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I am


To speak from the soul you would have to speak with the pronoun I. Philosopher Rene Descartes wrote, “Cogito ergo sum.” I think therefore I am. Emmanuel Kant presumes I is where the soul resides.

Much has been written about the soul. Soul is an idea which goes by many names: spirit, psyche, anima, the Sanskrit aatma, the Hebrew ruach literally meaning wind, and the Bisayan kalag. And it may be argued what it actually looks like.

But if you were ever to go to Argao Municipality, 68 kilometers southeast of Cebu City, you would do well to go to the town square near the church and municipio. There you will find a small chapel which might have been the town’s cemetery chapel before they moved the cemetery a bit away presumably to give it more room.

The late Alex Gonzales was responsible for uncovering this chapel and returning it back to public view. The town clinic had been built around it. Alex Gonzales was an old friend. His famous Alex Kafe has only recently reopened a few years after his death. It is still a good place for a meal. But from here don’t miss going to the chapel.

At its facade you will find what might be for us Sugbuanons the earliest depiction of St. Michael the Archangel. It gives us a quaint if extremely Gothic picture of the angel holding in his hand a baby as if to pull it from the fires of Hell. We are of course only interpreting and risk much by doing this. But cursory research reinforces this reading.

St. Michael the Archangel, patron of Argao, is a famous figure of many religious texts. He is the angel who wrestled with Jacob, who fought with Satan over Moses’ soul, the angel who rescued Isaac from death by the hands of his father, the angel who guards Paradise, the angel of the revelation who will lead God’s army in a final battle with evil. He is a healer and the rescuer of souls from the fires of Hell. He is an angel in body armor, a dragonslayer.

Thus, any investigtion into the Christian concept of soul inevitably leads to St. Michael the Archangel, which inevitably leads us to Argao, figuratively flying through Alex Kafe and finally landing at the doorway of the little chapel. The chapel brings us backwards in time, not just time in the sense of Argao and Philippine history but time also in the sense of human history and how we grapple continually with this whole idea of death. Does St. Michael’s face remind us of Apollo, the devil’s, Gorgon?

We are reminded of course that there will always be such a thing as death. It is the fact of it which moves us to conceive for ourselves such a thing as soul, eternal and God-like. Which literally is what the name Michael means.

Wikipedia tells us Michael literally translates to “who is like God”. But it must be framed as a question for which there can be only one answer: No one. The Archangel Michael is also the angel of humility even if some strains of belief make him out to be the pre-incarnate Christ and the second coming Himself.

Otherwise, he is the guardian of the human soul at that point of death, who descends at that precise instance to give the soul one last chance at salvation and saving it if it would from the clutches of eternal damnation. And so he guards two doorways, two gates, Hell and Paradise.

These are of course extremely romantic notions. There is an essential poetic charm about them which sometimes frightens when they do not strike us with awe. Michael, the winged warrior, the devil as serpent dragon, and the soul is only a defenseless little baby in the scheme of this world view. And it does seem to make sense even now in this age of the computer, the Internet and Wikipedia. The image acquires its essential gravitas when finally we see it cast in stone as we do in that chapel in Argao which Alex uncovered for us.

But there is the I inside us which must be the I that would countenance all these finally bringing it all down to a small simple question: Do I believe?

In what way do I believe? Literally? Poetically? In the sense of art?

And then came the young priest who looked at a piece of art only to say to the artist it was only his perception. To which the poor artist could only think to ask himself: Yes, but from where else can my faith and my art truly begin if not from my I perceiving the world? If not from my soul?

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Tags: Alex Gonzales , Emmanuel Kant , History , Literature , Philosophy , Rene Descartes , soul

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