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
A thousand birds took a walk to the shore
early one morning.
Pecking through the sand
they sifted their early meal.
As the sun rose
their shadows shrank.
They lift their heads from time to time
listening for the sound that fills their breast.
Most lower their gaze
and resume filling their bellies.
They run from the crashing wave,
then scurry to catch her minor gifts.
Who look to the sea
and feel their wings flutter?
“I don’t like to fly over the ocean”
Again the calm whisper exhales to the horizon
raise their wings
and press their feet against the sand.
Which of these is the greater:
On the last descending step from church
I received my answer.
It is not, as you might suppose,
that they are all hypocrites,
to the off-beat of the drum.
As truth is found
Only in questions personal,
It is for me.
It is for you.
The cost may be great
but the soul is not for sale
nor for hire.
Do what you must.
The greatest duty
is to live
from the depths of your soul.
To hear the song the world sings
in harmony with your own
in the great inner amphitheater,
Your head on the rising and falling
Chest of Love.
Things seem quite clear. We trust our eyes. If our sight is blurred, we get corrective lenses and the world sharpens. We believe in the reality that we see. We accept what we observe and place (too) great faith in our interpretations. We operate from our understanding without second thought. How else could we live if we didn’t trust our vision?
And yet, though we often forget or ignore it, we know that there is always a deeper reality. A world that exists beyond the one that we live in every day. We know this world exists, but it remains a vague whisper in our minds, like the dream from a few nights ago. Just as every now and then a dream leaves a deep enough impression to stick with us over time, to overcome the veil of waking reality, so too this deeper reality sometimes raises above a whisper, sometimes lingers with us longer than the passing breeze.
To be present, fully present, is not an easy thing. David Benner, in his freshly published book, Presence & Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life, invites us to practice doing just one thing at a time, and to do it with presence. One might be thinking of the term mindfulness just as well.
“Being present simply involves letting go of all the usual ways we avoid the present moment.” (p. 22)
Investment. Choice. We have focus, we have mindsight. Where do we choose to place it, to invest it? If we want to be present to something, or someone, we must invest the fullness of our being and presence into that one thing, that moment, that person, that encounter with the tree or the sunset. There is a sacrament to the present moment that is truly all that we have. But we are often snatched out of the moment by our concerns, worries, anxieties, fears or hopes about our past or our future. The present moment is very easily robbed. And we miss the paradise around us. Continue reading