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Filtering by Tag: Hafiz

In a Handful of God         

Jean Hoefling

Chama al-Din Muhammad Hafiz (Public Domain)

In a handful of the sky and earth, In a handful of God, We cannot count All the ecstatic lovers who are dancing there Behind the mysterious veil.

True art reveals there is no void Or darkness.

There is no loneliness to the clear-eyed mystic In this luminous, brimming, Playful world.Hafiz, nineteenth century Persian poet

Artist Andrew Wyeth painted “Pentecost” in memory of a child in his Maine community who had been washed out to sea during a storm. “They couldn’t save her. I was thinking about the young girl’s body floating there underwater, and the nets became her spirit.”

Painting in the heyday of the mid-20th century fad of abstract expressionism, Wyeth was often criticized for the politically incorrect, dogged realism of his work. “More real than reality,” as one journalist of the day put it, referring to Wyeth’s intricate representations. The journalist is right without realizing it, for who can take in an exhibit of Wyeth’s paintings (which I had the privilege of doing on a white-white day last winter) and not be drawn in by the insistent expression of the unseen spirit breathing in all of them—whether tangled in the sparse grass of an ocean dunescape, glancing through diffused light on a stoic New England face, or coaxing our sense of wonder in the haunting way Christina on her hill leans upward toward… what, really?

“The wind blows where it pleases,” Jesus said. The Spirit is as real as anything we can see, swelling fishing nets and billowing through white curtains and drawing our eyes skyward for no reason at all. Its presence at our back can makes us turn around once again (compulsively and against our better judgment), to try to discover Who it is that persists in walking in silence at our elbow.

In a handful of God, all eternity resides, and the poet is right in saying that true art reveals there is no void or darkness. All the earth is a container for the divine, and Wyeth understood instinctively—as an artist though perhaps not a theologian—that for the innocent, drowned child, death had opened up to life. Ordinary, humble things are the first to fill up with the splendid, so that we might see and be reminded of what reality actually is.

Mad Faith

Jean Hoefling


Why all this talk of the Beloved, Music and dancing, And Liquid ruby-light we can lift in a cup?

Because it is low tide, A very low tide in this age And around most hearts. We are exquisite coral reefs, Dying when exposed to strange Elements. God is the wine-ocean we crave— We miss; Flowing in and out of our Pores.    —Hafiz

The tide is low around our hearts—deadly low. Things haven’t changed much from the fourteenth century when the Persian poet Hafiz penned his poem, “Why All This Talk?” The craftiest thieves of our souls are safety and mediocrity, spiriting away the cup of ruby-light that is our birthright before we’ve had a chance to take a sip. Yet how to access the high tide that buoys us into the arms of the Beloved, that wine-ocean we crave? Tides can kill. They purge and roar and threaten to drown. Sort of like God. So we live the spiritual equivalent of children of five or six who still wear helmets to ride their scooters down the sidewalk. Dang we’re good at getting through life without sustaining a single head injury.

Not so the Celtic saints, who from all accounts operated on one speed and that was high. Christ himself said that the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force (Matthew 11:12). Those Celts seemed to actually believe that, wrestling out their sanctification in ways that astonish today. They built their churches and beehive cells as close to the roaring coastal waters of the Hebrides Islands as possible in order to feel closer to God’s power and, dare we say it, his danger. Their prayer caves were so proximal to the surf that during bad storms the sea sometimes pushed its fury into these caverns where men and women of mad faith were praying as though their souls and the spiritual future of the British Isles depended on it. Yes, the Celtic monastics chose to be cornered by God, and they loved it.

A fellow monk once observed the saintly prior Cuthbert standing all night in the sea with the water up to his neck. When asked why, Cuthbert is said to have replied, “If I’m not facing death when I pray, I’m not really praying.” The applications to our own scant spiritual pursuits won’t be lost on most of us. Why we don’t get out there in the deep water is anyone’s guess. After all, Aslan isn’t particularly safe, but he is good.