i was asked the tricky question today, one i usually botch up the answer to. i was asked it in jc, and i asked to pray for the strength of faith. some people thought that was courageous. as i grew older you could say i gave up.

perhaps it is true, perhaps the life i have led is not a christian one, and that makes simple answers to simple questions unnecessarily difficult. the lack of faith, humility, conviction possibly shines through and is scented from a mile away. can't give a simple answer. but i don't feel a yes or no in my brain. well, i actually feel a strong yes, but then i compare it to the world and so many things don't fit. so if you ask me if i share your faith, i think the better answer would be no. i still do botch up the answers.

but i want to relate two stories. i was holed up in a ramshackle room in maumere for 2 days, and eugenio had already flown off to denpasar. there were lots of highs and lows on the trip, the hard climb to rinjani, the motorbike ride under the stars to the top of kelimutu. and then occasionally i would feel really low. what mainly picked me up was dancing to songs in my ipod, but i dug myself out too by remembering these stories.

the first is from ben hur, which originally was just a novel written by someone trying to sort out his own religious beliefs. i read an abridged pictorial version when i was young, and the picture has always stuck with me. judah ben-hur is a person whose religion and race has been slighted in the face of roman domination. he vows revenge for his own personal injuries. he trains night and day to race chariots or whatever it is romans do for fun. he is attracted to a woman and he and his friends are excited by jesus, and pledge to fight for his cause. they read the prophesies and are convinced that he will lead them out of the yoke of domination. he thinks jesus is mucking about because he's supposed to be the next king of the jews but he never shows himself.

now this is where my memory might be playing tricks. maybe i have remembered wrongly, but in my story jesus walks up the hill in cavalry. they nail him to the cross and kill him. i put myself in ben hur's shoes and jesus is just up there, dead, doing nothing. the fuck? i was hoping so long for him to flay all the romans to dust and lived an upright life, maximizing my abilities hoping to fight for your cause. and you're just there dead. where is the miracle now? so exactly what is it has your life accomplished?

and then they step back for a moment and they think, guess he's not the political leader we're waiting for. but who is this person who has inspired us by his example anyway? he's delivered nothing, never answered the thing i was praying for. but what attracted me so much of his example? and the lesson they were meant to learn is that he truly was not a king of this earth. so was there a nobility to his dying?

so i think a cornerstone of faith would be: so what if there is no life after death, no resurrection in the conventional sense we are hoping for? just as jesus did not fulfill ben hur's conventional interpretation of the bible, why should we believe that "i am the resurrection and the life" means more of the same worldly things we expect? what if living forever is something... different?

i read crime and punishment for the first time in maumere. i had dreaded opening it for a while thinking it would read like a typical 1800's novel, but when i opened it it wasn't that bad. it's the style i like, comes from the lineage that i like. for dostoevsky, what the new testament means is redemption. raskolnikov goes to kill someone for the sake of it, nominally to avoid paying his rent, but really to see if he was capable of taking a human life, and whether or not the normal rules of morality really should apply. after all, why should they apply? he convinces himself his destiny is napoleonic, that he has something new to say, and that it should be possible to kill someone less happy to make someone else happier. he is in agreement with all this reason, but soon discovers in the act of killing he is no napoleon. he initially enjoys the thrill of the cover up and the crime, but is soon tripping himself with weird manifestations of guilt contrary to his faculties of moral reasoning. he never really comes to terms with how he feels about the murder, but he decides to turn himself in. sonya is one of those fabled "kind hearted prostitute" characters who he confesses to first. she reads him the new testament and the story of lazarus, 11th chapter of the gospel against St John.

"and many of the jews came to martha and mary to comfort them concerning their brother. then martha, as soon as she heard that jesus was coming, went and met him, but mary sat still in the house. then said martha unto jesus, lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother would not have died. but i know that even now, whatsoever thou wilt ask of God, God will give it thee. jesus saith unto her, thy brother will rise again. martha saith unto her, thy brother will rise again. martha saith unto him, i know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day. jesus said to her: "i am the resurrection and the life, he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. believest thou this?"

the story continues and lazarus is raised, indicating that the interpretation is meant to be literal, that there is a resurrection. but what happens when lazarus dies again? then there is the last day.

and through raskolnikov, he achieves an understanding of the new testament. raskolnikov has been imprisoned in siberia, and sonya follows and makes a living amongst the inmates. this is from the epilogue:

"an anxiety with no object or purpose in the present, and in the future nothing but endless sacrifice, by means of which he would attain nothing - that was what his days on earth held in store for him. and what of the fact that in eight year's time he would only be thirty-two (note raskolnikov is 24 same as me) and would be able to resume his life again? what good was life to him? what prospects did he have? what did he have to strive for? was he to live merely in order to exist? but a thousand times before he had been ready to give up his existence for an idea, even an imagining. existence on its own had never been enough for him; he had always wanted more than that. perhaps it had merely been the strength of his desires that made him belive he was a person to whom more was allowed to than others. and even if fate had sent him no more than remose - burning remorse that destroyed the heart, driving away sleep, the kind of remorse to escape whose fearsome torments the mind clutches at the noose and the well, oh, how glad he would have beem! torment and tears -- after all, that is life too. but he felt no remorse for his crime. at the very least he would have been able to feel anger at his stupidity, just as he had earlier felt anger at the stupid and outrageous actions which had brought him to the prison.....

though of course in that case many of mankind's benefactors who did not inherit power but took it for themselves ought to have been executed at their very first steps. but those people had the courage of their convictions, and so they were right, while i didn't, and consequently i had no right to take the step i did. this was the one respect in which he admitted to any crime: in not having the courage of his convictions and turning himself in.

he also suffered from the thought of why he had not killed himself that day. why had he stood gazing down at the river and decided that he would prefer to turn himself in? did this desire for life really have such power, and was it so hard to overcome? svridigailov had overcome it, had he not, he who was so afraid of death?


he then observes how some of his penal inmates enjoy life so.

in the second week of lent his turn arrived to fast and attend holy communion together with the other men from his barrack. he entered the church and prayed together with the others. on one occasion, he himself did not know the reason, there was a quarrel; all the men attacked him in a frenzy of rage: 'you're an unbeliever! you don't believe in god! we ought to kill you'


Suddenly he found Sonia beside him; she had come up noiselessly and sat down at his side. It was still quite early; the morning chill was still keen. She wore her poor old burnous and the green shawl; her face still showed signs of illness, it was thinner and paler. She gave him a joyful smile of welcome, but held out her hand with her usual timidity. She was always timid of holding out her hand to him and sometimes did not offer it at all, as though afraid he would repel it. He always took her hand as though with repugnance, always seemed vexed to meet her and was sometimes obstinately silent throughout her visit. Sometimes she trembled before him and went away deeply grieved. But now their hands did not part. He stole a rapid glance at her and dropped his eyes on the ground without speaking. They were alone, no one had seen them. The guard had turned away for the time.
How it happened he did not know. But all at once something seemed to seize him and fling him at her feet. He wept and threw his arms round her knees. For the first instant she was terribly frightened and she turned pale. She jumped up and looked at him trembling. But at the same moment she understood, and a light of infinite happiness came into her eyes. She knew and had no doubt that he loved her beyond everything and that at last the moment had come.…
They wanted to speak, but could not; tears stood in their eyes. They were both pale and thin; but those sick pale faces were bright with the dawn of a new future, of a full resurrection into a new life. They were renewed by love; the heart of each held infinite sources of life for the heart of the other. 23
They resolved to wait and be patient. They had another seven years to wait, and what terrible suffering and what infinite happiness before them! But he had risen again and he knew it and felt it in all his being, while she—she only lived in his life.


Under his pillow lay the New Testament. He took it up mechanically. The book belonged to Sonia; it was the one from which she had read the raising of Lazarus to him. At first he was afraid that she would worry him about religion, would talk about the gospel and pester him with books. But to his great surprise she had not once approached the subject and had not even offered him the Testament. He had asked her for it himself not long before his illness and she brought him the book without a word. Till now he had not opened it. 27
He did not open it now, but one thought passed through his mind: “Can her convictions not be mine? Her feelings, her inspirations at least.…”
She too had been greatly agitated that day, and at night she was taken ill again. But she was so happy—and so unexpectedly happy—that she was almost frightened of her happiness. Seven years, only seven years! At the beginning of their happiness at some moments they were both ready to look on those seven years as though they were seven days. He did not know that the new life would not be given him for nothing, that he would have to pay dearly for it, that it would cost him great striving, great suffering.
But that is the beginning of a new story—the story of the gradual renewal of a man, the story of his gradual regeneration, of his passing from one world into another, of his initiation into a new unknown life. That might be the subject of a new story, but our present story is ended.

and these are the stories i have to tell about a small faith that i have, the faith that a redemption and a renewal is possible.

No comments: