On December 22 when I posted the moving story of Taitetsu Unno’s ministry to the woman in the hospital, I did not know that he had died a few days earlier. Mark Unno, his equally brilliant and accomplished son, also a philosopher and Shin Buddhist priest, told me that during his last hours Ty was alert, pain-free, calm, and, when he could no longer speak, expressing appreciation and gratitude to those present with his hands together in the gesture of gassho.
The story of his dying inspired me. I have tended to protect myself from dying in a nursing home by preparing my attitude towards such a possibility. But I can hope for a departure something like that of Ty. Thinking of a few examples of different ways to leave the planet, I realized that I am open to each of them, wanting only to follow Jesus in whatever circumstances may fall to me.
Beloved Dr. Perry wrote in his most recent comment that he is “racing toward the finish line of life.” His words in that comment constitute the most inspiring account of spirit that I can remember. My prayer for his final hours is that he have at the end the lucidity and strength to communicate, at least to God, “Father it is finished. Into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Dr. Perry’s race to the finish line during these last several months has been moving. Beginning in April he accompanied me twice weekly with thoughts to complement what I wrote. He became a companion and partner in this enterprise, solidly sounding themes from the center of the religion of Jesus.
I prefer to celebrate folks while they are still alive. Thank you, my beloved brother into eternity!
Bach’s Mass in B minor begins with an extraordinary kyrie. The phrase is kyrie eleison is translated “Lord, have mercy.” It is a prayer. We pray for what we feel we need, for what we do not have or do not realize that we have. When I heard this music performed by the Cleveland Orchestra this fall, it struck me that the music expressed the prayer’s being answered more than the prayer itself.
Now listen (again) to Dr. Perry’s last comment and see if you notice that the very language of striving expresses a simultaneous finding: he seems to me to be experiencing and expressing the very realities he is seeking. Isn’t that the way! When our hunger and thirst climb to that level, we are already tasting what we seek. He craves a philosophy, even as he helps construct it.
“Indeed has Western philosophy come a long ways in its attempt to comprehend spirit and spirituality, but it still has a long ways to go.
“How I crave a philosophy that recognizes that apart from the extremes of intellectual assumptions and unreasonable ideas of spirituality in some religionists, there is a realm of spiritual experience that lies beyond reason and feelings, though it is reasonable from the spiritual point of view. Never can the intellect prove the existence of God, a being that we attribute eternal and infinite attributes. Never can the finite encompass the infinite, and so its forecasts can only be approximations that become more and more skeptical as they climb beyond personal experience.
“How I crave a philosophy that in its outreach will acknowledge this presence that I call divine that is associated with but separate from my being, but is in the process of becoming one with my being. I identify this spirit as the spirit of love, a spirit that is true, beautiful, and good. This awareness of this divine spirit is not subject to the fluctuations of the material life; it remains constant always reaching out to others in an unselfish manner that is true, beautiful, and good. It even transcends the moral mandates though always remaining moral. It never loses its power due to outward or inward circumstances. The more I interact with it, the more aware I become of it and the more I love it.
“This spirit whose source must be God, is so poised that it subjects itself to my choosing. It stands ready to act and flow whenever I choose to do so. It never coerces, but leaves an internal peace and joy that is not dependent on anything material or emotional. And this spirit satisfies the deepest longings and desires within me. It gives me hope that never dies, and some way, somehow gives me a consciousness that I will survive this life, thereby satisfying the prime desire within me.
“No matter how difficult my life may be, it never fails to deliver the meanings of truth, beauty, and goodness even in the face of such difficulties. Somehow even in the face of such difficulties, it increases my faith in it. Such a spirit inspires me to continue to run the race of life.
“No this spirit is not a spirit of emotions, though emotions may become associated with it in its moments of ecstasy. No it is not a spirit of the intellect, but is not unreasonable to the intellect. It is not a spirit of morals, though it is always moral.
And as I race towards the finish line of life, it empowers my stride, so that I will cross in full stride, rather than stumble or crawl across the line.
“Yes philosophy will continue to grapple with spirit and spirituality, and someday may solve this riddle, but in the meantime, I shall continue to commune with this spirit, and submit my will to it, for I cannot think of anything finer to do.”