What can you tell me of Love,
Whose pathways are filled with strangeness?
When you offer the Great One your love,
At the first step your body is crushed.
Next be ready to offer your head as his seat.
Be ready to orbit his lamp like a moth giving in to the light,
To live in the deer as she runs toward the hunter’s call,
In the partridge that swallows hot coals for love of the moon,
In the fish that, kept from the sea, happily dies.
Like a bee trapped for life in the closing of the sweet flower,
Mira has offered herself to her Lord.
She says, the single Lotus will swallow you whole.
~ Mirabai (trans. by Jane Hirshfield)
This is my New Year’s resolution: To lose my mind, to dive into the heart, to turn every moment of my life into a song of praise. Like the Hindu poet-saint, Mirabai, I want to be crushed by God, enclosed in His sweet flower, and swallowed whole by the Divine.
Do I sound a little crazy? Does what I want sound impossible, unlikely, extravagant? Then I’m on the right track. You see, I am tired of asking too little of my life and being disappointed if that is all I get. This year I don’t care about losing weight, eating better, or exercising more. I want nothing less than the total transformation of my being. I don’t want to be healthy, I want to be fully alive. I don’t want to have more fun, I want to know the fullness of joy. I don’t want to have better relationships with family and friends, I want to become Love itself.
There is a legendary story about the great Sufi poet and mystic, Hafiz. It is said that when he was still a young man, Hafiz fell in love with a beautiful woman. Desperate to win her love, he went to the tomb of a great Sufi master where it was believed that anyone who could stay awake for forty consecutive nights would be granted his heart’s desire. In his burning love for his beloved, Hafiz completed his forty day vigil, at which point he was visited by the angel Gabriel. He was so overcome by the beauty of the angel that he forgot all about the young woman. When he was asked to name his heart’s desire, he cried out: “I want God!” From this beginning, Hafiz became the God-drunk lover of the Divine who is still so wonderfully present in his ecstatic poetry.
There are two things that I take away from this story. The first is that any path, if followed with devotion and discipline, can become a path to God. In this case, it is the very human realm of romantic and sexual love that draws Hafiz to the revelation of God. But I would suggest that this would also apply to all the great religions as well. I will confess that I am not very picky when it comes to the ways God chooses to reveal himself. I mean, who am I to demand of God that he choose a particular face or dress simply to please my sensibilities?
Not that I think that it is a simple matter of my choosing one path over another. It is not the ego that leads in this, picking the bits and pieces it prefers from some spiritual buffet. No, my experience has been that certain things—moments, ideas, images—are filled with a power that can only be called Divine. I believe that it is in this way that my path chooses me. The individual definitely has a role to play—Hafiz had to stay awake for forty days before God was revealed—but the initial choosing belongs to God. And though it is the Christian path that has chosen me, that in no way precludes me from experiencing the Divine in other traditions as well.
The second idea I take from the story of Hafiz is that the heart of any path to the Divine is Love. And its two faces, as mentioned above, are devotion and discipline. In other words, Love is both a feeling and an activity. As the Hafiz story shows, there is a parallel between the relationships we have with other human beings, and the one we have with God. We are caught by some power that draws us into a relationship with the other and, in response, we take action to strengthen and understand that relationship.
But, just in case we make the mistake of thinking that the Path of Love is something merely sentimental or sweet, Mirabai, in her poem, lets us know that the road is not an easy one. She warns us that “when we offer the Great One our love,” we will be crushed, killed, trapped, and swallowed. Love, she is teaching, is a radical dismantling and de-centering of the ego. Perhaps what she is saying is that through love we return to, and become one with, the source of Love —“The single Lotus will swallow you whole.” In the Christian tradition these ideas are expressed in the words of John: “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God,” as well as those of Paul when he says: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
And so it is that I set myself the impossible goal for the New Year of being so completely overpowered by the Divine that all that is unworthy, all that is petty, all that is greedy and grasping and selfish in me is dissolved and I become, in the words of the old song, a fool for Love. I am under no illusion that this is a goal I can reach in this year or even in this life, but that is no reason not to make the attempt. Who knows? Maybe if I am disciplined and devoted enough, I might be able to say with Hafiz (as imagined by Daniel Ladinsky):
“It is all just a love contest. And I never lose.”