FromThe Chamber of Lights, Carolina Paton
Translation from Spanish Tiziana Laudato
The monastery of silence
Set high up on the Chilean Coastal Range, the noise didn’t disguise the mist and the song of the crickets accompanied the sisters’ prayers. The river cried out for the torments and sacrifices that had been heard from a distance. The only thing that was certain was that San Alfonso Monastery would go to sleep in distress because of the unknown.
The ten hectares of the monastery’s land never witnessed anyone passing through them. Its fields were invariably immersed in the calm of the canticles and the sermons, which the Coastal Range rewarded with the breeze from the crystalline sea, where the voices of the angels rose over the mystery of the vineyards.
The majestic towers recreated the story of a glorious past.
At 5 a.m., the birds reproduced the Gregorian chant as though they were singing through speakers.
There was something surprising in these Chilean mountains: the thin, long morphology with its roaring volcanoes and the land that it claimed with tremors that inspired uncertainty.
Each Sunrise brought with it the light of a dazzling sun that burned itself out by sunset, while the Pacific enticed the inhabitants of San Alfonso to retreat. Its people, of rural stock and sharp irony, slowed down as the day went on. Like winemakers, they delighted in their good spate in the wine world. In the ensuing months, events, like storms, interrupted the spiritual solitude of the monastery.
The riverbanks pointed the way to a secret life, hidden for many years, and the sisters of San Alfonso prayed on unstable ground.
In her morning prayers, at sunrise, when the sky granted solitude, purity, and the colours of the seasons, sister Rebecca went out to visit her usual spots, which renewed her soul daily with a desire for service to the Lord, taking with her all the pain of all those who left their prayers in the book at the entrance of the chapel.
Sitting beside the river and in the solitude of her prayers, she could see the light illuminating the Cerro Tres Puntas. The last snowfall had blessed the valley with water, and the fields in front of the monastery were flooded with poppies. The smell of the eucalyptus trees cleared the airways of the assiduous visitors who always bought small souvenirs in the shop where the sisters sold their cheeses, cakes, medallions, retablos and prints.
Suddenly, sister Rebecca tripped on the root of a bush. The river contemplated her back curved under her habit, and the way her skirt gathered. A soft velvety voice called her: “Sister, sister…”. She moved quickly towards the monastery looking over her shoulder from time to time, but saw nothing.
For weeks, Sister Rebecca was frightened and intrigued by the voice she had heard.
One Wednesday, sister Rebecca saw a silhouette timidly emerging between the rocks: a young man, tall and with a prominent nose, shiny pleasant eyes and brilliant brown hair. He was wearing a greenish coat with a brown velvet lapel, red braces, dark grey trousers, and very well shined Italian-like black shoes.
She found it so illogical to find this man in the middle of nowhere. But his poise made her feel an inexplicable joy. His demeanour was imposing, his hands well-groomed and his skin, youthful. Slowly approaching him, she could not avoid a sigh, and she told him:
—You scared me. What are you doing here hiding between these two rocks? Where have you come from? How did you get here?
The man, with the almond-shaped eyes, invaded the sister’s gaze.
—Don’t be afraid, sister. I am not going to hurt you.
—I don’t understand what you are doing here, dressed like a bank executive, in the middle of the mountains, next to the river.
—I didn’t mean to scare you and I am sorry if I did. My name is Leo.
—Well ok Leo Glim, you did scare me. And dressed like that… are you a psychologist, a philosopher, a banker?
—I am not a psychologist or a philosopher. I work for an investment bank.
Leo told the sister about his strange transfer from London; that some of his ancestors, his great grandparents on his father’s side, had been born in these mountainous lands. And about how the deep scar he has had on his cheek since he was a boy led to a strange transformation in him.
—I was staring at the scar when a turquoise light blinded me; I fell into a stupor, and now I am here.
—What a strange story!
The compass of time brought me from London to San Alfonso. I suddenly found myself in these mountains and the first thing I saw was the monastery tower.
I walked along the corridors, observing the sisters’ work: the school they run and the great social work they did for this community.
—I still don’t understand, said Sister Rebecca.
—When I got here, what caught my eye was the mantle of bright fuchsia bougainvillea in the monastery’s courtyard, with its intense fuchsia. The sound of the river, told me about the kind of lives that the people of San Alfonso live, and I heard things that I didn’t like. Under the shade of these mountains, wellsprings of charity were being given away. But these wellsprings were not within reach for the town’s inhabitants. It is a world of looking without seeing; listening without hearing; touching and not feeling. I don’t want to bore you with my musings.
—You are not boring me at all, said the sister with her penetrating eyes. She was listening to what Leo was saying very carefully.
—Nowadays, we are enraptured with technology and shopping, but we have no idea how to deal with the toils of daily life. People turn molehills into mountains: how to tell your husband not to watch TV with the lights off because the reflection won’t let you sleep. This week I was astonished with the news of the body of a wealthy woman being found in rubbish bags in London. Her husband couldn’t bear the loss, so much so that he had kept her in bags, in their room. Addicted to cocaine and other drugs, theylived in an isolation that no amount of money could save them from. Have I not spoken to you about the main thing, about the “chamber of lights”?
—And what’s this about an “chamber of lights”? - asked the sister.
—It is a symphonic overture of rays of light that seek their orientation in the brain. The thing is that when the gates to the mind open, they let through light that goes towards the “chamber of lights”. When the light comes into contact with the retina, a kind of fusion takes place and you are plunged into the work the “chamber of lights” wants you to do, something like a projector of secrets. The projector opens automatically according to the situation. The “chamber of lights” generally opens the way to a place where our weaknesses attack or destroy with their venom, envy, inanity, disloyalty, greed and jealousy. I will give you an example: you arrived at the San Alfonso Monastery ten years ago because of repeated rebellious acts you committed at the Santiago Convent.
—How do you know that?
—What’s more: you were warned not to use the computer any more than strictly necessary, but you didn’t obey. And so you were banished to silence and prayer at San Alfonso. I don’t see much silence
though. All the sisters have mobile phones, don’t they?
—How do you know that?
—Because of the “chamber of lights”, like I told you. Am I right, do you have mobile phones?
—Well, times have changed and now we send out schedules for mass, retreats and confessions via text messages, Twitter and Facebook. We even have a Web page, replicated the sister.
—You are up to date. Your faith, sister, means that miracles are engrained in your DNA. Don’t question yourself. In your case, the “chamber of lights” has opened. This is how to enter: when you open the dark turquoise door with the opaque brass bolt (four to be exact), you cross the threshold and paint your own history in various dimensions. You can interact with and move the pieces of the puzzle of your life that have been damaged or broken.
—Can you reverse situations?
—It all depends on the generosity of your soul.
—What do you mean?
—Our brain connections, when immersed in
the chamber, go through the paths of our unconscious mind and lead us to face our setbacks making them obvious to us. Once this happens, we have to identify them and this raises our goodwill and humility. So, the challenge is: are we able to identify them and use them to take off our masks?
—It seems like a very complex system.
What isn’t complicated in life, sister? Now we can anticipate that social networks are going to be one of the major information providers, and help us to recognise our tastes, addictions, and hobbies. A world that, just a few years back, we did not suspect could exist. Now, the networks are a great help to me in trying to clarify many of my questions. These technologies help, but they have distanced us from the mysterious amazement park.
—Sister, we are bombarded with all this new information on a daily basis, and it is important to sort the facts from the fiction. How do you feel about becoming a “passive spy”?
Touching her rosary beads, the sister said:
—I can’t actively participate in anything. I am sure you understand what my duty is. However, with the underhanded evil going on, I can’t withdraw from the truth. First, I need to better understand the process. You told me that people interact in the chamber, but they are not able to amend anything.
—They can amend things, but they have to choose. They have to choose which part of their lives or, more precisely, which painful situation to relive. Enigmas require my attention, I can observe the chamber and with these components put together the jigsaw, but on a concrete level, I have to trust my intuition. The turquoise light enlightens traces that have been abandoned and, in the end, we are the ones that have to do the work. I propose that we begin with one particular case. Yesterday, Wednesday, around
10.30 in the morning, I entered the “chamber of lights” of a problematic family.