Monday, 4 November 2019

Tripping over joy

Tripping over Joy

What is the difference
Between your experience of existence
And that of a saint?

The saint knows
That the spiritual path
Is a sublime chess game with God.

And that the Beloved
has just made such a fantastic move

That the saint is now continually
Tripping over joy
And bursting out in laughter
And saying “I surrender”

This poem which I have read to you in translation was written by a celebrated Persian Poet called Hafiz who lived about the same time as Chaucer so in the second half of the 1300’s. For hundreds of years his burial place in the garden city of Shiraz was a site of pilgrimage and it was Goethe who mainly introduced his poems to the west. His collected poems are a classic of the mystical, meditative and poetic tradition of his country. In this poem he asks us a question - what is the difference between you and a saint? He tells us that if we look up from ourselves, out from our introspective lost strategic maneuvering our human ineffectual grappling with the idea of God, the games we play to place God within our understanding we will discover that God is truly there.
Which of course is what the saints we celebrate today discovered and when we do that we will trip over joy bursting into a laughter of delight.

Written much earlier of course is Psalm 149 which is an eschatological hymn looking forward to the end of time when God has won the final victory and we are at his feet and we know who He is. We are exhorted to rejoice in anticipation, sing his praises to the congregation of the faithful but not only you notice with our lips but also by worshipful body movement and by melody of percussion and strings: “Let them praise his name in dance, let them sing praise to him with timbrel and lyre”

Often when we speak of heaven we talk of peace, of rest and quietness; there will be some of that in our service of thanksgiving this evening and it is comforting. I wonder if this image has something of retirement about it : books, grandfather clocks, good claret maybe? The funeral collect expresses this hope - “the fever of life is over and our work is done; then grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest and peace at the last. Nearly all the retired people I meet by the way, and by now I have met quite a number, say something like “I don’t know how I found the time to work!” Now I am not entirely sure why this should be so and I am, not quite yet you understand, ready to find out but I am in time hoping to find out what heaven is like and it may be that this image of passive rest and peacefulness is wrong:

In heaven we will be exceedingly moved to worship God, there we discover that we can praise him and there we may discover that heaven is a place that gives us rest but we are moved to worship day and night.

In the book of Revelation we read that even the angels are to be found before the throne and they worship him day and night in his temple. The most excellent of creation, who have never sinned, who are with God continually, not only cover their faces but fall in humblest adoration before the Lord.

If they are moved in his presence to do this then surely Hafiz is right at the last we will trip over in joy, burst out in laughter and surrender ourselves to total praise in every way imaginable. 

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