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from issue no. 01 - 2004

A little God one can take in one’s arms and cover with kisses

Three extracts from Bariona or the son of thunder. A Christmas story for Christians and non-believers, published for the first time in Italian by Christian Mariotti Edizioni. One passage from the prologue and two from the fifth tableau, scene three

by Jean-Paul Sartre

[Prologue, pp. 3-4]
... Here’s the prologue. I’m blind, by chance, but before I lost my sight, I had looked at the images that you are about to contemplate more than a thousand times. I know them off by heart because my father was a presenter of images like myself and bequeathed it to me. What you see behind me, and what I am pointing to with my stick, I know portrays Mary of Nazareth.
The angel comes to announce to her that she shall have a son and that this Son shall be Jesus, Our Lord. The angel is immense, with wings like two rainbows. You can see it; I can’t see it anymore, but I look at it still in my mind. He has come down like a flood into the humble house of Mary and fills it now with his fluid and sacred body, his ample robe aflutter.
If you look carefully at the picture, you will notice that the bedroom furniture can be seen through the body of the angel. The aim was to show angelic transparency in this way. He is standing in front of Mary and Mary is hardly looking at him. She’s thinking. He hasn’t needed to unleash his voice like the hurricane. He has not spoken; she forefelt it already in her heart. Now the angel is in front of Mary and Mary is impenetrable and dark like a forest at night and the good news is lost in her as a traveler loses himself in the woods. And Mary is full of birds and the long plying of the leaves. And a thousand wordless thoughts stir in her, the heavy thoughts of mothers who accept the pain. And you see, the angel has a speechless look faced with these too human thoughts: he regrets being an angel because angels can neither be born nor suffer. And that morning of the Annunciation, before the surprised eyes of an angel, is the feast of men for it is the time of man as sacred being. Look well at the image, my good people, and first the music, the prologue is over; the story will begin nine later months, December 24, in the high mountains of Judea.

[The presenter of images speaks, pp. 90-92]
… The mountain is swarming with people on holiday and the wind carries the echo of their joy up to the top of the crest. I shall take advantage of this pause to show you Christ in the stable, so you don’t see it some other way: neither Joseph nor Mary appear in this room. But because today is Christmas, you have the right to demand that I show you the crib. Here it is. Here is the Virgin and here is Joseph and here is the baby Jesus. The artist has put all his love into this sketch but you may find it a little naïf perhaps. Look, the characters have fine ornaments but they’re stiff: you’d take them for puppets. They certainly weren’t like that. If you were like me, eyes closed... But listen: you only have to close your eyes to hear me and I’ll tell you how I see them inside me. The Virgin is pale and looking at the child. What should be painted on her face is an anxious amazement that has only appeared once on a human face. Because the Christ is her child, flesh of her flesh, it is the fruit of her womb. She has carried him nine months and she will give him her breast and her milk will become the blood of God. And at certain moments the temptation is so strong that she forgets he is God. She hugs him in her arms and says: my little one! But in other moments, she is speechless and thinks: God is there and she feels gripped by a religious horror for this mute God, for this terrifying child. For all mothers are in this way attracted at moments before this rebellious fragment of their flesh that is their child and they feel outcast before this new life that has been made of their life and that they populate with foreign thoughts. But no child has been more cruelly and more quickly torn from his mother, for he is God and is beyond everything that she can imagine. And it is a hard trial for a mother to be ashamed of herself and of her human condition in front of her son. But I think there are also other moments, swift and difficult, in which she feels at the same moment that the Christ is his son, and that he is God. She looks at him and thinks: «This God is my son. This divine flesh is my flesh. He is made of me, he has my eyes and the shape of his mouth is the shape of mine. He looks like me. He is God and he looks like me». And no woman has had in lot her God to herself alone. A little God that one can take in ones arms and cover with kisses, a warm God that smiles and breathes, a God that one can touch and that lives. And it is in those moments that I would paint Mary, if I were a painter, and I would try to render the expression of tender boldness and timidity with which she reaches out her finger to touch the sweet small skin of this child-God whose warm weight she feels in her lap and who smiles at her. That’s everything on Jesus and on the Virgin Mary.
And Joseph? I wouldn’t paint Joseph. I’d show nothing but a shadow at the back of the piled hay and two bright eyes. Because I don’t know what to say about Joseph and Joseph doesn’t know what to say about himself. He worships and he’s happy to worship and he feels somewhat an outcast. I think he suffers without admitting it. He suffers because he sees how much the woman he loves resembles God, how close she is to God already. Because God burst like a bomb in the intimacy of this family. Joseph and Mary are separated for ever by this blaze of light. And all Joseph’s life, I imagine, will be spent in learning to accept. My good people, this is the Holy Family. Now we shall learn of the story of Bariona whom you know wants to choke the child.

[Bariona speaks, pp. 100-101]
What are they doing? There’s no sound anymore but this silence isn’t like that of our mountains, the glacial silence of the rarefied air that reigns in the corridors of granite. It’s a denser silence than that of a forest. A silence that rises toward the sky and threshes to the stars like a great old tree whose crest is rocked by the wind. Have they gone on their knees? Ah! if only I could be among them, invisible: because in truth the show can’t be ordinary; all those hard and serious men, eager for pomp and profit, kneeling in front of a wailing child. The son of Chalem, who ran away at fifteen because he’d taken too many cuffs, would laugh to see his father worshipping a brat. Will it be the reign of children over parents? (A silence). There they are, artless and happy, in the warmth of the stable, after the long dash in the cold.
They’ve joined hands and are thinking: something has begun. And they’re wrong, it’s clear, and they’ve fallen into a trap and they’ll pay dearly for it later; but nevertheless, they’ll have had this minute; they’re lucky they can believe in a beginning. What is more moving for the heart of man than the beginning of a world and youth with its ambiguous features and the beginning of a love, when everything is still possible, when the sun is present in the air and on faces, like a fine dust without having shown itself yet allowing one to guess, in the sharp freshness of the morning, the heavy promises of the day. In this stable a morning begins. In this stable day rises. And here outside it is night. Night on the street and in our heart. A night without stars, deep and tumultuous like the high sea. That’s it, I’m tossed about by the night like a barrel by the waves and the stable is inside of me, bright and deep, like Noah’s Ark it sails in the night, enclosing the morning of the world in itself. Its first morning. Because it never had a morning. It had dropped from the hands of its indignant creator into a fiery furnace, in the dark, and the great scorching tongues of this night without hope passed over it, covering it with blisters and swelling the flow of centipedes and of bugs. And I am in the great night of earth, in the tropical night of hate and misfortune. But – deceptive power of faith - for my men, thousands of years after the creation, in this room, in the glow of a candle, arises the first morning of the world.

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