Category Archives: Poetry

“And flesh and blood so cheap!”

 

Happier were those pierced by the sword than those pierced by hunger, whose life drains away, deprived of the produce of the field. – Lamentations 4:9

The words of the Prophet Jeremiah echo loudly today as we witness the brutality and senseless violence in South Sudan. The echoes can be heard in the headlines as the world’s leading relief providers have already started warning of an even uglier tragedy beginning to unfold in that young and reeling nation.

Famine is coming to South Sudan. Unless immediate response is mounted we are being told to expect the starvation, not of dozens of children, not of  hundreds of children, not of thousands of children, but to prepare for the unnecessary death of tens of thousands of innocent South Sudanese children.  These are the children who will  starve to death within the next six months, pierced by hunger, unless we act to prevent it.

Already malnourished and weakened, these children cannot survive the agony of their life draining away as it will during the hunger season. Once the rains begin the hope of these children, the life of these children, will wash away.

I am reminded of the words of Thomas Hood, the 18th century English poet. In The Song of the Shirt he wrote:

“Oh, God! That bread should be so dear!
And flesh and blood so cheap!”

the perfect stillness

It’s always a mystery to me how our consumeristic society can so quickly and easily turn something so beautiful into something so profitable. Valentine’s Day is a case in point.

In three days we will celebrate Valentine’s Day. And all of us know what that means. For anyone with a spouse, partner, or significant other, the day “mandates:”
A. an expensive (and for full credit) sentimental card
B. a box of fancy chocolates
C. at least a dozen red roses
D. a nice dinner (preferably at a restaurant of note)
E. jewelry or (in extreme cases)
F. all of the above

Cash registers across the country are singing their happy song! How much can we be guilted into spending to insure that special someone really knows how much we care?

What never ceases to amaze me, however, is how completely we have bought into this mindless “spend to prove you love me” orgy. Love is not about roses, or even chocolates, no matter how decadently delicious they might be. While giving thoughtful gifts to those we love is never out of season, poor Saint Valentine is surely rolling over in his grave at the way we profane his day.

I’ll talk more about the saint in my next post, but for now I just want to close with a poem from one of the most influential female saints in Islam. Her name is Rabia of Basra, and she lived around 717-801. She is another of my favorite poets. The poem is entitled THE PERFECT STILLNESS.

Love is
the perfect stillness
and the greatest excitement, and most profound act,
and the word almost as complete
as His name.

the ultimate truth

I am a poet. And although I enjoy almost all poetry, I am especially drawn to the work of mystical and ecstatic writers. The struggle to express the inexpressible is a powerful magnet for me.

One poet I read a great deal is the the great Indian mystic, Rabindranath Tagore. I recently came across a quote from him worth repeating.

In love we find a joy which is ultimate because it is the ultimate truth.

Tagore is right. Love is the ultimate truth. As the Jewish theologian, Martin Buber, wrote, “He who loves brings God and the world together.”

Isn’t this exactly what our broken and hurting world needs? Isn’t this what will lead us to a world where hunger is nothing more than a distant memory?

Abdul Baha, who lived in the mid nineteenth century, captured my feelings perfectly in I HEARD HIM SAY, when he wrote:

Let us have love and more love; a love that conquers all foes, a love that sweeps away all barriers, a love that aboundeth in charity, a large-heartedness, tolerance, forgiveness, and noble striving, a love that triumphs over all obstacles.

This is the love of dynamite power. This is the love that heals the world. This is the love that can end hunger in our lifetime. This is the love in which we can truly find the joy that is ultimate. This is the love that is the ultimate truth.

the Great Old One

Without a doubt, my favorite poet is Shams-ud-din Muhammad Hafiz,  Born in Shiraz, Persia in the early 14th century, and Iran’s most treasured poet, Hafiz is also considered one of the greatest lyrical poets of all time.

What draws me to Hafiz is that his poetry is both inherently ecstatic and sacred. All his poems are solidly rooted in what Daniel Ladinsky calls "the Mystical Ground of Unreason – and a love and experience that surpasses the intellect, time and space." There is always a wonderful playfulness in the poems of Hafiz, but there is also an inescapable logic and truth.

I love that Hafiz was fearless in his renderings of our human condition, and even more importantly, of the depth and passion of God’s love for each of us. I also love Hafiz’s unique vocabulary of names for God.

For Hafiz, God is so much more than the Father or the Mother. Hafiz knew God as the Sweet Uncle, the Generous Merchant, the Problem Giver and even the Clever Rascal. God is the Music, the Dancer, the Wine, the Beautiful Companion. God is the Tavern Keeper, and above all, the Beloved,

Known for centuries as "The Tongue of the Invisible," Hafiz sings wild and beautiful love songs to us from the heart of God. Even though diluted through time from the 14th century, his poetry is so rooted in God’s love that it continues to offer courage, hope and joy to a world hungry for the presence that only comes from walking with the beloved.

All to often we forget that God loves us far more than we can ever imagine. We forget that we live and move and breathe surrounded by a love that infuses all creation with a glory and power beyond comprehension. Hafiz is one who helps bring that truth back into focus for me.

BEAUTIFUL HANDS

This is the kind of Friend
You are —

Without making me realize

My soul’s anguished history,

You slip into my house at night,

And while I am sleeping,

You silently carry off

All my suffering and sordid past

In Your beautiful
Hands.

finding happiness

Searching for happiness is something familiar to all of us. There are libraries full of books on the subject. Checkout counters in almost every grocery store have racks filled with magazines full of articles on how to make your significant other happy or how to find happiness for yourself. 

All of us are interested in being happy and in helping those we love find happiness. Where can happiness be found? What is that one ingredient that will insure real and lasting happiness?

One of my favorite poets, the great Indian mystic, Rabindranath Tagore, had an answer that I really like. Tagore wrote,

I slept and I dreamed that life was happiness. I awoke and saw that life was service. I served and found that in service happiness is found.

I am attracted to Tagore’s understanding of how to find happiness because this is exactly what I have experienced in my own life. Searching for happiness is a waste of time. I have never been able to find happiness by looking for it.

The shortest path to happiness, and even beyond happiness, to deep and lasting joy, is to stop looking for it and just to start serving those in need.

If you want 2012 to be your happiest year ever just reach out to those in need. Join with Stop Hunger Now in service to the world’s poor and hungry, or find a local organization that needs help.

How and where you serve isn’t important. Happiness and joy will be found in the service you give wherever that might be. Find opportunities to serve and you will find more happiness than you can imagine.

Have a happy and joy-filled New Year!

if saying…

One of my favorite mystic poets is the great Indian poet, Kabir. Born of Muslim parents around 1440, he became a disciple of the Hindu bhakt saint Ramananda and is revered by Muslims, Sikhs, and Hindus, alike. Today, Kabir is one of the most widely quoted writers in India.

In one of his poems there are some lines that speak powerfully to our innate ability to deceive ourselves. We seem to have an endless capacity for missing, or even deflecting the deepest and most powerful truths.

Nowhere is this more true than in the way we can go through life “talking the talk, without walking the walk.” Kabir points to the futility of such self deception in these lines:

If saying Ram (God) gave liberation
saying candy made your mouth sweet,
saying fire burned your feet,
saying water quenched your thirst,
saying food banished hunger,
the whole world would be free.

Ending hunger will not come about by us talking about the poor and hungry. Studing the facts about hunger is important, but in itself accomplishes little.

We will end hunger when we realize that we have to act. As the writer of the Letter of James puts it in the New Testament,

If one of the brothers or one of the sisters is in need of clothes and has not enough food to live on, and one of you says to them, ‘I wish you well; keep yourself warm and eat plenty,’ without giving them these bare necessities of life, then what good is that?

There are literally thousands of ways we can work together to do something positive on behalf of the world’s hungry. And nothing we do is to small to make a difference.

Stop Hunger Now was founded with the vision of all of of working together to end hunger in our lifetime. So my prayer is simply that all of us would understand that,

our love is not to be just words or mere talk, but something real and active.

Often poetry has the power to convey far more of the emotional impact of hunger than any prose could ever hope to do. Such is the case with this powerful poem by Katrin Talbot, reprinted from Empty Shoes.

 

THE TRANSITIVE PROPERTY OF HUNGER

Through the hot callous dust
     of noisy Tijuana
   we saw her up ahead of us
     in a sunbaked doorway—
   baby on hip,
     bitter impatience in
          in her eyes,
   one hand out
     as we approached;

I gave a bit
     of what was
          needed—
   with that, she turned and
     carried the baby
          and the humility
   around the corner.

 A few doorways,
      corners later,
   out came the same hand
      and the downcast eyes—
   the baby stared blankly out
      into a future with
           and without food—

      and my stomach
                            tightened.

St. Francis of Budapest

I have just discovered a wonderful litttle book of poetry entitled EMPTY SHOES, Poems on the Hungry and Homeless. Although most of the poems focus on the poor, hungry, and homeless of the United States,  these issues are universal. And there are a number of poems in EMPTY SHOES dealing with the same issues with a more international focus. This poem by Susan F. Kirch-Thibado is one example.

 

Feeding the Pigeons

From his sack he draws golden
bread crumbs, scatters them at his feet.
As if by invisible signal they come–
the hungry and the opportune.

Their feathers catch the sun setting
over his bent shoulders. Dressed
in tuxedos of quick-silver gray,
mottled white-brown, iridescent
blue-black, they feed on his fare.

Sack empty, he walks back
to his alcove in the stone wall,
lies down on his bed of paper and rags–

St. Francis of Budapest closes his eyes and sleeps.