I am often looking for spiritual books which might help my prayer and, especially, jog my imagination about God in my life. By chance, I found an excellent such book in Love Poems From God: Twelve Sacred Voices from East to West, Daniel Ladinsky, editor (New York: Penguin Compass, 2002). The book contains poems written about God (or as if they came to us from God) from Christian mystics (e.g. Catherine of Sienna, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, St. Francis Assisi, Meister Eckhart, St. Thomas Aquinas) as well as poems by Sufi mystics such as Rabia, Rumi, Hafiz, Kabir and a poem by a Hindu mystic, Tukaram. The glorious role of the mystic poets is to help us accept God more as He is—and ever less than our prejudices and fears want him to be.
One has to dwell on and linger on those lovely love poems from and for God to get their full impact. But I wanted to share some of the best lines which captured my attention. Rabia, an early female Sufi mystic, states: "My eye kept telling me 'Something is missing from all I see.' So it went in search of the cure. The cure for me was His beauty, the remedy for me was to love." In a remarkable poem by Rabia which prompted me to ask what pet name for God I have, she says: " Would you come if someone called you by the wrong name? I wept because for years he did not enter my arms; then one night I was told a secret: Perhaps the name you call God is not really His, maybe it is just an alias. I thought about this, and came up with a pet name for my Beloved I never mention to others. All I can say is—it works!" Reflecting the apophatic tradition about naming God, Rabia says: "Since no one really knows anything about God, those who think they do are just troublemakers!"
Assisi was a poet as well as a mystic. He once said, perhaps mindful of his visit to the Sultan: "So precious is a person's faith in God, so precious; never should we harm that. Because He gives birth to all religions." In another poem, Francis states: "God came to my house and asked for charity. And I fell on my knees and cried: 'Beloved, what may I give? 'Just love', he said, 'Just love'." In another short saying, Francis asks: "Can true humility and compassion exist in our words and eyes unless we know we too are capable of any act?" In one lovely poem, entitled, "God Would Kneel Down," Francis opines: "I think God might be a little prejudiced. For once He asked me to join Him on a walk through this world, and we gazed into every heart on this earth, and I noticed He lingered a bit longer before any face that was weepling, and before any eyes that were laughing. And sometimes when we passed a soul in worship, God too would kneel down. I have come to learn: God adores His creation." This same Francis once said: "The priest and the prostitute—they weigh the same before the Son's immaculate being." The Jesuit in me loved the poem when Francis notes: "It was easy to love God in all that was beautiful. The lessons of deeper knowledge, though, instructed me to embrace God in all things."
Rumi, one of the greatest poets in history, urges a life lived with passion: "With passion pray. With passion work. With passion make love. With passion eat and drink and dance and play; Why look like a dead fish in this ocean of God?" Again, Rumi reflects: "If God said, 'Rumi pay homage to everything that has helped you enter my arms,' there would not be one experience of my life, not one thought, not one feeling, not any act, I would not bow to." In another poem, Rujmi states: "I have been saying ' Hey' lately to God. Formalities just weren't working."
Meister Eckhart also shows that we can find God in some un-obvious times and places as he says: "My Lord told me a joke. And seeing him laugh has done more for me than any scripture I ever read!". For Eckhart, love frees. Thus, he asks: "How long will grown men and women in this world keep drawing in their coloring books an image of God that makes them sad?" Eckhart says this because he believes: "It is a lie—any talk of God that does not comfort you." Like Francis, Aquinas also seemed to think God was found somehow in all religions. Thus, he once said: "One may never have heard the sacred word, 'Christ' but be closer to God than a priest or nun." The Sufi mystic, Hafiz, gives also a fresh image of God: "God and I have become like two giant fat people living in a tiny boat. We keep bumping into each other and laughing!"
Catherine of Sienna notes that "Vulnerable we are, like an infant. We need each other's care or we will suffer." There is a quasi-erotic component in Catherine's reaction to her lover, Christ. "'I won't take no for answer' God began to say to me when he opened his arms each night wanting us to dance." Again, not sadness but deep joy should come from our contact with the living God. " If you cried in heaven, everyone would laugh for they would know you were just kidding."
Teresa of Avila is one of my favorite saints. She notes: "My frontiers and God's are the same... Only in us is God so lost that he asks questions." Again, to love God is to know an abiding joy: "Just these two words he spoke changed my life: 'Enjoy me!' What a burden I thought I was to carry—a crucifix, as did he. Love once said to me 'I know a song, would you like to hear it?' And laughter came from every brick in the street and from every pore in the sky. After a night of prayer, He changed my life when he sang 'Enjoy me'" In a funny poem, entitled, "Not Yet tickled," Teresa says: "How did those priests get so serious and preach all that gloom? I don't think God tickled them yet. Beloved—Hurry!". In another poem, Teresa says: "Love smooths us, rounds, perfects, as does the river the stone, and there is no place our beloved is not flowing, though the current's force you may not always like."" In a poem, "Too in Love to Chat," Teresa says: "The Divine is really speechless. It is too in love to chat!"
Teresa's near contemporary, John of the Cross (who was brutally beaten and starved by his fellow monks for working to reform the Carmelites) says: "I did not have to ask my heart what it wanted, of all the desires I have ever known just one did I cling to for it's the essence of all desire: to hold beauty in my soul's arms." In another poem, entitled, " If You Love," John of the Cross stated: "You might quiet the whole world for a second if you pray. And if you love, if you really love, our guns will wilt!" Love of God turns back to love for God's creation as John states: "Tenderly I now touch all things—Knowing one day we will part."
I strongly recommend a prayerful and liesurely read of Love Poems From God.