“Crossing Over:” A Poem about the Spiritual Journey

2014-07-14-05-10-09

The 13th century Persian poet Rumi wrote love poetry that gave expression to the deepest yearnings of the human soul in search of God the Beloved. Here are two examples of his exquisite verse:

“In your light I learn how to love. In your beauty, how to make poems.
You dance inside my chest where no one sees you,
but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art.”

“Love is from the infinite, and will remain until eternity.
The seeker of love escapes the chains of birth and death.
Tomorrow, when resurrection comes,
The heart that is not in love will fail the test.”

I wrote the poem below, which bears some loose resemblance to Rumi’s  style and themes, in the middle of the night as I sought to deal with unconscious fears – by bringing them into conversation with spiritual symbols I encountered on my trips to Bhutan.

The poem’s setting is a stunningly beautiful wire mesh bridge that stretches across a rushing glacial river tumbling through the Paro valley only 15 minutes from the international airport. Crossing the bridge, which is strewn with Tibetan prayer flags, the visitor can ascend to a 500-year old Buddhist temple on a hill that overlooks this breath-taking scene. The second image, which I have also set in this scene with some artistic license, is of prayer flags held taut by a raucous wind whipping through a central Bhutanese valley on the way to Punakha. These two images provided symbolic counterpoints to the fear that awakened me in the night. Here are photos of those scenes and images.

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Crossing Over

I wake at four
Eyes holding tears of fear
Like cups in a tea ceremony
I write at five
To stem the flow
Of inner arising.

I see a bridge
In front of me
Prayer flags taut
Rushing glacier
Flows below
Azure blue
Stretches above
Brother Sun radiant
Sister Moon watching

Step out,
Calls the Beloved,
Across the bridge
Into the deep, the real, the true
And so I step
Drawn by you
Prayer flags taut
Pure white
Love red
Majestic yellow
Verdant green
Infinite blue

Do you know
Do you see
I take this step
Because you accompany me
Onto the swinging passage
Across the chasm
Temple beckons on the hill
Here is life, here is love
Open the heart
Purity love majesty aliveness infinity
Speak to me
In prayer flags taut

Yet halfway I pause
I cannot turn back
For the temple bids me cross
But emotions rise
I’m paralyzed
New tears of fear
That love will slow
Interrupt the flow
You do not know
How I want to believe
In prayer flags taut
Pure white
Love red
Majestic yellow
Verdant green
Infinite blue
Will prayer flags carry me
To the temple sanctuary?

I want to believe in Love
Pure pounding regal heart
Growing infinitely
Like prayer flags taut
Can you feel, my Beloved,
The intensity
My great fear
It will burn through me
White heat

Red flush
Yellow glare
Green overgrowth
Blue oblivion
Can I take
The next step
Across the flow below
I do not know
Tears sit
Like cups of tea
Can I keep drinking intensity?

Only if Love remains
Beckoning me
Drink slowly, my dear
Walk gently, don’t fear
Now I see the Beloved
Waiting at prayer flags taut
With extended hand

Can I grasp? Can I step? Can I drink?
Or will intensity burn through
And I fall into the icy flow
Prayer flags limp
Wind, breath, spirit absent
Eyes drown in the icy flow
Salty tears and bitter tea
Wash over me
Temple recedes into memory.
Sorrow
Loss
Misery

No, please, no
I still believe
Prayer flags taut
Honor my intensity
I try to let go
And trust the flow
Walking slow
For I know
Souls on razor edge
Believing intensity can carry me
To the temple sanctuary
To drink tea
To bow before Thee
In hope and charity
My prayer to see
Prayer flags still taut
Delivering me
To some destiny

Tears abate
Fears subside
I return to bed for rest
But I dream
Of the Beloved,
Still small voice whispers
I love you
Brother Sun bows,
Sister Moon nods,
And still
Beckoning at the bridge
Prayer flags taut
Carrying sojourners
To the temple sanctuary.

2014-07-14-05-17-04

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25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Additional Notes

To be led through a 9-minute spiritual practice focusing on yearning, hit here.

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About martinschmidtinasia

I have served as a humanities teacher at Hong Kong International School since 1990, teaching history, English, and religion courses. Since the mid-1990's I have also come to assume responsibility for many of the school's service learning initiatives. My position also included human care ministry with the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in Hong Kong, southern China, and others parts of Asia from 1999-2014. Bringing my affluent students into contact with people served by the LCMS in Asia has proved to be beneficial to students and our community partners alike. Through these experience I have become committed to social conscience education, which gives students the opportunity to find their place in society in the context of challenging global realities.
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