I was thinking of you today, and in doing so I remembered a Japanese novel I had read some years ago, wherein a young priest tried in vain to convince a young woman of the existence of god. *
He seemed to feel it was the word, god, that was the barrier.
So the priest tried a metaphor, as priests do.
Call it Onion, he said, because an onion has many layers and you can enjoy it in many different ways.
He had forgotten that in general, people are uncomfortable with deifying produce.
Of course, this is nothing compared to how uncomfortable people are with the unknown, with the darkness outside the door, the miles of ocean beneath their feet, the unplucked string.
Ever since the first candle was lit in order to ward away the gathering dark, it has been our foremost duty to explain the unknown away.
In this way, Thule became Svalbard Island, or the Orkneys.
The leviathan was simply a whale.
The kraken was, of all things, just a ten foot long squid.
It hardly seems worth writing home about.
I had problems with all of this explaining.
I asked, “How do you explain the way your heart leaps from your chest the moment you see that specific someone? How do you explain the depth to which it crashes when that someone is no longer there? How do you explain the sense of peace you feel when you sit on some lonely promontory and watch the sun drop behind the hills? How do you explain Saint Francis, Gandhi, Mother Theresa? How do you explain any selfless act in this godforsaken world?”
I suppose I was crying out to the heavens, and I guess Aquinas was right, because no one answered.
In my sorrow, in the midst of my lamentation, I had the wild idea of sending a message to you, as fast as possible, and in that message I would mention the priest and his onion, and you would understand. I had nearly put pen to paper when I froze.
It wasn’t right. I saw it clear as day. An onion! Yellow, shedding its skin, leaving in its wake nothing but tears. Sure, it was pungent, and concrete, but it was about as surprising as a Russian nesting doll.
I saw then that the unraveling of this onion would be enough to do you in.
If I was going to write that note, I think I would say this instead-
Don’t call it an onion. Call it a mystery. And call the tension of not knowing- and loving in spite of it all- call that life.
*Endo, “Deep River.”