Today I read a poem. It has really made me stop and think. Can I share it with you?
I wonder how God ever gets any work done
when He could just be gazing at Himself
in awe all day? What discipline He shows.
I am talking about a real problem that will
challenge you someday, though you may
know nothing about that yet:
splendour taking over the place and rising
from your body like a sunrise – gods sitting
on a hill needing to bask in you. For it is true,
we help sustain existence.
All types of fishermen, merchants and seekers
will gather around you when you reach your
They will be wanting to cast their nets into
the brilliant salmon run you become,
leaping into the sky, offering to take any near
I was introduced to the poet Hafiz last year. I do wonder how I have not come across him before! This poem is one of his, and it is called The Salmon Run.
Hafiz lived in Persia between 1320-1389. Raised within the Muslim faith he wrote poems that sought after God, but was often exiled because his poetry seemed to extend beyond Allah and often found God to be somewhere else, someone else, something else. He was viewed as a great spiritual teacher, during his lifetime and posthumously one with wide reaching influence. Indeed, we are told Queen Victoria turned to his verse in times of need. How I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that. And so, on my Christmas list I placed this book – A Year With Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky. And I have been enjoying a chance to stop and ponder a little in Hafiz’s company each day. And so today, I came to The Salmon Run.
There is much I like about the way Hafiz writes: his deeply personal relationship with God; his cheeky way of talking about the things of faith; his honest understanding of what it means to be human; his refreshing way of discussing all things life, death, the universe. I really like the way he will catch me out with an idea I haven’t considered before, how he will help me to explore and understand my faith through a different lens. And in this poem these lines have caught my attention –
For it is true / we help sustain existence
For a moment or two after reading I am threatened by his words: No we don’t, I think, God is the sustainer and creator of all life, not us, not me, you can’t say that! But I hold these words in my head as I continue with my day. I go downstairs to feed our cat Chester who is one long barrage of meows until I do. I quickly nip outside in the chilly frost, in pjs and donning my neon blue crocs – a risk in more ways than one – to put bird seed on the table.
My thoughts start to shift. Hang on, what am I doing now, if not helping to sustain existence?
Back inside my daughter appears to get her breakfast and she opens the fridge, full of the shopping that arrived yesterday. Shopping that I made the list for, keeping within our budget, which I ordered, and which I washed before putting away (yes, I am one of those back to washing the food shopping in my bid to stay Covid free!) Surely those tasks, that can so often feel like the bane of my life (do you share the struggle of having to think up 7 different meals, to fit various likes and dislikes, week after week after week? A first world problem I know…but there’s only so many times you can eat broccoli!), those tasks which so easily feel like the insignificant stuff of my life, those tasks are actually me, helping to sustain existence.
It’s our morning break now, and I am cradling a cup of tea in my hands, looking out of the kitchen window, watching the bird table. I so enjoy watching the visitors to our garden – blue tits, great tits, the robins and blackbirds, dunnocks, pigeons, magpies and doves. But at this moment my favourite visitors have come, a flock of 9 long tailed tits all dangling from our fat ball holder. It is a joy. And I am savouring it. But this moment the joy is a little deeper – these visitors are here because of me, because I faithfully keep the bird table topped up. They know there will be food for them here, our bird table is a regular stop off for them. Here I am again, helping to sustain existence.
And as I stand my thoughts move on Is this a small glimpse of how God feels as He sustains all existence? Is it a joy to Him too? Does He love it when we turn up day after day at the bird table of life, knowing the ‘food’ will be there, trusting Him to faithfully supply the fabric of being?
I pause and think. I decide he probably does. And perhaps I take a bit too much of life for granted. I probably need to work on that, on saying thank you for the air I breathe, the forces of gravity that hold me safely down, the water cycle that sustains life in its abundance. The sun. The seasons. Yes, there is lots to be thankful for. And much that must bring Him joy too.
It is lunchtime now. We have conquered history and maths in home school– how castles have changed between 1066-1400s and trigonometry. As I munch my lunch my musings go on. It is true that God is the sustainer of all life. But Hafiz, in his quirky way, has made me see something I have not seen before. I am invited to be part of this divine process. The sustaining of life, this very thing that is so very God, is also something that has been opened up to me. I am invited in. What a gift. What a blessing. And what a tragedy when I don’t see it for what it is in my life, when this divine gift comes to feel so very hum drum.
I wonder if I can encourage you today to take some time to dwell with these words of Hafiz too?
Perhaps as you wrap yourself up against the cold and wet to take a dog for a walk. Perhaps as you sort your weekly or daily shopping. Or cook a meal. Even as you clean the loo! We are each invited into helping sustain life, and we can do it in a myriad of ways. Lets recognise it when we are doing it. And give thanks.
Perhaps today your way can feel a little less insignificant.
Perhaps today your way can be a way through to finding His presence is with you.
And as I sit here eating my lunch I am reminded of the motto that we are all being called to follow, here in the UK in our fight against Covid – Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives. Today I see something of God in this, which I didn’t before. Please hear me right, I’m not making any claims that God is for or against any political party or slogan. But at this time, unlike any other time, by staying home, we will indeed be helping sustain existence, save lives. I know the harder days are getting harder but we are about something important, something significant, something divine. So I encourage you to keep staying in, keep wearing masks, washing hands and to recognise both the sanctity of the lives we will be saving by doing so, and the heart of God we are expressing as we do.
And as my lunch hour draws to a close and I find myself gearing up for an afternoon of music, reading and the natural world I find myself thinking about those salmon, leaping and dancing on their salmon run. How Hafiz says that we can be like that. And someone immediately springs to my mind, a friend I know whose heart is so deeply for the needy and lost, who has shown me ways to help when I didn’t know how to, and how whenever I am with them, I am caught up in their wake, their joy, their passion. And they leave me feeling like I can live life differently, more connected, more in tune with His heart.
I wonder if you know someone like that too? I really hope you do. If not, maybe it’s time to seek someone out? Socially distanced, of course. Because sometimes we need others to point us in the right direction, don’t we? Sometimes we need a little bit of help to be brave, to step out of our comfort zones. Sometimes we need someone to simply show us how: how to live out this incredible truth, with peace, and in our own way, in our families, friendships, villages, cities, country, world.
May the words of Hafiz linger long enough with you today that the Lord may lead you where He wishes to take you.
For it is true / we help sustain existence
And may all be well with your soul.