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Fontaine: The Innocents

Anne Fontaine’s The Innocents is a beautiful examination of faith and doubt against the backdrop of a Catholic convent invaded by the horrors of World War II. The standout scene of this is when of the sisters says to the female doctor treating many of the nuns: “Faith is 24 hours of doubt and one minute of hope.”

It’s the sort of standalone line perfect for a trailer: A Catholic nun talking about faith to a nonbeliever, religion speaking to science. But let’s peel the layers back just a little bit.

Traditionally, there are 3 obstacles to meditation: Laziness, speedy-business, and disheartenment. Laziness is sitting on the cushion and spacing out, forgetting the instruction. It’s us not willing to exert ourselves. One antidote to this is remembering our intention and motivation to practice. Speedy-business is the belief that everything else is more important than our practice. We can combat distraction with the same antidote as we use with laziness, or 2 others: Exertion (moving past hesitation towards joy) or a suppleness of mind and gentle inquisitiveness towards our distraction.

And then there’s disheartenment. We could consider this to be synonymous with doubt: This doesn’t work for me. I’m not getting what I want out of my practice. It’s not what it used to be. We all face this, and we face it more than once. Full disclosure: That was me last week.

The best antidote to this is faith. Rather than equating this with dogma, however, we can take faith at its most root meaning: from the Old French “feid” or “trust, confidence.” I love, too, this early 14th-century definition: “assent of the mind to the truth of a statement for which there is incomplete evidence.”

We can trust in what has already occurred for us in our practice, even if that amounts to one minute of clarity against 24 hours of laziness, speedy-business, and disheartenment. We can have faith to go further and deeper in the face of doubt—the important thing being that we’re talking about faith and trust not in something external, but in ourselves. We can have faith that in our center, at our primordial level, we are basically good and awake, and can continue the path to tap into that wakefulness.

Today’s Contemplation: Consider a recent time you felt doubt on the cushion, or consider what you feel the next time you experience doubt. Consider the tools you have available to you. You can remember your intention and motivation. You can exercise gentle exertion. You can move past hesitation towards joy, or display a sense of curiosity around your doubt. These, too, are modes of faith. Consider the last time you had an experience of wakefulness in your practice, but instead of thinking you’ll never have that experience again, can you consider that if you’ve had it once the chances are high that you can tap into it once more? Can your mind assent to the truth of your experience, even without complete evidence?