Naked Before the Sacred
While perhaps we don't need to step into a self-satisfied moral stance vis-à-vis God—one need only remember the story of Job, who, in the end, was humbled by the majesty and ultimate incomprehensibility of God—we might take comfort in the blunt and gutty honesty in much sacred poetry, including that which expresses bewilderment or even anger before the divine. God is not a china doll. He/she can take it. In such poetry, we are reminded of the bald-faced honesty and emotional nakedness required in any authentic relationship, including relationship with the sacred. Such transparency shapes the arc of the heart whose consummation is found in the embrace of the Beloved.
Author's Note: This article is taken from my forthcoming book, Praying with the Poets: Poetry of the Sacred in the World's Traditions.
1) Devara Dasimayya was a 10th-century Virashaiva (Heroic Shaivism) in South India, a Hindu tradition dedicated to Shiva. The Virashaivas mounted a critique of and alternative to orthodox Hinduism hierarchically ordered by caste. A.K. Ramanujan, Speaking of Shiva (London: Penguin Books, 1973), 107.
2) Kumar Sambhucandra Ray was a mid-18th- early-19th-century Bengali devotee of the "dark" goddess, Kali. Rachel Fell McDermott, Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 59.
3) Hafiz was a 14th-century Muslim poet-saint from Persia (Iran). Endowed with natural poetic gifts, these became a channel for his spiritual experience when he became a Sufi. His Divan (collected poems) is considered a masterpiece of Sufi literature. Daniel Ladinsky, I Heard God Laughing: Renderings of Hafiz (Walnut Creek, CA: Sufism Reoriented, 1996), 77.
4) McDermott, 52.
5) Psalm 13:1-2. New Jerusalem Bible: Standard Edition (New York: Doubleday, 1999), 616.
6) Ikkyu was a 15th-century monk from Japan known for his vigorous Zen spirit and robust lifestyle. John Stevens, Wild Ways (Buffalo, NY: White Pines Press, 2003), 65.
7) McDermott, 52.
Thomas A. Forsthoefel, Ph.D., is associate professor and chair of Religious Studies at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pennsylvania. He served as poet laureate of northwestern Pennsylvania (Erie County) 2010-2012. His work focuses on the religions and philosophies of India, and he has published numerous articles and has written or collaborated on several books, including, Knowing Beyond Knowledge: Epistemologies of Religious Experience in Classical and Modern Advaita, a study of cognitive dimension of religious experience in Hindu non-dualism; Gurus in America, an edited volume; Soulsong: Seeking Holiness, Coming Home, a cross cultural exploration of holiness; and Dalai Lama: Essential Writings.