God’s Magpie

Your eye and this page
I am standing …

Into me

~ Hafiz

I’ve heard it said that our eternal life intersects our mortal experience every moment. We’re seldom aware of it but every now and then we’re offered a glimpse of this expanded dimension. It’s possible to come around a bend and … surprise! Your eternal nature greets you — your forever friend. Something like this happened to me when I met Hafiz for the first time.

Hafiz lived in the garden city of Shiraz in ancient Persia. He left his earthly body in 1389 AD but his physical departure hasn’t stopped him from scattering his crazy, funny, spiritually sane ideas over the earth like a continuous meteorite shower for the past six hundred years. Why hadn’t I encountered this luminous outpouring before? I must have been ripening toward an appreciation of Hafiz’s shoot-the-lights-out approach to celebrating the Divine.

Just show you God’s menu?
Hell, we are all
Starving —

~ Hafiz

Hafiz and I met unexpectedly — of course. He wouldn’t have it any other way. On a summer road trip from Northern Nevada to Colorado Springs, I stopped at a Trappist monastery outside of Old Snowmass in the Colorado Rockies. Saint Benedict’s is both a working ranch and a retreat center. The monastery cultivates hay, contemplative prayer, and silence. They also have a small bookstore which is where my rational mind said it was going. (I’ve always been a fan of Thomas Merton — a Trappist monk — so I figured I’d buy one of his books.) My heart, however, suspected this rationale was  a bunch of hooey. My real reason for visiting was a fascination with the monk’s commitment to keep conversation to a minimum. Writers tend to cherish places where silence has the upper hand.

I followed the gravel road to a cluster of buildings sheltered in a grove of fluttering aspens and gregarious magpies. No one else was around. Walking up the path, I followed signs to the bookstore and opened a heavy door. Peering in, I saw light from a wall of tall windows washing over shelves and tables loaded with books — my heaven.

Thomas Merton made a good showing among the metaphysical titles, but so did Mother Theresa, the Dali Lama, and Rumi. The Catholic monks of St. Benedict’s had eclectic taste. It was a contemplative’s candy store. So many points of view! So many prospective guides! I told my mind to shut up — and my heart to speak up. I was honing in on something …

Next to Rumi lay a mustard yellow paperback with frilly Victorian-style graphics. This? It looked a little stuffy and academic. I was skeptical. 

I almost judged the book by its cover but something compelled me to look inside. After reading a smattering of poems, I fell under Hafiz’s spell. He made me laugh. He made me think. He showed me the hidden world in plain view. Here was my beloved in a future life; a brother from before we were born; a companion I’d always sensed but never known.

I put the money for the book in a small wooden box the monks had left for that purpose and hurried outside. I needed a place to land. A few wooden camp chairs waited beneath the aspens. A magpie alighted on the back of one and then took off. I nestled into that chair. It looked across the high mountain valley toward Mount Sopris. Taking a deep breath, I opened the book and dove in …

 I am
A hole in a flute
That the Christ’s breath moves through —
Listen to this

Why complain about life
If you are looking for good fish
And have followed some idiot
Into the middle of the copper market?


Great religions are the

 Poets the life

 Every sane person I know has jumped

 That is good for business
Isn’t it

See what I mean? No piety here, but an infectious honesty whose cackling irreverence reveals the sincere reverence of a true pilgrim. That summer afternoon, I wandered in these heady poems for hours as thunderheads billowed above me unnoticed — until it started pouring.

The rain reminded me that I needed to continue my journey but I left that remote valley far richer than when I arrived. I’d spent the better part of a day touring eternity with my new friend Hafiz, the Sufi magpie. What an eye-opener.

Listen: this world is the lunatic’s sphere,
Don’t always agree it’s real,

Even with my feet upon it
And the postman knowing my door

 My address is somewhere else.

 ~ Hafiz

(Some critics claim Daniel Ladinsky’s English translations are more Daniel than Hafiz. For me, it doesn’t matter. I admire the teamwork between the 14th century mystic and the 20th century craftsman. Together, they rock.)