It is some time since I asked you to tell us about the most enlightening recent literary work you have read. What was it?
Without any doubt, it was Joe Galea’s fourth book of poems, the name of which is perhaps best translated as Radiance (Dija) published by the Carmelite Institute, Mdina. It is a fresh instalment in the sparsely-worded diary of his spiritual journey, of an unusual love affair expressed in the form of a dialogue in which the intellect is fired by passion.
The love of another human being can never be in rivalry with the love of God- Fr Peter Serracino Inglott
The poet who is a monk has set up a house of prayer near Binġemma after spending many years in a hermitage on the almost unreachable peak of a crumbling mountain in Italy. Rather than giving you a critical review of the book, I think it would be better to attempt to give you a taste of it even in the impoverished form of prosaic versions in English of the extremely fine lyrical Maltese verse.
As usual the choice of a starting point for a journey is among the most problematic. An Irishman famously answered a tourist in Dublin who asked him the way to Molly Malone’s statue, “If I wanted to go there, I would not have started from here.” That reply is most valuable to anybody wanting to start upon either a philosophical journey in search of a meaningful existence or on a spiritual journey in quest of God.
So what is the chosen or accepted starting point for Joe Galea, alias Fra Gioele? It is the poem almost inevitably in the circumstances named with obvious allusion to the very first words of the mythical book of Genesis as well as of the mystical Gospel of St John: “In the Beginning.
“Before with breath of fire, you raised from earth/the cloud of dust/that’s now myself/what miraculous outcome had you dreamt of?/what did you expect?
That my side would provide you/with the sources of water/to quench the thirst/you always admitted/ your soul was parched with?”
So, the starting point is a Job-like challenge to the Creator reminding him that, although He had breathed the fire of His Spirit into the lump of clay out of which He had moulded Adam, He should still not pitch His hopes too high: the matter out of which we were made was still particles of earth.
What happens in the middle of the journey?
“Today it is you who is calling out/not me/today I know I have lost everything/and there will be no dawn tomorrow.
“Don’t you know why you are in quest of me/and yet do not find me out?/don’t you know why you do not discern me/as I move from tree to tree?
“Don’t you know I am wearing fig leaves/because I became aware of my nudity?/don’t you know that in these motley clothes I myself don’t know my whereabouts?
“Don’t you know that your name has become/too difficult for me to spell out/and my eyes have grown too heavy/for me to lift them up towards you?
“Don’t you know I lack the strength/to bear such loads of guilt?/and that whenever you ask, ‘Where are you?’, it wrecks my soul?
“Today I’m no longer in search of you/but you of me/today the Garden that was Eden/ is no longer – it’s become labyrinth.”
I could not help recalling when reading “After-the Fall” poems such as this, the post-Jewish philosopher Derrida’s comparing his tears over the predicament of those who like him had lost the confident faith of their parents to the negative theology of medieval mystics such as even Thomas Aquinas.
Night becomes the most pregnant symbol of God just as the vast black backgrounds in Caravaggio’s paintings represent the dark void out of which his luminous and colourful figures emerge palpitating with new life force.
Being a mother myself I was particularly moved by the deep meaning behind the poem Ball of Wool which Fra Gioele dedicated to his mother. What do you think of it?
I suspect that, like the prophet Isaiah he thinks motherhood to be a better image of the God who is Love than the fatherhood evoked in other poems such as the Abraham-inspired: “And when?” (U meta?)
“Like a ball of wool from your lap/I dropped out of your womb/like a ball of wool I tumbled/ unwound on the ground, acutely aware.
“As if I were still for you a ball of wool/you kept on striving to pick me up/as if I could have stayed a ball/you kept on carrying me in dream-desire.
“What would you pay for me to return/to your womb as my place of refuge/as you saw me a mystery in course of concoction/as mystery defying any sort of solution?
“What would you pay to have your mind/rekindled/with dreams about my life/with my eyes still closed?
“The pupils of your eyes were alight/when you were pregnant with me/but today, what’s happening?/today why are they dimmed out?
“Is it because I was once a woollen ball for you/and now no longer?/ because I was once enfleshed in you and now you cannot find me?
“But, no, my mother!/look carefully at your trembling hand…/can’t you see the end of the woollen thread/ held... steadily as never before?”
Rarely have I found so well expressed the basic idea that the love of another human being can ever be in rivalry with the love of God but that rather the earthly love is the only means for the authentic expression of Divine Love, and that it is the love of God alone which can bring to eternal fulfilment the love of fellow creatures.
Fr Peter Serracino Inglott was talking to Miriam Vincenti.