Thursday, 24 July 2008

A countess vs. a country priest

To die is difficult, especially for the proud. I fear my death less than yours.” – says the priest (in Robert Bresson’s masterpiece, Le journal d’un curé de campagne / Diary of a Country Priest) to the pride countess, who’s been hiding her husband’s affairs for years, putting herself up with her husband's countless infidelities, suffering absurd humiliations. Still, the priest wishes to gently remove pride from her soul: “Blessed is sin if it teaches us shame.” The countess is reluctant to truly resign: “Nothing but words! Are you trying to worry me? Well, you won't. I have too much sense.” Now the countess silently approves of her husband’s will. He wants to throw away their daughter, as she threats him with his affairs. “God will break you.” “Break me?” says the countess. “He has broken me already. God took my son from me. What more can He do to me? I no longer fear Him.” Yet, the priest assures her that “God took him away for a time, but your hardness, the coldness of your heart may keep you from him forever.” The countess keeps on telling him that “Love is stronger than death. Your scriptures say so.” The priest: “We did not invent love. It has its order, its law.” The countess seems not to know about love’s order and law. She says: “God is its master.” “He is not the master of love. He is love itself. If you would love, don't place yourself beyond love's reach.” - answers the priest, who continues: “No one knows what can come of an evil thought in the long run. Our hidden faults poison the air others breathe. You'd never get through the day if you dwelt on such thoughts! I believe that, madam. I believe if God gave us a clear idea of how closely we are bound to each other in good and evil, we truly could not live.” The countess suddenly becomes interested: “Pray tell, what is this hidden sin?” The priest’s answer: “You must resign yourself. Open your heart.” The countess is not happy with the priest’s words: “Resigned? I've been too much so. I should have killed myself!” Yet, it is too late now: “I lived in peace, and I should have died in peace. That is no longer possible. What will you gain by making me admit I hate Him, you fool?” Here come the priest’s decisive words: “You don't hate Him now. Now at last you are face-to-face. He and you. You must yield to Him unconditionally. But I can assure you there isn't one kingdom for the living and one for the dead. There is only the kingdom of God, and we are within it. If our God were the god of the pagans or philosophers, though he might take refuge in the highest heavens, our misery would drag him down. But as you know, ours did not wait. You might shake your fist at Him, spit in His face, whip Him with rods, and finally nail Him to a cross. What would it matter? It is already done.” They have got to the threshold: “What must I say to Him?” says the countess. “Say: Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done.” The countess is hesitating: “I can't. It's as if I were losing him twice over.” But the priest assures her that “The kingdom whose coming you have just wished for is yours and his. Then let that kingdom come!” At last, her repentance arises: “I must have hated God to insult him as I did. I might have died with that hatred on my heart. An hour ago, my life seemed to me in order, each thing in its place. You have left nothing standing.” Yet, she admits that “The pride is still left in me.” The priest’s final words: “Give Him your pride along with everything else. Give Him everything. God is no torturer. He wants us to be merciful with ourselves. Peace be with you.”

P.S. The priest jots down in his diary: “I had to leave immediately thereafter for Dombasle and arrived home very late. Clovis, the old gardener, gave me a parcel from the countess. I knew what was in it. The small medallion, now empty, and its broken chain. There was a letter as well. "Dear Father, the hopeless memory of one young child had me isolated from everything in a terrifying solitude, and it seems as if another child has drawn me out of it. I hope I don't hurt your pride by calling you a child. You are one, and may God keep you so always. I ask myself how you did it, or, rather, I have ceased to ask. All is well. I didn't believe resignation was possible, and in fact it's not resignation that's come over me. I'm not resigned - I'm happy. I desire nothing. I had to tell you these things this very evening. We shall never speak of them ever again, shall we? Never. It is good, that word ‘never.' I feel it expresses, beyond words, the peace you have given me." The countess died last night.”


Mă gândesc la câteva filme: Nazarin, Le journal d’un curé de campagne, Ugetsu Monogatari, Nunta de piatră şi, above all, opera completă a lui Tarkovski. Ce au ele ca numitor comun? Dincolo de profesionalism, există în ele o oază de înţelepciune care grăieşte aşa: atunci când ţi se pare că ai aflat care e adevărul, trebuie să te aştepţi la nenumărate încercări (ispite) pe care se cuvine a le primi cu sufletul pregătit, whatever the cost. Tarkovski ar spune că este vorba de o stare numită demnitate, pe care atunci când nu o (mai) are, omul se zdrobeşte, iar atunci când o are, se păstrează ca om. Şi încă ceva: cu totul remarcabilă e muţenia acestor filme, sau măcar concentrarea la maximum a limbajului. Cu atât mai mult sare în ochi esenţializarea cuvântării, cu cât vremurile în care trăim sunt sufocate de risipire, de împrăştiere fără noimă, de lipsă de măsură şi discernământ în alegerea cuvintelor - o adevărată babilonie sonoră, o aglomerare pestriţă de words, words, words signifying nothing, nothing, nothing...