Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Knight of Faith

Why is it in the spirit world anything is possible but in life we must pass the same old traces? 

Jack and I just finished watching Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal and I asked him why it was one of his favorite films.  He said because it deals with the deepest questions facing human beings -- and still is very funny. 

I'm reading the screenplay to Fanny and Alexander, and notice that in both films, Bergman juxtaposes the choices people make between cruelty and kindness.  In Fanny and Alexander it is the choice that is made in a marriage and in The Seventh Seal it is the choice that one makes during a time of extreme crisis, in this case the period of profound social, economic and religious upheaval brought on in 14th Century Europe by the Plague.  The Knight, played by Max Von Sydow, and his Squire return from the Crusades to find the world turned upside down.  Reacting in terror to the Black Death that has taken nearly half the population, the townsfolk have gone out of their minds, torturing each other and flagellating themselves. 

Why do some people choose cruelty -- and others kindness? 

Why is it in the spirit world anything is possible but in life we must pass the same old traces?  

Jack and I pondered these questions.  Yes, I thought, I am afraid to die but why must it define me? When the Knight witnesses these displays of cruelty, feels his own fear, he replies, "My body is afraid, but I am not."   

I repeated that line to Jack.  "That is what I shall say."  "Then you have faith?" he relied.  I was surprised.  "I have been fooled before," I said with a sly smile.  "What do you mean?" he asked.  I told him how many years ago when I was pregnant I had thought the birth of my child would transform me, but the experience was something very different.  I forewent pain killers in order to be completely present but I had no idea how excruciating it would be.  The labor which lasted for 36 hours was unabated pain until at last, in exhaustion, I submitted to cesarean.  

And still.  I was transformed.  

"Perhaps it was because of the pain," I said to Jack.  It was for that reason, I told him, I wasn't sure I wanted to be sedated in the last moments before death.  Jack related what he'd read in a biography of Montaigne.  He'd had a nearly fatal fall from a horse and witnesses reported he was in agonizing pain, yet Montaigne's own recollection of the experience was very different.  He said it was peaceful.

I told Jack that was probably because Montaigne was in shock as the consciousness began to leave the body.  And then, all of a sudden, as we were discussing this, my mind made a leap.  My consciousness lighted on the possibility that things were not as they appeared at all.  I was staring at the bookcase, I remember.  The lamp was on and Jack was sitting there on the couch beside me.  "Perhaps all of this," I said waving my hands to indicate the world around us as we were sitting there experiencing it "...perhaps all of this is an illusion."  What if it didn't matter?  Or, more precisely, what if we weren't bound by it?  Then what was true?  I tried to focus my mind.  What if we bore, as Bergman has his hero in Fanny and Alexander say,  "chasms, heavens, eternities" within us? 

Though I seem small and insignificant in the face of this,
I bear chasms, heavens, eternities within me.
I carry my lantern in the darkness;
I make the movements;
And though my body may be afraid,
I am not.

If I could see this, remember this, what great things would I accomplish?   


Linda said...

this is the goal and essence of every spiritual path.

best of luck...

Cynthia Wylie said...

I believe that we must have faith in ourselves and understand that it is very different than optimism. Faith is recognizing the direness of any situation but having the will to work through it and an understanding that we can and will prevail. I love that you write about faith.

My favorite two holidays are Passover and 4th of July. Think of the faith Moses had to lead his people out of Israel knowing that the Red Sea was in the way and that he had no ability to get past it. Think of the faith the colonists had to start the American revolution knowing that if they failed they would most likely be put to death.

This post has renewed my faith in my new company. If I fail, I will not die. That's a good place to start.

Sarah said...

I shared "Knight of Faith" with my little knight.

Donovan - "Our reality is not whole. We see what we understand. In a sense we are blocked by our own knowledge. The only way to see beyond is to be completely in the present."

Sarah said...

To preface Donovan's comment, this is how he introduced himself to a visiting 2nd grader. "Hi, I'm Donovan. I'm a philosopher of time and space."