Essay Issue 22

ISSUE 22 : JULY-DECEMBER 2016

Sandra Nicole Roldan

Imago Dei

We stood in the rain, with a few thousand other people at Luneta, huddled under umbrellas and listening to my uncle’s voice booming through the loudspeaker. The Reverend Marlon Batoon Roldan was praying in Filipino, based on a translation of the 140th Psalm: “Iligtas mo kami, O Panginoon, sa masamang tao; ingatan mo kami sa mga marahas…” I had grown up hearing that voice preach sermons from the pulpit at Citadel Church about loving our neighbors and caring for widows, orphans, and strangers. But I had never heard him pray with so much anger, so much grief. I had never heard an imprecatory prayer before, because in my lifetime, there had been few occasions to turn prayer into a curse.

But now, each new day brings a fresh horror. Each day increases our capacity for rage. Each new day gives us another reason to pray that burning coals would rain upon those whose tongues are sharp as a serpent’s, those with the poison of vipers on their lips. That rally was in August—less than three months ago, though it feels like it’s been a year—with only several hundred people dead from this so-called war on drugs. Today, the dead are in the thousands, according to tallies by both the Philippine National Police and various media outlets. Only several hundred people dead. It boggles the mind that I can write a sentence like that and feel thankful: back then, the number of people shot in the streets was not yet so high.

I have been told all my life that to see the face of God, I need only to look at my fellow human beings. But since the elections, most of the time, I can no longer bear to see His face. Because I see Him mostly in the images that appear unbidden on my laptop screen or my phone. Bodies sprawled on pavement. Corpses wrapped in plastic or packing tape. Women washing blood from cracks on the sidewalk. A young woman slumped inside a jeepney on the way to work, her brother coming home to die several weeks later. The bare feet of men shot meters from their homes. Wives and children making the same sounds that wounded animals make when they know death is upon them. Mothers unable to cry for their children, knowing there will be no justice.

Day or night no longer matters. There is wailing in the streets as the murders continue. The cries of anguish do not end when night’s darkness lifts, but instead grow louder as daylight reveals the bloodletting that transpires each day outside the hovels of the poorest and most wretched among us. I lie awake each night, scrolling through my phone in the dark, unable to sleep from the fear that the next bloodied face will be of someone I know. These days I need to force myself to look at the bodies that appear on my phone. I need to tell myself not to look away from the faces of these strangers. I need to look at the face of God, even if the sight of it makes me weep with rage and horror. I force myself to do this every night because it is the only thing that breaks through the numbness and allows me to pray.

Through the words of the prophet Amos, we are given the promise that justice will roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream. I want so much to believe that my God is a god of justice, but right now there is nothing inside me but fear and rage and helplessness. At this point, I can only take comfort in what Psalm 137:9 tells me, “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” There will be a day of reckoning and I pray that this day will come soon.