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Euskal Idazleen Elkartea

Piarres Aintziart > Extracts

Narrative (short story and novel)

2005 | Elkar

I was in the village square in the morning buying food. I seemed to have moved far away enough from the Basque Country and I had been going around these places incognito. Just as I was arriving back at my hut, I heard the sounds of the church bells. But their pealing, painful because of the deep doubts I have today, was in stark contrast with the memories of the sweetness of my childhood faith, for the wonderful sound of the bells at that time could no longer touch my heart. And I remember the faith of past times full of enlightenment.

I think I know what it was like. I find that distance reduces the interval of time. Our belief, or mine at least, was something obvious, as clear as day. It was almost a perception, and what one felt inside determined how one saw things outside. God was above, inside, beyond things, paradoxically emptying the world of its barest reality. My faith at that time did not admit the existence of anything that was not in the image of God. Christ himself made flesh had shrunk, had vanished into the pure Absolute. I believed because I believed, not because I was giving an answer to a question, but as demanded by principle. Being nurtured by its own substance, belief lived inside me in a tautological act without obstacle. I knew virtually nothing about the feelings of my parents, even though their faith was written in the words of home and in the steps on the way to church. Inner strength sweetened the harshness of things and made sense of the afflictions of this world. The problem of evil did not occur to me for a very long time. Up until todayÓ Recently, when a Dominican theologian was asked why God in His goodness and with His infinite power abandoned men and women to pain, he is said to have replied: "God's powerlessness with respect to people's suffering is a consequence of the act of creation." That means that God then allows the power of nature and people's judgement to be free. My faith at that time did not torture reason in that way, nor did it bring me anywhere near to addressing the concept of the absurd. The most difficult reality was bearable, because Evil itself did not become a real problem. The atheist assumes the absurd freely, I did not include it in my vocabulary, because I was obeying what was happening as a matter of principle. I had deified necessity.

Oddly enough that fatalism strengthened my parents. A believer at that time was not really persecuted, but forced to enter sadness, because God's wishes and the suffering of people developed a kind of complicity by ordering reality into a kind of bearable suffering. My faith was wonderful, I was fascinated. And I was sure that everyone around me was immersed in the same certainty: relativism and subjectivism are outside the space filled by the Absolute. Basically, I was not seeking the Truth, because I knew what to do. I knew what to do, what to think, I was sure about my ideas and I lived as I should. Faith was action. On more than one occasion the philosopher Serge told me that Plato would not have acted thus, since he thinks that truth determines what one does. My ideas were dominated by Christian morality and I had a broad, bright path ahead of me, as I began to take the first steps of childhood.

In other words, we knew what to believe, what to do and what to accept. That wholeness, that perfect synthesis is said to be explained in Plato's Republic. At that time I did not examine those ideas but arranged my obligations in sweet harmony. I was happiest during religious ceremonies. The ceremonies were full of a sweet obsession with repeated rites, as if eternity was consuming time: the gold objects on the altar, the splendour of the robes, the perfume of the flowers, the incense, the charm of the chants satisfied all my senses. Sensuality itself became divine. In our hands we had magnificent things that we would later see in the highest heavens. I used to fly in supernatural reality on the days of the Grand Holy Communion and Corpus Christi. I lived in a pure world, I was surrounded by good people. I was immersed in magic. That was the mould I grew up in.

Later, after many years had passed by, only revolt gave God existence deep down inside me and in the end, as persecution itself had no meaning, the mythical Person left me. One morning I made the discovery that something had disappeared; its absence was to plunge me into grief that would last several months. It took me thirty years to change. It might have started in Africa. And in the end I came here to hide, unable to communicate to Maria all the things I wanted to tell her. Two sources of grief. One to do with my beliefs and the other with love. Not so long ago an old priest repeated to me what a Catholic master had said: that woman turned people to face God and put the power of the soul in man. I don't think I am ready to go down that path yet.

I am in and move in the silent company of nature. I do not know the names of the animals I see in the undergrowth along the wayside, I do not know what to call the flowers and I am reminded that things and beings have no existence without being named. So reality is emptier for me. I am becoming disconnected.

Health gives way to frailty, because a year ago my heart started to falter. I mustn't go too far up mountains. I have come to write and I have the strength to do that.

When I left the parish, I didn't tell my friends I had had enough of working as a priest for one profound reason: my lack of faith. When something like that happens to a Christian, I think he or she leads life differently, but his or her job goes on. I can't do that. A lukewarm priest will work by force of habit and because he has to live materially and without great internal revolutions. But I will not be doing that. A month ago while I was saying a requiem mass, I was jealous of the faith of the family I knew very well and I felt guilty on account of myself, so I sang in a very loud voice with the people there to silence my doubt, or whatever it was. With false words I responded to the request to console the family while I heard the repugnant echo of my voice. Today I bade farewell to those tasks.

For the last three days I have been pouring out the sighs of words onto a white page. Writing helps me to understand my past life by providing the life that has been unreal with content. Words could in the same way justify the nothingness of things. Something happens through the simple means of words. I want what I feel to be made flesh.

I had however embarked on a full life, at home and at school. Always playing with the local children and doing farm work occasionally, I studied hard at school and it was a contented childhood. That happy period ended at the age of eleven. I entered the diocesan choir school of Baiona (Bayonne) to study and adorn the church services in the cathedral with Gregorian chant. I was soon selected to sing solo during important ceremonies and also in the living room of a philanthropic lady on certain Sunday afternoons. After completing the sixth grade the headmaster told me I had to repeat the year. I was surprised, because according to my marks there were no real grounds for it. Then I realised that the holy priest wanted me, the songbird, beside him for another year. I spent three years there mortally afraid. That was the end of my childhood party. I loved to laugh, move and speak.

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