenly in the stream.
A head goes under on the water surface, that head
pokes out of the fire.
Most people guard against going into the fire,
and so end up in it.
Those who love the water of pleasure and make it their devotion
are cheated with this reversal.
The trickery goes further.
The voice of the fire tells the truth saying, I am not fire.
I am fountainhead. Come into me and don’t mind the sparks.
If you are a friend of God, fire is your water.
You should wish to have a hundred thousand sets of mothwings,
so you could burn them away, one set a night.
The moth sees light and goes into fire. You should see fire
and go toward light. Fire is what of God is world-consuming.
Somehow each gives the appearance of the other. To these eyes
you have now, what looks like water
burns. What looks like fire
is a great relief to be inside.
You’ve seen a magician make a bowl of rice
seem a dish full of tiny, live worms.
Before an assembly with one breath he made the floor swarm
with scorpions that weren’t there.
How much more amazing God’s tricks.
Generation after generation lies down, defeated, they think,
but they’re like a woman underneath a man, circling him.
One molecule-mote-second thinking of God’s reversal
of comfort and pain is better
than any attending ritual. That splinter
of intelligence is substance.
The fire and water themselves:
accidental, done with mirrors.
*translated by Coleman Barks