Some versions of spirituality can be understood as a form of remittance: bartering virtue for favors in this world and and a better position in the next. With “In the Church,” Filipino poet Rodrigo Dela Peña, Jr. lays bare the haggling that can lie behind religious ritual, both over abstractions with the deity, and over cash with His earthly agents.
In The Church
Pray tell me, how much
are we paying for the sermon?
Two hundred fifty.
Just for this occasion?
For the feast day of our patron
saint, it is a well-struck bargain.
A Faustian bargain. The best clown
in Escolta can earn as much
in three nights. And what thunderous
laughter he can command.
Those who laugh are condemned to hell
while those who listen to the Word
will be claimed at heaven’s gates.
What proof is there to show what kind
of afterlife befits a soul?
As it was written, so it shall
be done. It shall be done.
The hole you dig gets deeper
and deeper. The labyrinth coils.
How is it our lot to question?
Then slit the throat of your only son
if you are asked to blindly obey.
Then hone the knife and strop the edge.
Your words feed the fire that consumes
each of the world’s homunculus.
O holy fire that purifies,
distilling us to unsullied grace.
O two hundred fifty licks of flame
for two hundred fifty pesos.
Sweet burden of the burning lash
upon my back, the crown of thorns.
Your tongue knows only what a hand
has fed to you.
And I am sated. But you