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“Literature and Experience of God” – Frei Betto, Brasiliens wichtigster Befreiungstheologe.


In literature, the word becomes flesh. Even though, in my opinion, music is the most sublime art, literature is the most sacred. God chose it to reveal himself to us.

He chose Semitic writing and a style close to fiction, for in the whole Bible there is not a  single lesson in theology, nor a doctrinal essay nor a conceptual text. It is all pictorial narrative “ one sees what one reads.Biblical books compile a succession of historical and allegorical facts (parables, metaphors, aphorisms) interspersed with genealogy, axioms, proverbs, poems (Song of Songs and Psalms) and technical and ornamental details (the building of the Temple cf. 2 Chronicles).

As Herbert Schneidau points out, the Bible can be considered ”historical fiction prose. Historical because it distances itself from the world of legends and myths even though there is legendary raw material subjacent to Genesis in the story about David, in the saga of Job and partially in the Books of Kings.

Biblical authors deliberately moved away from the epic genre (Homer and Virgil) which is explained by the rejection of polytheism. What permeates biblical writing is a sense of historicity. It breaks the circularity of the mythological world presenting us with a God who has a history: Yahweh the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Historicity becomes present in the description of the first five days of Creation before the appearance of the one who would be considered the protagonist of the historical process: the human being. There is an evolution, symbolised in the succession of the six days.

What makes us in the image and likeness of God is the capacity to love and to speak. Animals also love, so much so that certain birds like the sparrow remain faithful once they have mated. But only human beings possess a level of consciousness which allows them to organise and express feelings, emotions, intuition and affection.  This gives us the divine likeness. God is love and his affection for us is manifest in the language contained in biblical narrative and in the epiphany of the Word which, amongst us, became flesh.

Writing is one form of trying to organize interior chaos. This is why every artist is a clone of God. Writing is therapeutic and liberating. Helio Pellegrino, who was a psychoanalyst, attributed my mental health during my years in prison to the fact that I literalized prison life. My world is re-created when I let go of words and syntactic rules and give form and expression to what I think and feel. Thus I transubstantiate reality, I project myself into something which outside myself is not I however it translates my interior profile in a way I never would be able to achieve through mere speech.

Writing constitutes a form of prayer, as the psalmist well knew. The experience of God precedes and surpasses writing. However what little one knows of it comes through writing, rarely through personal experience. Great mystics like Buddha, Jesus and Mohammed wrote nothing. What we know of them and of their teachings is thanks to those who had the job of writing things down.

Even if mystics such as Plotinus, Meister Eckhart and Charles de Foucauld themselves were able to express it, there are moments when the experience of God surpasses the limits of the word. It is ineffable.  As Adelia Prado, our Brazilian poetess says ”If I could, some day, I would not write a book (Círculo). ”I don™t care for the common word/ I want the splendid chaos from where syntax emerges. / The word disguises something more serious, deaf and dumb/ it was invented to be hushed./ In moments of grace, which are most infrequent,/ it is possible to hold it: a live fish in one™s hand./ Pure fear and terror. (Antes do nome).

John of the Cross, the patron of Spanish poets, left three of his four books unfinished. Thomas Aquinas considered, after his ecstasy in Naples, that all his work was chaff. He never wrote again.

In the Adeline focus above there is empathy with T.S. Eliot™s poem Ash Wednesday written in 1930 three years after the poet converted to Christianity. In Part Five Eliot sings that ”the lost word was lost and ”the used word wore out but endures in the ”wordless Word, the Word. In the world™s entrails.

All poetry of quality is polysemic. It is verse which makes our opposite emerge. It is song which enchants, unfolding our being and multiplying it inducing us to find the true person we are who nevertheless dwells in us as a stranger provoking dread and fascination.It is to poetry that the Apostle Paul resorts when, in his speech at the Areopagus (Acts 17:28) he expresses our ontological and visceral union with God: ”For in him we live and move and have our being as even some of your poets have said ˜For we too are his offspring.™

He is referring to a free quotation from ”Phaenomena, the work of Arat who was a poet living in Cilicia in the third century BC. The original text is ”Let us start with Zeus whom we mortals never cease to remember. Because every road, every market is filled with Zeus. Even the sea and the port are filled with his divinity. Everywhere, everyone is indebted to Zeus. Because we truly are his children… (Phaenomena 1-5).


*Frei Betto is a writer and co-author with Marcelo Barros of ”O amor fecunda o Universo “ ecologia e   espiritualidade (Love impregnates the Universe “ ecology and spirituality) (Agir), he is a Brazilian Dominican with an international reputation as a liberation theologian. Within Brazil he is equally famous as a writer, with over 52 books to his name.  In 1985 he won Brazil™s most important literary prize, the Jabuti, and was elected Intellectual of the Year by the members of the Brazilian Writers™ Union.

Frei Betto has always been active in Brazilian social movements, and has been an adviser to the Church™s ministry to workers in Sáo Paulo™s industrial belt, to the Church base communities, and to the Landless Rural Workers™ Movement (MST). In 2003-2004, he was Special Adviser to President Lula and Coordinator of Social Mobilisation for the Brazilian Government™s Zero Hunger programme.

Dieser Beitrag wurde am Mittwoch, 13. Mai 2009 um 22:58 Uhr veröffentlicht und wurde unter der Kategorie Politik abgelegt. Du kannst die Kommentare zu diesen Eintrag durch den RSS-Feed verfolgen.

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