It’s said there’s something auspicious about things happening in threes.
A week ago, that was the case when I tuned in The Road Home as I turned in for the night. As luck would have it, I heard Bob, the program’s creator and host, give an update to an episode I’d heard from the previous week, wherein he recited a wonderful story by the great Persian Sufi, Hafiz, as interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky. I was deeply taken in by his first reading of “Bring the Man Here,” and then I and the community of Road Home devotees were treated to hearing it again, as context for his friend, Danny’s reply to receiving a recording of that original reading. Then, given some restless nights last week, I heard for it for the third time, early the next morning during rebroadcast.
Bring the Man to Me
A Perfect One was traveling through the desert.
He was stretched out around the fire one night
And said to one of his close ones,
“There is a slave loose not far from us.
He escaped today from a cruel master.
His hands are still bound behind his back,
His feet are also shackled.
I can see him right now praying for God’s help.
Go to him.
Ride to that distant hill;
And about a hundred feet up and to the right
You will find a small cave.
He is there.
Do not say a single word to him.
Bring the man to me.
God requests that I personally untie his body
And press my lips to his wounds.”
The disciple mounts his horse and within two hours
Arrives at the small mountain cave.
The slave sees him coming, the slave looks frightened.
The disciple, on orders not to speak,
Gestures toward the sky, pantomining:
God saw you in prayer,
Please come with me,
A great Teacher has used his heart’s divine eye
To know your whereabouts.
The slave cannot believe this story,
And begins to shout at the man and tries to run
But trips from his bindings.
The disciple becomes forced to subdue him.
Think of this picture as they now travel:
The million candles in the sky are lit and singing.
Every particle of existence is a dancing altar
That some mysterious force worships.
The earth is a church floor whereupon
In the middle of a glorious night
Walks a slave, weeping, tied to a rope behind a horse,
With a speechless rider
Taking him toward the unknown.
Several times with all of his might the slave
Tries to break free,
Feeling he is being returned to captivity.
The rider stops, dismounts – and brings his eyes
Near the prisoner’s eyes.
A deep kindness there communicates an unbelievable hope.
The rider motions – soon, soon you will be free.
Tears roll down from the rider’s cheeks
In happiness for this man.
Anger, all this fighting and tormenting want,
God has seen you and sent a close one.
God has seen your heart in prayer
And sent me.
Ladinsky is one of the west’s foremost interpreters of Hafiz, having published three volumes: The Gift, The Subject Tonight is Love, and I Heard God Laughing. I travelled to Europe with only two books, a small handbook of Rumi, and Ladinsky’s Love Poems from God, a collection of poems from twelve sacred voices from the East and West. Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat, on their Spirituality and Practice website, describe Ladinsky as “an audacious talent with a big heart, a keen sense of humor, and a creative way of looking at things,” inviting us to make playful our relationship with the Divine. Audacious and irreverent came to mind when I read laughing his introduction to Love Poems from God:
“I think God loves bootleggers—defiant poets who ferment the air as they sing and lift the corners of our mouths. Words about God should never bore because God is the opposite of boring. And what we say about the Gorgeous One should make Him appear a knockout. Whoever made this Universe is a Wild Guy. I think only our ecstasies offer any real clues about Him.”
Bob acknowledges that not everyone is as enamored by his audacity, and that he draws severe criticism in more traditional circles. Nonetheless, I find his interpretations accessible, current, necessary and yes playful, inviting me to take myself less seriously.
So why so taken by “Bring the Man Here?” An auspicious sign to have heard the story not once, but three times in a matter of days, hence worth consideration. In search of the words, I found myself at a beautiful blog called Heartsteps, a site created by someone who calls himself “Pilgrim,” as his “hook for working through a daily spiritual practice: a journal, breadcrumbs to mark his progress…to remind him to stay on the path” …the road home. Reading and re-reading, as I stayed present with my initial impulses, like dream interpretation I recognized myself in each of the characters: the Perfect One, the close one, the slave, the cruel master.
Suffice to say, there is much for me to sit with and hold light, in a playful way, which in itself might be lesson enough. And, stumbling into Heartsteps, I realized a simple way to write more regularly here, by rescuing the moment when a poem touches my heart.