I attended a Taize worship service at the Law School yesterday. In addition to the Taize chants, we included two Hafiz poems that are on a CD of Hafiz’s poems, spoken to accompanying music.
One of the poems is one that I have always loved, A Hole in the Flute. The first line of the poem reads, “I am a hole in a flute that the Christ’s breath moves through. Listen to this music.”
I have always lived the image of Christ breathing through me, being the power behind that which I do in the world. The sense of being a channel of Christ in the world.
But today, for the first time, when I listened to the words I was stuck by the enormity of the difference between seeing oneself as one through whom Christ breathes – the flute, so to speak – and seeing oneself as one of the holes in the flute through which Christ breathes.
If there is only one hole, there is no music, only a singular note. The music comes from the air flowing through the different holes of a flute.
We are each holes in the flute. The music of Christ in the world comes not from our own individual effort – even our own individual effort inspired by Christ – but through our combined efforts, through the work we accomplish together in the world.
It is good to remember the difference. It is not just that it is Christ’s work we do, but Christ’s work that we do.
Yesterday I gave a retreat on the topic of Spirituality Across Faith Traditions. It was a very positive and powerful experience for all of the participants and for myself.
While it is true that there are real differences among the world’s major religions, it is also the case that there is much truth in faith traditions other than our own that we can affirm. In the words of Thomas Merton, if we embrace our own tradition merely by denying all that belongs to others, we will find that there is not much left for us to affirm in our own tradition, and “no breath of the Spirit with which to affirm it.” Both for the sake of our own spiritual growth and (for those of us engaged in spiritual ministry of one sort or another) for the sake of those to whom we minister, there is value in exploring universal dynamics that operate across faith traditions.
In the course of our day, we engaged in prayer and meditation drawn from several different faith traditions and talked about some core truths and core experiences that are common to all of the major world religions. Of central importance in my view are the common understanding among world religions of the importance of affective prayer experience, a shared vision of the communion and interrelationship of each of us to God (whether one uses the term God or not) and to each other, and a common understanding of the need to appreciate the impermanence of human existence and to develop an attitude of renunciation toward the world.
For both the opening prayer and the closing inter-faith prayer service, I took prayers, readings and/or poems from various faith traditions. One that I included in our opening prayer was a poem by Hafiz, titled The God Who Only Knows Four Words. It is quite simple, but also simply lovely. It reads:
Every child has known God.
Not the God of names.
Not the God of “don’t”s.
Not the God who ever does anything weird.
But the God who only knows four words,
And keeps repeating them, saying,
“Come Dance With Me, Come Dance.”
(Ultimately, I’ll create some podcasts drawn from my talks during the day…but it will probably take some time to get them recorded and posted.)
Here is a simple poem by Hafiz that captures my feeling at this start of a new day – the sense that God is there, as He has been all through the night…the knowledge that I will walk through the moments and hours of this coming day with God in my heart. It is called Keeping Watch.
In the morning
When I began to wake,
It happened again–
That You, Beloved,
Had stood over me all night
That as soon as I began to stir
You put Your lips on my forehead
And lit a Holy Lamp
Inside my heart.
Hafiz is a marvelous poet; if you are not familiar with his work, you should be. I hear these words and feel the comfort of God’s protective embrace…the taste of God’s kiss on my forehead…and the warmth of His love in my soul.
I was reminded last night of an image used in a poem by Hafiz, a 14th century Persian poet. The image is in a short poem called, The Christ’s Breath. Hafiz says simply:
I am a hole in a flute
that the Christ’s breath moves through–
listen to the music.
I was taken by this poem the first time I read it. There is something about the way it expresses the sense of our being an instrument of the Christ in the world, a channel through which flows Christ’s peace and love, that touches me deeply.
I think what I react to is both the intimacy and the interconnectedness. The incredible intimacy of Christ breathing through us…Christ’s breath flowing through us – and through us, into the world. And then the interconnectedness…the sense that I am not the whole flute, but only a part…Christ breathing through not only me, but also through you, so that it is together that we make beautiful music for the world.