Chapter 21 Faith: who must I believe in first?

第二十一章 信心:我首先必須先相信誰?

21. Faith: who must I believe in first?

I recently had the good fortune to be in Poland for Christmas. It was a lot like stepping into an anachronistic time. My impression of the Christmas season in my little village when I was young and our present day holiday is mutually exclusive: the former is filled with family and food and religion, the latter is filled with “glitz” 1 and things and more things. We have forgotten the universal and essential message of Christmas that transcends all religions: faith is paramount. When you are willing to step away from empiricism and simply believe, supernatural forces are brought to bear. As John Paul II (1920-2005) tells us, “Have no fear of moving into the unknown. Simply step out fearlessly knowing that I am with you, therefore no harm can befall you; all is very, very well. Do this in complete faith and confidence.”

What are active examples of faith? This is always a question that is omnipresent in my mind. The first person I must have faith in, of course, is the self, in me and my abilities. There is a philosophy that through faith events always “work themselves out,” in the end. Your prayers are, essentially, always answered. I would like to share an occurrence that recently happened to me. Things could have turned out very poorly, but for prayer and for action, they ultimately didn’t. The incident happened in Schiphol Airport2 in Amsterdam during my last travels. The high holidays are a frenetic time, especially amongst the travelling public. The human activity during Chinese New Year is a larger version of this movement, but the European version, when seen up close, is still impressive: people were everywhere! There was a major storm in Europe, in addition, so the airlines were constantly reorganizing their departure gates.

I had a “layover” of seven hours so there was ample time to find your point of departure and be on your way to your next destination. I looked at the electronic announcement board. My gate was Number E 14. The airport is massive. By the time I found the departure portal, the gate number had been changed. It was now gate Number E 18. “Not so bad,” I thought to myself, “at least they are in the same vicinity.” When I arrived, there were already a lot of people nestled down for the wait to board the short KLM flight to Krakow: gifts and bags and coats (Did I mention that it was very cold in the airport, and the out-of-control children?)

I am old enough to remember that children were not allowed to have a “temper tantrum”3 at an airport, a church or any public venue, for that matter, just because they felt like it. I maintain that disrespectful behavior on the part of children is always the parents’ fault. Having created life, you have a responsibility to socialize your young charges, don’t you? It speaks a lot to the lack of discipline and hard work in the present society.

Remember: I had a lot of time! As with all Western people, time is very important to me. I am always on time. I delved into my good book and began to float away with the Chinese treasure fleet.4

I suddenly looked up and everyone was gone. Gone where, you may ask? The gate had been moved, once again. It was now Number E 20. “Close, but no cigar”: this idiom means almost. I almost caught the plane. “But we announced it!” my fellow throng of passengers was told. I decided not to scream and shout like my confreres and just get a new flight. Not so easy: it is Christmas! I stood in the rebooking line for an hour. The man behind me had been at the airport for two days, the woman behind him for three: not good, not good.

When it was my turn, the airline employee didn’t begin with good cheer: She started with “Hmm, difficult,” so I repeated “Hmm, but solvable.” “Yes,” she responded. “If I were you, I would take the train.” Say what? Here is where my geography failed me. “How long would that be: two hours, like the flight?” “Two days: it stops in several waypoints including Berlin. But, I can put you on standby for the flight.5 There are no seats, but maybe you ‘would get lucky.’ However, if you miss the plane, you miss the train. They both depart at the same time.”

Christmas in Amsterdam loomed large in my consciousness. Great: I was very angry with myself – the great world traveler can’t even get on a connecting flight! Enough self-criticism: we need some prayer. I found myself a quiet spot and began to pray for acceptance. Whatever happened, I wanted to be at peace during the holidays.

Then, like the sentenced criminal, I trundled down to my gate: I explained my dilemma to one of the airport staff. She had kind eyes – very kind eyes. “Come back in ten minutes. There may be a seat!” My heart almost ‘leapt out of my chest.’ I had been granted a reprieve from my sins. I got on the flight and did have that peaceful Christmas, after all. The Buddha has a thought: “Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without.”

I am always reminded that the experience I have, even when the circumstances are poor, is very much of my own making. I frame my own reality. The people at the airport who were abusive towards the airport staff didn’t get a flight: I did. Was that only my good luck? I don’t think so. It was also because I calmed myself and decided to be as polite as possible, given the incompetence of the airline. It was Christmas, after all. My mother used to say, “You get far more with sugar than you do with salt,” meaning that people who are pleasant and thoughtful when solving a problem are readily helped by others. The opposite is equally true. “God helps those who help themselves.”6







我突然抬起頭時,發現大家都不見了。你可能會問,他們去哪裡了?登機門又再一次更動了,現在改到E20。這句英文諺語 ”Close, but no cigar” 指的就是「幾乎」,我就差那麼一點就能搭上飛機了。「但是我們確實有廣播了!」,服務人員跟搭乘同一班飛機的乘客這麼說。後來我決定不要像他們那樣大吵大鬧,想說再找新的班機搭乘就好。但這沒那麼簡單,現在可是聖誕節啊!我在重新預訂的隊伍排上了一小時。我身後的男人已經在機場待了兩天,在他後面的女人等了三天。這下情況可不妙。