Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

11 July, 2005

Prost Gotvins Geometri – Part 6

This is Prost Gotvins geometri by Gert Nygårdshaug. The translation was done by Roy Johansen. Nygårdshaug is a Norwegian author and the text has not yet been published in English. Roy is a friend of mine who recently moved back to his native Norway. He has translated a good part of the novel and I'm trying to convince him to finish it.

Here’s Part 5.


Father Gotvin's First Journey (continued)



When I woke up, I did not know where I was, of course. This always happened when I woke up in unfamiliar surroundings and this morning was no exception. Only after having leafed through a few pages of the Spanish Bible did I realize I was at the destination of a journey. But no sooner had I grasped this before also realizing that this was when the journey really started.

Thus the new day started the same way the previous one had ended: with chaos filling my head and I was startlingly close to even forgetting my morning prayer which had been a ritual since my studies at the Lutheran School of Theology. The ritual consisted of firt carefully picking a passage from the Bible, reading it out loud, and then forming a prayer based on this passage. I considered this a creative process that had inspired many of my sermons and I did indeed complete the ritual even this morning, although the prayer that emerged was somewhat abstract: “Lord, You are our Father, you will always remain the same, immutable and faithful God and Father. Never will you reject me, your love is tender and untiringly faithful, God, you are the same as when I was a child.” After this prayer I shaved and put on a tan t-shirt with a picture of a cross and a candle, examined myself in the mirror for a long time. A young man, blond hair falling down my forehead, the bridge of my nose slightly humped, precisely like my father’s, gray eyes, full, sad lips, and two pimples below my right temple. Everything was normal. Then I packed an extra t-shirt, green, also with a cross and a candle, plus a pair4 of slacks in a plastic bad and walked out on the street where I immediately witnessed an older woman being run down by a delivery van traveling much too fast. The accident was brutal. The poor woman fell under the car and had one of her arms torn off and at the same time of one the tires crushed her head. I cracked open like an egg and her brain sprayed the street all the way to the tips of my shoes. This was the second time in my life I had witnessed a pedestrian being brutally run down by a car. Startled, I backed away three feet and lifted my arms above my head. This gesture was, for some reason I don’t know, misinterpreted by a policeman who came running and pushed me up against a wall with such force that I collapsed and remained sitting there.

I sat there and watched as people flocked to the scene.
Watched police cars and an ambulance arrive.
The body of the poor woman.
It was wrapped in a dark plastic bag.
I was watching.
How the driver of the van was taken away by the police.
Afterwards the blood and the brain were wiped up.
Traffic was running again as if nothing had happened.

I got up and stumbled down the sidewalk like a drunk while mumbling something that should have been passages from the Bible, but which probably were self-constructed ethical words of comfort adapted to the horrible episode I had witnessed. I walked in a haze until I dropped into a chair on a sidewalk restaurant where I eventually got a glass of beer. The beer was rancid and had not much of a head but I emptied the glass in one, long swill. This was something the chairman of Vanndal Church Council should have seen, old entrepreneur Magnus Stormarkbråten. He would have been sure to raise his authoritative forefinger. Beer was about the worst thing Stormarkbråten knew, second only to poaching for grayling in his part of the river. But Stormarkbråten was not here. He was, and had always been, far from the Fields of Stars, far from Santiago de Compostela, from an old woman who, just having bought her daily bread and olives, had had her brain smeared across the asphalt. The church council in Vanndal was far removed from miracles – the miracle. Why did I co-associate these unseemly, seemingly disparate incidents? Where was my humbleness? Was I being ironic? Sarcastic? Sardonic? Where might this journey end if these thoughts continue? Had I not awoken with a conviction that this was the true start of my trip? What had I embarked on? But my feelings of opposition grew no weaker and contrary to all my principles, I ordered another glass of beer and downed this one in one swill as well. The journey has only started, Gotvin Soleng!

I asked a young man for directions to the cathedral. He pointed and I walked slowly and studied the bustle of people, the sounds, and noticed the smells/ So this was Spain; strange. Now I could see the steeples of this enormous structure. It must be even bigger than the Nidaros Cathedral. This one was supposed to have been built according to a divine geometry, - “divine principle”. What did that mean? I noticed that my pace quickened and I was sweating. The unfamiliar heat also affected my mind. I reached the cathedral square and beheld the two mighty portals funneling into the sanctuary, all the people – a stream of people, pilgrims – and I stopped.

I could feel the splendor.
All of a sudden I knew my own insignificance.
My humbleness forced me to lower my eyes.
This cathedral was God’s own edifice.
His lines, His striving toward perfection.

”In whom all the building fitly framed together growth unto an holy temple in the Lord.” Ephesians 2:21. I mumbled a quiet prayer about Heaven being shared among use all when we realized that what we were building was God’s temple and by His blessing did we work. That’s how it was. I lifted up my eyes past the steeples towering high above me, unto the blue sky, but why had the Virgin Mary taken those two children with her? Perhaps One of them had been standing in the precise spot I was standing right now…> I could feel the pressure of tears behind my eyelids, swallowed, Lords, Your strength is our inadequacy. We will not understand, must not understand! But why shouldn’t we? I slipped into a line moving toward a small fountain while fumbling with my plastic bag. The woman directly in front of me unabashedly pulled her dress over her head and off, put a new one on and washed her hands in the fountain: ”He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself. After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples’ feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded.” We were disciples.

I quickly pulled off my own jeans, changed into what I had been carrying in my plastic bag and immersed my hands in the fountain, the water of Jesus, the way it’s supposed to be. I had become new, pure. An older gentleman stumbled and fell in his fervor to tear his old garments from his body but two nuns immediately rushed to help him. Did even the nuns change their habits? No, they just sprinkled themselves with water. I followed the queue toward the blazing bonfire; that was where we would burn our old clothes. I threw my relatively new jeans into the flames along with my t-shirt, worn perhaps five times. The line moved slowly. We approached the portal representing Purgatory. When the line almost came to a complete standstill, most people crossed themselves, their lips moving in prayer. Catholics were pained with this tortuous notion, this purifying, eschatological fire that the Lutheran doctrine, in its wisdom, had rejected and removed from our belief. Now we arrived at the great portal with Jesus and the apostles. St. James himself by the Tree of Life, all hewn in marble, and here, we, the pilgrims, would touch the rock. We would press a finger against the very root of the Tree of Life. My turn came and, to my amazement, I noticed deep holes in the rock, worn into it through the centuries by millions upon millions of fingers touching this precise spot. A young woman in front of me started sobbing – who knows for what reason – but was immediately taken care of by her husband? Father? We were approaching the climactic stage. We were in the actual cathedral; the air as heavy, damp. The little sounds we made were projected toward the massive arches above use and were transformed into muffled, hollowed steps up behind an enormous altar. Authoritative, reticent guards directed the line and then we found ourselves in front of the 700 year-old painting of St. James. He was wearing a jewel-studded gown that we all were to kiss. I felt a certain repugnance about placing my lips on what thousands of other lips had touch and, Lord forgive me, I wiped my mouth on my sleeve afterwards. But, alas, the shrine, the coffin where St. James’ earthly remains lay, the skeleton, they did not let us see or kiss. I was placed in an undercroft underneath the cathedral. Were they really the apostle’s bones? A complete skeleton as the Pope claimed? The truth, may the Lord forgive me again, was that the bones throughout the centuries had been scattered, sold as relics. A substantial portion, the cranium?, ended up in the great mosque of Cordoba, but then all the pieces were collected and reassembled here. The skeleton of the fisherman apostle James was now safely stored in the crypt deep beneath the cathedral. But why was there a big hole in the back of the skull – a hole from a bullet as was claimed by those who had seen it - the forensic scientists? And how could pieces of its hipbone possibly have been carbon-dated to the mid 19th century? The Pope, John Paul II, had not given an answer to these questions when asked, for, second only to the sancta in Jerusalem and Rome, the reliquary under the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela was the greatest in all Catholic Christianity, even counting the left arm of St. John the Baptizer on display in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul. I was not able to escape the se thoughts as the queue snaked back toward the exit. The great theologians Lubas, Congar, and Karl Rahner who had contributed to the liberation of Catholic theology from the narrow framework of neo-scholasticism had had the same thoughts. As a student of theology I had read their erudite works, so, Lord, I am not planting seeds of doubt about Your signs and Your will. So many things are unfathomable and some question shall never be given answer, just as Pope John Paul II knew. That is why he did not answer this question.

I was again outside in the sunshine.
Three hours I had spent in the cathedral.
I was sweating.
I was standing where I had to be, on the square in front of the church.
Where four-hundred-and-thirty-three pilgrims had been standing.
Again I glanced up toward the blue sky.
The Virgin Mary in a wreath of light?
Celestie and Thomasi.
|| Palmer, 11:37 AM

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