It’s almost eleven o’clock on this Friday night. I open the door to my cabin and step barefoot out on the porch and into the cool night air. When I look up through the canopy of twisted limbs spreading from the giant live oak, the round white moon is almost full and weaves a filigreed pattern in silhouette over me. Stars blink in the velvet dark sky. A pale owl glides on huge wings just above my head, gone as quickly as it came, like some spirit passing through on its way to holy reaches out of my sight.
As a young man sorting through religion’s claim on certain days of my calendar, I wondered why the day commemorating the death of Jesus was called Good Friday. When is a state-ordered death ever good? Even if you are in favor of the death penalty, do you also feel good when the sentence is carried out?
This morning, sitting by the window with a book of poems and a cup of coffee, I thumbed open the pages at a random spot. I do that sometimes and trust the universe to choose something I need at the moment. My book fell open to a poem called The Mime by the ancient Persian poet known to modern readers as Hafiz. Here are the lines I read, and the image I saw was a thin man moving his hands with infinite grace, like someone performing modern dance in total silence:
A mime stands upon a gallows
for a crime he did not do.
When given a last chance to speak
he remains true to his art.
A crowd of hundreds has gathered
to see his final performance,
knowing he will not talk.
The mime takes from the sky
many bright spheres,
lays them on a table,
expressing deep love for the companionship
and guidance they have given him
for so many years.
He brings the sea before our eyes.
Somehow, an emerald fin appears, splashes.
Look, dear ones, there is turquoise rain.
He removes his heart from his body
and seems to arouse all life on this splendid earth
with such a sacred tenderness,
there for an extraordinary moment,
it looked like someone
was giving birth to the Christ again.
He mounts his soul upon the body of Freedom.
The great breeze comes by.
The sun and the moon join hands,
they bow so gracefully
that for a moment, for a moment,
everyone knows that God is real.
And the tongue fell out of the mouth of this world
I laid my hand on the page. I looked out the window at the blue-sky morning. I closed my eyes and let my heart become entangled for a moment with the spirit of Jesus on the day of his death, that first Good Friday.