To Carry Our Heart through the World Like a Life-Giving Sun
Jan 3, 2004
Seven hundred or so years ago, the Sufi poet Hafez wrote the poem “Like a Life-Giving Sun.” I stumbled across it in a volume of poems by the great Islamic poet, edited, translated, and interpreted by Daniel Ladinsky. The book, called The Gift, contains some of the most beautiful poems about God that I’ve ever read. Truly, Hafez was in love with God.
When I read “Like a Life-Giving Sun,”1 I was absolutely transfixed. It seemed to express a most vital element of life and, in a few simple words, provided a core ethic of behavior that I resonated with completely. The poem is very short:
Like a Life-Giving Sun
You could become a great horseman
And help to free yourself and this world
Though only if you and prayer become sweet
It is a naive man who thinks we are not
For I see and hear brave foot soldiers
Falling on the ground in excruciating pain.
You could become a victorious horseman
And carry your heart through this world
Though only if you and God become sweet
There are so many people, writhing in pain in their daily lives, who react to the frequent misery of life with anger, resentment, hatred, and violence. When we see injustice around us or encounter mismanagement that hurts us (or others), our natural tendency is to oppose those selfish actions. In itself, righteous indignation is a good thing. Trying to improve society, or the organizations that we belong to, is laudable.
I believe that Hafez showed us how to “fight the good fight” without poisoning ourselves with the negative elements that we’re trying to combat. Communists used to say that the end justifies the means, allowing them to create slogans such as “With an Iron Fist, We Will Lead Humanity to Happiness” (posted in the Solovki Gulag concentration camp). In this century, orthodox Islamic terrorists ignore the teachings of their own Islamic poet Hafez and seek to establish a world of “Islamic peace” by killing men, women, and children without discrimination.
We ourselves (Good People Everywhere) are wont to condemn numerous fellow citizens for various outrages and character defects, placing them without remorse on the list we call “People We Don’t Like.” Since we don’t like them, often for “justified” reasons, we tend to write them off and turn our attention elsewhere.
Candidates for this list sometimes include individuals such as coworkers, associates, neighbors, bosses, teachers, students, and other folks with whom we come in contact on a daily or yearly basis. The list tends to get longer and longer as we go through life, and usually starts in childhood. It reaches full-blown vitality in high school, where we condemn our fellow students to the “List” without a moment’s hesitation, often based upon hearsay. “So, you say Joe’s a jerk? Okay, let me add him to my List.”
Thus we curse the darkness around us, forgetting that with every curse the darkness grows deeper. We become embroiled in a world of negativity and gloom.
Hafez wrote with such compassion of the “brave foot soldiers”—the common, ordinary people who go through life without any fanfare, trying to survive but sometimes going mad, falling on the ground, damaged and in pain. How many people in today’s world feel as if they’re ready to explode in frustration, unable to make ends meet, or unable to see their way clear of the often impassable brambles of daily life?
Even the nefarious folks we place on our People We Don’t Like List are without question experiencing suffering to some degree. If they were not, would they be so ugly, nasty, unloving, bitter, or just plain difficult in their manners or actions? Obviously Those People are not carrying their hearts through the world like a life-giving sun. We have it on the best authority—our own—that they are Deficient.
Yet the sun bathes even the Deficient in its warm embrace. It illuminates dark places, whether they deserve to be lit or not. As the Creator of the unconditional sun, God could do no less in His distribution of warmth and love. He is, however, stuck, so to speak, with us—Good People Everywhere, who are able to discern the deficiencies of others. For having discerned the unfortunate weak points of others we have demonstrated our moral superiority and have thus trapped ourselves.
Luckily for us, it’s a good trap. Unlike Marxists, who believed that the end justified the means, people who believe in decency, kindness, service, and unselfish love are convinced that the means to the end are the same as the end. To create a relationship of love, one has to express love to the other person. One has to serve, to care, to be kind and generous, if one is to bring happiness to others. Ethics such as these have been highlighted in the major religions of the world, and are common to peoples of all races and nationalities. Christianity, which teaches that one should love one’s enemy, has expressed this ethic for two thousand years. Certainly, if one should love one’s enemy, one should love those folks on the People We Don’t Like List. Oh, yes, we are trapped in the trap of love. For doesn’t God love them?
Even though we believe in love, it is in the actions of unselfish love that we often fall short. As Hafez said, “It is a naive man who thinks we are not engaged in a fierce battle.” It’s extremely difficult to carry our hearts anywhere, much less across the world.
However, when we and prayer become sweet lovers—when we and God become sweet lovers, then our hearts will be emboldened and filled with God’s kind, compassionate, and transcendent love. When we connect to the very source of love itself, then we will be able to ride as victorious horsemen (and horsewomen) and help to free ourselves and this world by carrying our hearts through the world like a life-giving sun.
1. "Like a Life-Giving Sun" -- From the Penguin publication The Gift, Poems by Hafiz copyright 1999 Daniel Ladinsky and used with his permission.
Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to his favorite motto: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”
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