An Imaginary Interview
Here is a piece of fiction which, in the guise of reportage, is able to weave together several ideas about faith. The quotes from named writers are from genuine works.
Shortly before his death in 2009, the writer Amadeo Esperanza, affectionately known to his friends as ‘the Monk’ (due to his marathon meditation sessions and penchant for jazz music), wrote a short note to his daughter Fidelia, quoting one of her favourite writers, Franz Kafka, in response to her worries over recent events in her life:
Don’t despair, not even over the fact that you don’t despair. Just when it seems that all is over, new forces come to your assistance after all, and just that means that you are alive.
The note was a rare message from Amadeo’s solitary and contented life in a small villa overlooking California’s Piedmont Hills. Like all those who knew her father, Fidelia had grown accustomed to seldom seeing or hearing from him. He made no response to the countless emails and letters he received, and refused interviews. But this last note awakened in Fidelia a sudden urge to see her father and to record a lasting account of his thoughts on a subject dear to both his writing and his way of life. That subject was faith.
Fidelia: So, here we are. It’s so good to finally see you.
Amadeo: Are you sure you want to start with “finally”? You may live to regret it!
Fidelia: Okay, but I’ve started already, so I’ll just have to learn to live with the regret.
Amadeo: Ah, regret. Quevedo said: “He who spends time regretting the past loses the present and risks the future.”
Fidelia: Okay, hold on to your seats; he’s started! (Both laugh)
Amadeo: Well, you wanted to talk about faith?
Fidelia: Sure, but what’s that got to do with regret or risking the future and losing the present?
Amadeo: The word “regretting” evokes distress and worry: the very things which stifle our efforts to live in the moment because we’re preoccupied with the past. And this incapacity to live in the moment automatically affects our future.
Fidelia: So what do you suggest we do?
Amadeo: Let go. Faith is a slow process of letting go of all our worries and wants and learning to trust that He knows best what we need.
Fidelia: You make it sound like a simple thing. But I’m not sure anyone who’s tried would think it was so easy.
Amadeo: Let’s not confuse simple with easy: they are not necessarily the same. But sure, in this instance letting go is at its core a simple notion, yet one that’s not easy to follow – rather, it is a universal struggle fit for an epic story, which is why I warm to it.
Fidelia: I think the hardest part of faith is trusting in something you can’t even see.
Amadeo: You know, that reminds me of a funny story your grandfather told me, because I used to say the same thing to him and then he told me about the fish. There are these two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish nod back and swim on for a while, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and asks, “What the hell is water?” The water so entirely makes up the world in which the fish live that they cannot register its existence. Similarly, the divine energy that sustains our existence – the life force, the sound current, the source; call it what you will – resides in everything we sense, but we lack faith because we cannot trust in something we cannot see! You know, my grandfather would always tease me if I ever lamented over why God wasn’t helping us through hard times. He’d say, “But young Amadeo, can’t you see the water?”
Fidelia: Yeah, he was great. But I’m not the small fish!
Amadeo: Yes! That’s exactly what you are. (Both laugh)
Fidelia: Okay, I think it’s time to move on. We’re talking about faith, and I think you’re saying we should just sit back and allow things to go where they’re destined to go – trying not to control our destiny?
Amadeo: I seem to have sparked a dangerous presumption.
Fidelia: How do you mean?
Amadeo: Okay, let’s use the familiar backdrop of writing as an example for what we’re discussing. Like any other discipline, writing has its own specific path. What is required to follow the path of the writer – justas for our shared spiritual path – can be split into three components. Firstly, there is talent, which is required of any writer. The degree of talent cannot be controlled and seems to be determined by destiny. Secondly, there’s focus: the ability to concentrate your talents on whatever’s critical at that moment – to sit at your desk and think of nothing else but what you’re writing. And thirdly, endurance: you must set aside a regular time for your daily bout with words, thinking in a long term capacity – you cannot write a long work if you’re tired after a week. Now let’s substitute those three aspects in relation to our path. The talent is the divine providence that allows us to attain initiation on to a true path – a gift that cannot be taken but is given to us if we are fortunate enough. The focus is the act of meditation and the day to day living within the guidelines given to aid our practice. The endurance is the longterm outlook and lifetime commitment to the path. Now, whereas the incipient rumblings of faith can exist before one ventures on this lifelong path, a true and unwavering stance on faith can be realized only after all the aforementioned work and grace take place. So your presumption in referring to attaining faith as an idle matter was a misunderstanding. The grace of faith goes hand in hand with our efforts to attain it.
Fidelia: I think I get it: you begin to let go by focusing on the effort and not worrying about the result. Ours is the effort; the result is up to Him.
Amadeo: That’s it. There’s hope for you yet, kid.
Fidelia: Is there anything else you wanted to add about faith, maybe something from other writers you admire?
Amadeo: There’s no end to the writers who’ve spoken on the matter. But not too long ago, a former hostage, Ingrid Betancourt, spoke about her time as prisoner of Colombian rebels in a way that only someone who had been through such a profound experience could do. I wrote it out here (reads from his notebook): When asked why it is that desolation can make people believe more insistently in the human spirit, rather than abandon all faith in it, she replied, “Maybethis; I was in a situation where I had to make a decision: I could follow the path of cynicism, or that of some kind of spiritual discipline and faith. The first would be easy, the second very hard. The first is about ego, and what is happening in front of you. The second is about the battle inside you, beyond these events, that one that gives life meaning. I chose the hardest path, but once I had decided to follow that path, it was like having wings.”
Fidelia: It’s kind of hard to follow that with a question …
Amadeo: Then I guess it’s a good time to tell you about something I wrote for you, when you first moved away, called “Vida con la Fidelia” (life with faith), which I never sent. It was after you cried over thephone for some forgotten reason – when your mother was still around. She told me not to send it, but to read it to you in person.
Fidelia: You never told me that!
Amadeo: Well … (retrieving his notebook): “Nothing is lost in the wake of the hardships you endure, because the meaning is in the moment, the moment is part of ‘the everyday’, and the everyday belongs to you and you to Him.”
Fidelia: Wow, I guess that really is life with faith. So what would you say is life without it?
Amadeo: My dear Fidelia, life without faith is different ways to claim sadness.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)i am never without it(anywhere i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling) i fear no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
e. e. cummings