Daniel Ladinsky has published three volumes of translations of the poetry of the great Persian Sufi Hafiz: The Gift, The Subject Tonight Is Love, and I Heard God Laughing. He is an audacious talent with a big heart, a keen sense of humor, and a creative way of looking at things.
In an introduction to this collection of twelve sacred voices from the East and the West, Ladinsky writes: "I think God loves bootleggers—defiant poets who ferment the air as they sing and lift the corners of our mouths. Words about God should never bore because God is the opposite of boring. And what we say about the Gorgeous One should make Him appear a knockout. Whoever made this Universe is a Wild Guy. I think only our ecstasies offer any real clues about Him." The great mystics from all the religious traditions refuse to limit or confine the Holy One. They call us to rest in the riddle of not knowing while at the same time looking off to the side to see the passing grace of the Beloved. Ladinsky is convinced that these twelve souls whose words he has translated here offer us "an intimate journal of discovering God within."
For Sufis, love is the key to playing out our lives in the right chord. Ladinsky begins this collection with poems by Rabia, one of the most well-known woman saints. One of our favorites is a brief ditty:
Since no one really knows anything about God,
those who think they do are just
Think about all the pain and stress caused by dogmatists who insist upon following the rigors of their version of the truth. Rabia follows the path of devotion and delight, preferring to see God as a lover trying "to coax the world to dance." ("A Lover Who Wants His Lovers Near").
Ladinsky squeezes poetry out of the earthy and jubilant vision of Francis of Assisi. For this saint, "God's admiration for us is infinitely greater / than anything we can conjure up for Him." ("God's Admiration"). Francis loved animals and in one of these poems he talks with a squirrel about the abundance of God's grace ("The Sacraments").
Next up is Rumi where the best poem is on the same theme:
Nibble at me.
Don't gulp me down.
How often is it you have a guest in your house
who can fix everything?
When we think of the Catholic theologian Thomas Aquinas, we recall ponderous tomes. Ladinsky appreciates him as a pioneer of interspirituality:
Every creature has a religion. Every
foot is a shrine where
a secret candle burns.
Every cell in us worships
Every arrow in the bow of desire
has rushed out in hope
Hafiz wants us to see ourselves afresh and give up self-denigration:
the true nature of your
your every thought, word, and movement
is always, always
This treasure trove of sacred poetry also includes selections by Meister Eckhart, Catherine of Siena, Kabir, Mira, St. John of the Cross, Tukaram, and St. Teresa of Avila. Ladinsky calls the latter the most influential female saint in the Western world. He shares one of her spiritual practices:
I have a lovely habit:
at night in my prayers I touch everyone
I have seen that
The breadth and depth of the poems in this extraordinary collection by Daniel Ladinsky will inspire you to expand your repertoire of spiritual practices and to make playfulness a priority in your relationship with the Divine.