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The Beast beneath the Earth

What is happening beneath Canaman?

No one ever thought the day would come when we would ask this question. The curiosity is not about culture nor is it about crime; it is rather about these persistent earthquakes that have been troubling the areas around the said town, including the city of Naga.

What is causing these earthquakes? The answer is easy if we would base it upon science. Faults active under the earth are one main reason for the shaking. Even the grade schooler knows the term already – tectonic. With our simple mind, we know also the opposite, which is volcanic.

When friends or associates though ask me what the cause is, I always find myself unable to give a ready response. It is as if I do not believe the scientific explanation myself. And yet, for the past two weeks in my Zoom meetings, I have used the earthquakes to create my own identity. This is Tito Genova Valiente from the earthquake capital of the country! Ito po si Tito, galing sa nililindol na lungsod ng Naga sa Bikol.

I have exoticized myself as I have mystified the earthquakes.

Strange how we, in this Age of Information Overload, are not able to cope with a single question. We prefer that the questions asked about the things happening around us be about the mysteries of life – the unfathomable – rather than the realities of existence.

Faultlines are not enough. We seek the forces that bring about the trembling of the earth. Much as we try to imagine these cracks under the ground we stand on, we cannot bring ourselves to think of them as part of Nature. We know where our acceptance of lineaments and faults will bring us – to the truth that this Earth we know as our only home is not that stable.

Science therefore ceases to be a viable option at this point. Faith and religion can be the necessary alternative. Resignation can be also a matter for the heart to bear.

We pray. We pray that the shaking stop. After all there is no instrument discovered that can stop any earthquake, is there? That perhaps, Nature is really meant to be a cycle of destruction, reconstruction, rebirth, progress and, then destruction again. That civilization is not the peak but a plateau from which there is either the rise of societies or their fall.

It frightens us how we and our habitat can be dispensable.

Somewhere in this dreamscape is salvation or redemption.

Each night, when a slight tremor is felt (for these subtle shakings are still below us), I sense the whole community praying, or blurting out a prayer that we be forgiven. Prayers work. They do work, as in they give us hope.

Thinking of the prayers that I now resort to, in moments of desolation, distress and fear, I think of all those prayers that my parents and grandparents had prayed before. In their moments of sickness, at their deathbed, they prayed and prayed hard. In those moments, I did see how the praying and the prayers gave them hope. The act of offering your wishes to the Divine momentarily convinced them that they would still live on, and that I would still see them grow old and I grow old, and maybe silly and fun, with them.

Now, they are gone and I ask myself if the prayers did fail them. Strangely again, I feel the prayers never failed them. The prayers gave them hope in that moment when nothing – not even earthquakes or the great flood – was scarier than leaving this earth.

This is my discovery: Science and Prayers (or faith) have really something more in common than Science and Philosophy or Science and Theology.

Science is about probabilities, never about certainties. This is a quote I remember from Peter Berger, the sociologist of religion. Prayers are also never about probabilities; they are uncertainties made certain in the process of praying. And praying is when you lift your gaze to the unknown, brave the darkness of that soul-travel coursed through the heart, in anticipation of something at the prayer’s end. Something good. Something bright. Something to calm this Earth.

I pray more that the quakes subside. I then think of the beast under the ground – a Tandayag or the three-necked, one-eyed Monster swimming in the waters of Ponong. I dream of the rumblings there, some five or seven kilometers, or deeper, (when perhaps the Beast has submerged itself into the bowels of the earth) to escape our murmurs of succor and intervention.

Somehow, myths, as in stories and not as lies, we can embrace more than any thought of being remembered as one of the layers of civilization, which existed once in time and thought. Or, forgotten.


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