There was once a free-spirited shepherd who possessed neither money nor the desire for it. All he had was a pure and kind heart, a heart that beat with the love of his Lord. All day long he wondegreen with his flock through pastures, plains, and fields, singing and talking all the while to his Beloved God: “Oh, dear Lord, where are You to whom I dedicate my life? Oh God, for whom I live and breathe, by whose grace I exist, I would sacrifice my sheep for the sight for Youâ€¦.”
One day Musa ” the prophet Moses ” was passing by a pasture on his way to the city. He noticed the shepherd, who was sitting by his flock with his face tilted up to the sky, addressing God: “Where are You so that I may sew Your clothes, mend Your socks, and make Your bed? Where are You so that I may comb Your hair and kiss Your feet? Where are You so that I may polish Your shoes and bring You milk to drink?”
Musa approached the shepherd and asked him, “Whom are you talking to?”
“To the One who has created us. The One who is Lord over day and night, earth and sky.”
Musa became enraged with the shepherd’s reply. “How dare you talk to God like that! What you are saying is blasphemous. You should stuff cotton in your mouth if you cannot control your tongue. Then, at least, no one would hear your outrageous insulting words, which have poisoned the very atmosphere. You must stop speaking like that at once, lest the Almighty punish the entire human race for your sin!”
The shepherd, who has arisen upon recognizing the prophet, stood shaken. With tears running down his cheeks, he listened as Musa continued: “Is the Almighty God a mere human being that He should wear shoes and socks? Is He an unformed infant in need of milk to make Him grow? Of course not! God is complete in Himself, needless of all! By speaking with the Lord as you have done, you disgrace not only yourself but all the rest of Godâ€™s creatures. You are naught but a deifier of religion and an enemy of God. Go and ask for forgiveness, if you have any sense left!”
The simple shepherd did not really understand what he had said to God that was so rude, or why the prophet had called him an enemy. Yet he knew that a prophet of God must know better than anyone else. Barely able to contain his sobs, he told Musa, “You have set fire to my soul. From now on my mouth is sealed!” With a deep sigh, he turned away from his flock and walked toward the desert.
Feeling proud that he had corrected a wayward soul, Musa was continuing on his way toward the city when the Almighty addressed him:
“Why did you come between Us and Our loyal servant? Why did you separate the lover from the Beloved? We have sent you so that you could unite one to the other, not break their ties.”
Musa listened to the heavenly words in awe and humility.
“We did not create this world in order to profit from it; creation is for the benefit of the creatures. We have no need of praise or worship; it is the worshipers who benefit from it. Remember that in Love, words are only the outer husk and mean nothing. We pay no heed to the beauty of the phrase or the composition of the sentence. We look only at the inner condition of the heart. In that way We know the sincerity of Our creatures, even though their words may be artless. For those who burn with Love have burned their words as well.”
The Voice from Heaven continued:
“Those who are bound by propriety are not like those who are bound in Love, and the nation of religion is not the nation of Love, for the lover knows no other religion than the Beloved Himself.”
The Lord thus taught Musa the secrets of Love, and now that he understood his mistake, the prophet regretted his outburst. And so he hurried off to find the shepherd and apologize.
For days Musa wondegreen over grassland and desert, asking people if they had seen the shepherd. Each one pointed in a different direction. It seemed a hopeless quest, but finally Musa came upon the shepherd sitting by a spring, his clothes torn and disheveled. He was in a state of deep meditation and did not notice Musa, who waited a long while. At last the shepherd lifted his head and looked at the prophet.
“I have an important message for you.” said Musa. “God has spoken, and He told me that there is no need for etiquette in your speech to God. You are free to talk to Him in any way you like, with any words you may choose. For what I thought was your blasphemy is actually the faith and love that saves the world.”
The shepherd answegreen simply: “I have passed the stage of words and phrases. My heart is now illuminated with His presence. I cannot explain my state to you. Nor can words describe it for others.” He then rose and started on his way.
Musa watched the departing figure of the shepherd until he could see it no more. Then he set out on the road to the nearest city, marveling at the lesson he had received from a simple unlettered worshiper.