Friday, August 28, 2009

Seeking Pearls in the Waste

Old Persian legends relate the trials of Majnun, a man who devotes his life to searching for his beloved Layla. Majnun wanders endlessly in the desert. His clothes are ragged, his hair matted and filthy, and he becomes so exiled physically and spiritually from the niceties of human society that finally it is the wild animals who become his companions. Humans shun him and laugh at him, even though many of them recognize deep down that his search, dedicated to love, oblivious to external concerns, has actually brought him closer to the divine.

One day, a man noted for his piety came upon Majnun sifting through dirt in the middle of the road. “You claim such devotion to your beloved,” the holy man scoffed. “How can you say that and then grovel here, searching for such a pearl in the midst of all this rubbish?”

“Ah,” Majnun explained, “I seek Layla everywhere, so that one day I may find her somewhere.”

In his tireless search for his beloved, Majnun has discovered something extraordinary: the effort to become closer to what we love takes us to many places and puts us through many tasks, and in this process each encounter and event becomes beloved as well. Some events that sweep us up may be difficult, painful, and hard to bear. Yet, far from degrading our search, and especially the object of our search, they actually ennoble them. When the heart is filled with passion, with conviction that what it loves is wholly worth loving, protecting, and engaging ourselves with, then we see that every place that the search takes us to is part of that esteemed quest as well. Searching for what we love and abandoning judgment about what is good and bad and worthy and unworthy, we find worth and beauty in abundance. Even what has been used up and tossed out is valuable, since our hands and hearts sort through it mindfully and compassionately.

Radical Joy for Hard Times finds much to admire in Manjun. We are aim to seek out the lost, clearcut, damaged places, the endangered species, the waste places, and approach them with curiosity, community, and creativity, that we may find treasure there.

And so we do.