Searching for sacred connections
The impetus to travel usually springs from a pleasurable sense of physical restlessness. But it was a feeling of spiritual unease that provided the catalyst for journalist Fenton Johnson's recent odyssey. His fascinating personal chronicle Keeping Faith: A Skeptic's Journey is a provocative account of travels both literal and metaphorical undertaken in an effort to redefine his spiritual faith. When Johnson, a disenfranchised Roman Catholic, is invited to an international gathering of Christian and Buddhist monks at the Trappist abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky, he attends, planning to use the experience as material for an article. But he's surprised during the opening prayers by a sudden paralyzing anger that prevents him from making the reverential sign of the cross: "I have known this script since before memory. . . a simple gesture I once inhabited as easily as lifting my hand to wave goodbye . . . and I could not do it," he marvels. So begins Johnson's "cross-country journey through the briars and thistles of faith," during which he ruthlessly dissects the disillusionment and skepticism that had grown from his Roman Catholic roots. He voluntarily enters periods of residential life at both western Buddhist and Christian monasteries, notably California's Tassajara Zen Mountain Monastery and Kentucky's Gethsemani Abbey. These residential immersions, which afford unique opportunities to interview monastic community members and teachers, complement the author's rigorous ecumenical research. The result is a unique spiritual and philosophical investigation: a tightly woven helix of self-examination, historical discussion and inquiry into the sublime and perilous landscapes of religious belief and faith. Rich in honest self-revelation and the glories of an open-hearted search for sacred connection, Keeping Faith offers valid inspiration for spiritual seeking. Alison Hood writes from San Rafael, California.