Naming the Presence of Love

Prompted by the Storyteller’s questions, I have been searching my heart-memory. There are lines from the poetry of Hafiz that have come to me as though spoken by a Holy Loving Presence for whom I have no name. Hafiz calls that presence simply “the Friend”.

I speak his lines:

Ask the Friend for love,
Ask again.
For I have learned that every heart will get
What it prays for most.

Suddenly I recall the one poem by Hafiz that I do know fully, one I laboured to learn by heart.

There is one more, I tell you both, one I love so much that I think I can remember all the lines:

I saw you dancing last night,
On the roof of your house all alone.
I felt your heart longing for the Friend.
I saw you whirling beneath the soft bright rose
that hung from an invisible stem in the sky.
So I began to change into my best clothes
in hopes of joining you,
Even though I live a thousand miles away.
And if you had spun like an immaculate sphere
just two more times,
And bowed again so sweetly to the east,
You would have found God and me
standing so near and lifting you into our arms.
I saw you dancing last night near the roof of this world.
Hafiz feels your soul and mine calling for our Beloved.

I wait for a few heartbeats before I say: That’s really as much as I remember from Hafiz. Maybe I didn’t even get all the words exactly right.

I look directly at the Storyteller, impatience rising in me as I say: Now, will you please tell us about this story?

The Storyteller smiles, speaks calmly, apparently unaware of my annoyance with her:

Hafiz has given you all the teaching you require. I notice that you selected the poems that speak of love. The story of the Skeleton Woman, like Hafiz’ poetry, is about the passionate love of the Holy One for you. Hafiz is teaching you of that immense longing for union that is at the deep heart of this story, the longing that called out to the fisherman from the depths of the sea, though he did not know who called to him.

The One whom Hafiz calls the Friend, the Beloved, or sometimes God, is the Holy One who yearns so deeply for you, who loves your stumbling dance steps, who is so drawn by your longing that he/she comes to where you dance alone, ready to lift you into the arms of Love.

And then this Sufi poet teaches you one more secret. There is deep within you something so sacred, so holy, that it needs to lie down naked next to God.

I could have told you all of that myself when you asked, the Storyteller adds, but Hafiz is the better poet.

Now do you understand the story? It is about the human hunger, the longing for love, for deep union. This is a story of the yearning that draws flesh to flesh, the allurement that is at the heart of all of life, at the heart of the sacred seeking that first sent humans in quest of the Holy. They sought her among the stars when all the while she lay hidden in the depths of the marsh, in the bed of the sea, in the atoms, the cells, the very stuff of their own bodies.

There is utter silence in the well after she says this. You and I gaze at her, amazed.

You are the one who asks the question, the question I warned you, on our first visit here, not to ask, believing she would not answer.

Now I, too, need to know.

Who are you? you ask. The question spins in the well like a whirling dervish.

For answer, the Storyteller says, Bring your cup and I will pour out God.

That, too, is Hafiz! I say to her. But who are YOU really?

I am every particle of dust and wheat – you and I
Are ground from the Holy One’s Body. I am rioting at your door;
I am spinning in midair like golden falling leaves
Trying to win your glance.
I am sweetly rolling against your walls and your shores
All night, even though you are asleep. I am singing from
The mouth of animals and birds honoring our
Beloved’s promise and need: to let
you know the Truth.

I watch you open your eyes wide in surprise as she says all this.

But I am not impressed. I know she has not revealed anything.
That, too, is a poem from Hafiz, I say.
I begin at once to make my way back up out of the well, not even looking to see if you are ready to come. I do not say goodbye to the Storyteller.

References:
Clarissa Pinkola Estes gave us the “The Skeleton Woman” story and teachings in her book, “Women Who Run With the Wolves”, Ballantine Books New York 1992

Daniel Ladinsky brought Hafiz alive for our time by translating his poetry. “My Sweet, Crushed Angel” is from the CD “Hafiz: The Scent of Light”, trans. Daniel Ladinsky, published by Sounds True, Boulder CO, USA, 2002; you can also find this poem in Daniel Ladinsky “Love Poems from God” Penguin Compass, New York, 2002; “I Saw You Dancing” and all other excerpts of Hafiz’ poetry quoted here are from “The Subject Tonight Is Love” translated by Daniel Ladinsky, Penguin Compass New York, 1996, 2003

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