There was a time, still within memory’s ever more tenuous grasp that I imagined myself, at this age, as a monk in a Buddhist temple in Kyoto, that I had assumed a silence imposed by lack of language, not faith.
I am certain that the Japanese are pleased that I let that dream pass unfulfilled, that I confine my practice to that American form of Zen, softened and gently bleached from its shogun watered roots.
I recall my visits to Senso-ji, Todaii-ji and countless other small temples where I would often find a zafu and sit, but only the youngest monks I met could understand that it was there, among them, that I felt spiritually at home.
They finally used the word or one near enough to it and she was not surprised, she almost welcomed it. You can grow jealous of those with a depth of faith that a sentence of months or perhaps less is received with grace and a smile, a nod and a statement “I’m more than ready to go home now, back to my husband.” I hope I will show such equanimity when I am told my time is quickly drawing to an end, but I am left with great faith in myself, and that may not suffice as I prepare to slip away into oblivion.
It’s a question of faith. You have to have some even if you doubt it, in fact your doubt is proof you have faith if only in doubt, for you know you cannot prove doubt, you just cling to it as a matter of faith. Your faith need not be religious though much of faith is, it can be philosophical or whimsical if you prefer. It can be most anything unless you are certain of everything in which case you are immortal, on death’s doorstep or simply a fool.
He had been there for days although he’d stopped counting since it didn’t ultimately matter. He would leave when the time was right although he had no idea how he would know when that moment arrived. Some things you do on faith he assumed, and this had to be one of those things. He wasn’t sure why he came but he knew he had to be there, And he knew that the cave provided him shelter and there was an allegory hiding deeper in.
He will tell you he’s agnostic, once he would’ve set atheist, but put to the test, he knows he couldn’t disprove the existence of that which could not be seen. He believes it will, must, get better eventually, he has infinite faith that it will, he says to anyone who will listen, in faith is something, he notes, you
cannot ever have in overabundance. It does not strike him in the least bit odd that a man of no belief in God places his future in the hands of faith, although he would tell you he has no idea what it is, exactly, he has faith in.
She wants to know where to look and thinks it must be either without or within, she assumes a Christian looks outward, a Buddhist within, and every other faith either aligns with one or plumbs the middle. She is searching for the answer to the inevitable question, the question that cannot be answered. She asks where you find a teacher, for teachers have answers. I want to tell her there is no answer and every answer is correct and every answer is incorrect and the only way to look is to close your eyes, to stop looking to stop seeking, and for once, just once, to simply be. She no doubt thinks me crazy as she walks away continuing her search for that which cannot be found. because she is that and that is everywhere and everything she imagines she senses.
The sun slowly starts it’s daily retreat, setting the thinning clouds ablaze.
The birds return, ibis, egrets, anhinga and kite and even the limpkin march slowly across the lawn to the preserve that abuts our yard.
They take up their perches on the trees and bushes and on the limpkin’s call begin quietly to recite their evening prayers as we bow our heads in reverence to their faith that the new morning will soon dawn for us all.
We listen carefully certain we can hear it if and when it appears. We hear nothing, but we are used to not hearing, but faith is a far more patient than it is given credit for and we have nothing to do in any event, other than to abide an event we cannot predict and non-prediction is a skill we have refined since we were evicted from the garden, apple in hand.
Years later on, having walked calmly away from my former faith, I am left still pondering where you find the words to describe, to teach the unspeakable, and how you use them to reach children who have no right to know the unspeakable, but who must, lest they later speak it. It was a generation ago for me, two for them, three now for my own grandchildren but the losses they know are staggering: Las Vegas, 9/11, Manchester, Sandy Hook, and on and on and on and on and how do you help them grasp the number six million, 10 million, when they have but ten fingers, shielding their eyes from the horror.