Coping with faith in Lawin’s trail

Fr. Ranhilio Callangan Aquino

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Coping with faith in Lawin’s trail
'I write of faith as a storm no less violent because it wracks the soul'

No, it is not that faith is a buffer against the onslaught of Lawin and its testing of the human spirit. Rather I write of faith as a storm no less violent because it wracks the soul. I write as one who cringed in fear in the very eye of the storm, and in solidarity with Cagayanos — and Filipinos of the North — who received from Lawin a chastisement like no other before it.

When it was safe enough to venture out, I did, and one scene particularly etched in my memory that will long be with me is of an aged family man looking at the wreck that his home had been — expressionless, just staring, perhaps way past the heap of destruction before him into a future that held no promise.

There were prayers aplenty before the monster of a super typhoon hit us. I prayed fervently. My mother entrusted herself and her family to Our Lady of Piat, as she always has. And when all that met the eye wherever one turned were horrendous scenes of mayhem and destruction, there insinuated itself that question one tries so hard to suppress: Does God even listen? Does He make a difference?

My mother’s admirable prayer after she received news that her home and dad’s was now uninhabitable — its roof blown off, its walls collapsed: “We submit to Your Will, O God, but help us recover.” Admirable — and I truly admire my mother’s abiding faith. Sadly, I cannot share it because I do not think I can reconcile myself with the idea of a God whose will it is that a super typhoon should devastate his people the way Lawin did. No conceivable good can ever be drawn from the magnitude of such a physical evil, and to think of it as a test of faith makes matters even worse, for what kind of moral bankruptcy is it that drives one to subject people he claims he loves to a test so fiendish in proportions?

Is it anger at God, rebellion against him for having allowed the visitation of plague this severe — and, as far as human reckoning goes, so undeserved? Perhaps it is all this, for the agony of the soul draws no distinctions, and the boundary of one dark emotion easily yields to another! But the outrage goes back somewhere — not really to God, but to a notion of God as alluring as it is untenable. It is the notion of God as the architectonic intelligence behind every detail of the universe’s processes — the birth of a star, its death, the collision of atoms and the evolution of species. It is the tempting if primitive notion of God as the unsurpassable autocrat who lays down nature’s laws and can, as easily, suspend them.

Photo by Mara Cepeda/Rappler

What was Lawin? A super typhoon that was ultimately one the planet’s ways of maintaining that climatological equilibrium that though we do not perfectly understand, we have nevertheless managed to mess with, rather perilously. Why, except by the requirements of this concept of a universally omnipotent despot, should God be made to account for Lawin? It is a storm that in my soul that I have stirred up myself by assigning to God attributes I think he should have rather than those that thoughtfulness would rather assign him. Why should he be God only if he is able to account for everything — even for the arrant cruelty and heartlessness with which we deal with each other and the super typhoons that follow in the wake of a despoliation of creation?

But initial shock has given way to resoluteness and — unbelievably, while I am still doubting — people are back at the business of re-roofing their homes, clearing their yards of debris, helping linemen raise fallen electric posts — without complaint, without bitterness, with plenty of trepidation to be sure, but really, no inclination to give up.

It is this indomitable hope that I recognize as Divine. It is this conviction that there is something in us that no typhoon — no matter that a category beyond 5 will have to be minted for it — will snuff out that is Holy. It is that curious mix of a gift already received — and a gift yet awaited because promised (without there being any need to duplicate the gift because there just is no “second” gift!) that allows them to bring a future to pass — beyond Lawin — that is, for me, the herald’s call that He is in our midst.

This is how I have coped with my own faith — by examining its premises, revisiting its assumptions and even reworking crucial key concepts with a critical eye on the lookout for the beguilement of language! –

The author is Dean of the Graduate School of Law, San Beda College, and a professor at the Cagayan State University.

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