HAVANA TIMES — Some say all thoughts travel through space as vibrations and produce a reaction somewhere – like prayers with or without words that are somehow heard by a thinking universe.
Some days ago, I bought an anthology of Cuban poems and was very much surprised to find two pieces dedicated to God (God with a capital, yes).
I clearly recall the two authors – Luisa Perez de Zambrana and Placido – from my years at school, where I was an outstanding student (at least in my Spanish and Literature classes).
The first question that came to mind was why, in my ninth-grade Cuban literature textbook, I never came across verses like these:
How beautiful it would be, all-powerful God,
to live in the heart
of a world peopled only
by the just and the good! [i]
I cannot deceive you, oh merciful God,
for your eternal wisdom
can see through my body and my soul,
as through the air and the clear transparency,
troubled, as my humiliated innocence,
that impious slander should beat their palms…[ii]
Memory inevitably took me back to 1995, when I accompanied a foreign friend of mine to a radio station, where he was to speak on a type of Bhakti meditation. Seconds before the interview, the journalist who helped us stressed that certain words were strictly forbidden and could not be pronounced on the air: god, soul and spirit. Days later, I was asked to introduce a lecture at the National Theater in Havana and, out of pure rebelliousness, I started saying: “When God made man….”
I wanted to see if this noun would indeed cause a scandal. Nothing happened. The audience and employees respectfully listened to my remarks and some people approached me afterwards, moved by my words. Three years later, very close to the theater, the image of Jesus Christ was used to cover the facade of a building and the secular, socialist square became the stage of a Catholic liturgy.
Since then, I’ve noticed how the occasional program or film with a non-materialistic worldview makes its way to Cuban television. I have also been witness to an increasingly flexible vocabulary in the media. Finding two profoundly devotional poems written by authors that I recall so well from my adolescence made me wish that those verses had acted as a counterbalance to the atheism I was instilled with by my education. I would have liked to have had the choice to forget them, remember them or perhaps learn them by heart, as I spontaneously did with the rhyming verses of Becquer and even fragments of the Mio Cid.
Getting back to the intro to my post, the book I bought, titled Rayo de Luz (“Lightbeam”), with a prologue by Leonardo Padura, is a response to the question I asked myself weeks ago, when I ran into a collection of old volumes and encyclopedias my mother owned as a child among my books. In its frail pages, which dealt with topics as different as physics, biology, history, fairy tales and games, I saw several sections devoted to poetry. These included entries on Cuban poets, and the topics addressed did not exclude religious contemplation.
I asked myself why the books I read in my childhood never expressed concerns of that nature, not even at a time when I began wondering about the origin of life the mystery of death.
The question I ask myself now is whether now, after the book fair dedicated to India (that land of profound mysticism) and the perfect occasion to recall that Cubans have a soul and some even believe in God (literally) is over, “beams of light” (past or present) will continue to pierce through, or whether we will have to wait another half century to be able to unfold our spiritual side.
[i] Luisa Pérez de Zambrana, fragmento de “A Dios”
[ii] Gabriel de la Concepción Valdés (Plácido) fragmento de “Plegaria a Dios”