Bewilderment for Three
When Father Joseph looked at the hands of Lorenzo Marces, he was unable to contain his amazement:
“Oh, my Good Lord, Lorenzo!” Father Joseph felt free to call Lorenzo by his name, as it happens for older people addressing younger ones when ties are formed.
He walked towards Lorenzo to touch that edition of the Bible. Lorenzo smiled, happy with the joy he saw in the priest and both walked to the table of the dining room on which he laid the 3.2 kg edition of the Catholic Bible. Father Joseph was like a child before a Christmas gift:
“Did you know that it is nearly impossible to find this edition for sale? The only one I found was sold in an auction for two hundred fifty US dollars!”
Such price for a book was very high in Brazil. The book was produced in commemoration of the first visit of a Pope to the country, John Paul II, in 1980. The visit was highlighted by the humbleness of Karol Wojtyła whenever he stepped a country for the first time, kissing its ground, a shortcut to the heart of the Brazilians, including non-Catholic ones. The letter-sized ten-centimeter thick book had an elegant black cover with golden printed borders, a golden engraved metal plate indicating the special edition and a golden metal cross with a red stone inlaid right in the center of it; its more than one-thousand eight-hundred pages were gilded. When closed, the book looked like a golden box with a black lid.
Veitena continued on the sofa, watching the two men. A Bible for a man who hated reading represented something she had not yet figured out. Definitely, this is not good…
Carefully, Father Joseph leafed through its pages to see the first image of the richly illustrated book, a full page picture of a smiling John Paul II:
“Lorenzo, this is the most beautiful edition of the Bible ever produced in Brazil! Where did you buy it?”
“It was a gift.” he answered, flushing.
Father Joseph leafed through other pages, when he found a non-folded card that said:
’The black in this cover indicates the absence of light.
They are all in you and, as a prism,
They emanate from your eyes,
Your smiles, words and gestures!
Father Joseph looked at Lorenzo as the priest who recognized the woman about whom Lorenzo spoke in confessions. He could not hide a certain joy for him.
To break the awkwardness of that moment in front of Veitena, Lorenzo spoke the first thing it occurred to him about that Bible:
“You know, Father, this is the most beautiful edition, but it is not the best translation. There are new versions that are more precise, taking into account the cultural and social characteristics of that time in addition to the mere language translation…”
“How did you know this?! I went to a seminary to learn it!” Father Joseph exclaimed, impressed with Lorenzo, who laughed as innocently as a child, remembering how he loved those talks with Elena on motel beds, and most of all, how he reacted when she gave him the Bible, telling her ‘I am sorry to inform that I won’t read a book THIS big…’ with both laughing out loud before she told she would read beautiful verses for him. And she did…
Veitena could hardly organize her thoughts and questions. This is not Lorenzo! This is some woman! I had checked that Elena personally before; she has no religion! She does not attend any service!! One of the whores?! I don’t think so…One of those divorced ones from São Paulo?! No… I know them, they are lapsed Catholics… Who could be the woman who is doing this to Lorenzo?! It has to be someone from the church. Evil sometimes hides in the church… She had to take some action to recover the purpose of that meeting, in order to save her future life with her husband:
“Father Joseph, why did you ask Lorenzo if he had a Bible?”
It seems we are losing focus here!
“Yes, yes, of course,” replied the priest, sitting back on the armchair, “there is something I want to read for you.”
For Lorenzo, you mean… Veitena would not openly correct Father Joseph.
As soon as Lorenzo sat, Father Joseph carefully opened the huge Bible in a given page. Looking at Veitena, he said:
“Pay attention to what this woman says:
’…I sat down under his shadow with great delight,
his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banquet hall.
His banner over me is love…’ ”
Then, looking straight to Veitena, Father Joseph kindly asked:
“Dona Veitena,” as people in Brazil address each other politely, not by the surname, but by the name preceded by ‘Dona’ for ladies, “what do you think these verses describe?”
Veitena could not understand why Father Joseph directed the reading and the question to her. The text seemed disturbing. The priest repeated it slowly and he would do it a thousand times until she said something.
Veitena nearly panicked. She did not know what text was that. It seems oral sex?! What horror! But Father Joseph read the Bible, it cannot be! Even in church every day, she never read the whole Bible. The fourth repetition constrained her and she said:
“Father Joseph, I have no idea!”
“Dona Veitena, these verses describe the physical accomplishment of love between a man and a woman, in this excerpt particularly, by the action of the woman. And the love and commitment with each other are so intense, so sacred and so beautiful that the book not only was included in the Bible, but also resisted almost all revisions over the centuries. Now, would you consider it pornography?”
Veitena stood to walk towards the book. She had to see it for herself. Father Joseph, caring, told her to sit down that he would hand her the Bible, what he did, taking the card he saw inside and then, indicating the page in which that excerpt was read. The Song of Songs, chapter two, verses three and four, it cannot be!
While Veitena glued her eyes to those verses, Father Joseph handed the card to Lorenzo.
“Father Joseph, from all my life in the church, all I know about the Song of Songs is that it refers to the love of God for His people. The book should be understood as the allegory it is!”
“Indeed, for a long time that was the understanding of the Church. However, new studies were performed and today, even inside the Catholic Church, many consider more appropriate to recognize the physical dimension of a couple’s sacred love for obvious reasons.”
Lorenzo followed the discussion with interest, even hating the universe of books. Elena would love to know Father Joseph…
Although there was some logic in that, Veitena considered it a completely wrong approach to what she denounced to Father Joseph. However, she deemed risky to use tools such as a sudden outburst of screaming or breathlessness at that moment.
Father Joseph proceeded:
’My beloved thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him.
I arose to open for my beloved and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with flowing myrrh on the handles of the bolt.’
Don’t you consider embarrassing the people of God expressing in this manner about Him even as allegory? Personally, I do, and I guess that at some point in history, with plenty of new researches in the fields of social traditions and literature of that time as well as philosophy and theology, the Church understood that it would be better to give this magnificent masterpiece of poetry its due meaning.”
Veitena could not believe that she seemed to be the target there. Father Joseph went on:
“Dona Veitena, the Bible itself teaches, with this book, that there exists much more beyond the shallow bodily pleasure that extinguishes in its own superficial materiality. And this masterpiece shows it: the sacred love physically fulfilled that feeds souls.” he paused to look at Lorenzo and back to Veitena, “If you observe the very position of the Song of the Songs in the Bible, you’ll see that it is located within a subset of books called Poetry and Wisdom! For those who like philosophy, it’s the most important nucleus of the Bible! Pure wisdom against sexual banality! Listen to this refrain that is repeated in cycles along the poem:
’I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem,
by the roes…’ ”
Lorenzo interrupted Father Joseph to complete that verse, by heart:
“…or by the hinds of the field,
that you do not stir up, nor awaken love,
until it so desires…”
The man who hated books just recited, with precision, verses from the most enigmatic book of the Bible, for the bewilderment of Father Joseph and the horror of Veitena Marces.