In monastery darkness
by the light of one flashlight
the old shrine room waits in silence
While above the door
we see the terrible figure,
fierce eyes demanding, “Will you step through?”
And the old monk leads us,
bent back nudging blackness
prayer beads in the hand that beckons.
We light the butter lamps
and bow, eyes blinking in the
pungent smoke, look up without a word,
see faces in meditation,
a hundred faces carved above,
eye lines wrinkled in the hand held light.
Such love in solid wood!
Taken from the hillsides and carved in silence
they have the vibrant stillness of those who made them.
Engulfed by the past
they have been neglected, but through
smoke and darkness they are like the flowers
we have seen growing
through the dust of eroded slopes,
then slowly opening faces turned toward the mountain.
Carved in devotion
their eyes have softened through age
and their mouths curve through delight of the carver’s hand.
If only our own faces
would allow the invisible carver’s hand
to bring the deep grain of love to the surface.
If only we knew
as the carver knew, how the flaws
in the wood led his searching chisel to the very core,
we would smile, too
and not need faces immobilized
by fear and the weight of things undone.
When we fight with our failing
we ignore the entrance to the shrine itself
and wrestle with the guardian, fierce figure on the side of good.
And as we fight
our eyes are hooded with grief
and our mouths are dry with pain.
If only we could give ourselves
to the blows of the carver’s hands,
the lines in our faces would be the trace lines of rivers
feeding the sea
where voices meet, praising the features
of the mountain and the cloud and the sky.
Our faces would fall away
until we, growing younger toward death
every day, would gather all our flaws in celebration
to merge with them perfectly,
impossibly, wedded to our essence,
full of silence from the carver’s hands.
David Whyte, Where Many Rivers Meet