A call to witness | Gioele Galea

As the world is all but driven to total quarantine, a hermit’s memoir may just stand as the ultimate balm for the soul in these troubled times. TEODOR RELJIC speaks to Fr Gioele Galea about ‘Tħabbat, Xtaqtek’, written during his time at the St Jerome hermitage in Pascelupo and winner of the National Book Prize for Best Emergent Writer

Fr Gioele Galea
Fr Gioele Galea

What led you to write a memoir during your time at the hermitage?

What made me decide to write was the sheer thought of the disappointment and pain the person who had left me the note must have felt when she found the door closed. I felt this pain at the very depths of my being, and it was this pain that moved me to write. And when I started to write, the possibility of publication did not even occur to me. I told myself: “I shall write, and whatever I write will be discovered after I die. I would not be letting the door open during my lifetime, but after I am gone. It is the same thing for me.” And the diary would not have been revised and published, were it not for the insistence of a close friend of mine here in Malta, who pleaded with me to share with him my experience of silence. This request on the part of my friend, drew from within me the same feelings I had experienced when I found that note in the door lock, thirteen years earlier.

Did your intentions change as you continued to write it, and did they take an even more dramatic turn when the prospect of publishing it became a possibility?

No, my original intentions never changed. When I write (even when I express myself in poetry) I do so in response to a call that I feel down deep within me: a call to witness. I feel driven to pass on to others, what I feel has been given to me. I experience this drive to be much bigger than myself. Try as I might to resist it, it is always in vain. Because of this, whatever it is that I write, I always try to write it in the best way possible, even if no one was going to read it.

As I see it, writing is also the space of the experience of the Mystery. I admit that it is an experience that hurts, and that more often than not, I would rather escape from it, but at the same time it is an experience of beauty. This is also why I feel that the possibility of publication does not change anything for me.

'No, my original intentions never changed. When I write (even when I express myself in poetry) I do so in response to a call that I feel down deep within me'
'No, my original intentions never changed. When I write (even when I express myself in poetry) I do so in response to a call that I feel down deep within me'

Thabbat, Xtaqtek reads like an utterly non-dogmatic presentation of the relationship between God and man. Was this a deliberate effort on your part? Were you at least partly interested in revealing the nested, intimate elements of worship to your readership, who may or may not be either entranced or distracted by the rote motions of Church ritual?

When I was struck in the depths of my soul by the Mystery of the Absolute (and may I add that it was this Mystery which made me soul aware) I did not have any dogma in mind. It was not dogma that made me taste the Mystery. Rather! When I was struck, I was touched in the very essence of my being, an essence which by far surpasses my mind, with all the capabilities that my intelligence can make possible to it through my brains. I am speaking of an experience that dazzles and blinds me: an experience that in itself and as I write, strips me of any dogma. I believe that it is an experience that must strike the reader not so much in his/her mind, as in that most intimate part of his/her being: his/her soul. This is how I write: in a natural way; I do not know how to be dogmatic. I do not feel that I am a man of religion, as much as I feel that I am a man of humanity, of the human being, and if you will allow me, of the depths. A man who knows about that which is possessed by all: thirst.

What do you hope that readers will take away from the memoir?

I hope that they pick up a taste of that silence, which is the fruit and somehow also the expression of the Mystery. It is a silence which in the hermitage I was led to live as a Presence.

How did it feel to win the Best Emergent Writer at the National Book Prize?

To be honest I still have not fathomed the meaning of being ‘Best Emergent Writer’. I haven’t and am not so eager to do so. I find that writing is a hard enough commitment in itself, both on an emotional as well as on a spiritual level. Too hard that I should ever let a prize for a moment make me forget the responsibility that writing carries with it. When I write I do not have prizes in mind or the possibility of winning any; and when they are given me, I do not allow myself to focus on them. I cannot.

Writing is a call; I say what I have to say and move on. To be honest I don’t even care whether my name will be remembered or not after I die. My journey is towards the light of eternity. This is such a luminous light, that no amount of light bulbs that every now and then light up around me, carry any importance to me.

Fr Gioele Galea reading and participating at the 2016 edition of the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival. Photography by Virginia Monteforte
Fr Gioele Galea reading and participating at the 2016 edition of the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival. Photography by Virginia Monteforte

What do you make of the local literary scene? What would you change about it?

The literary scenario mirrors the people who produce it. To change the scenario, one would need to change the people. But I don’t want to change anybody. Everyone comes with his/her baggage, his/her opinions, his/her visions, his/her hurts, his/her dreams and aspirations. Such is the literary space: a space which is not created by one person or one group of individuals. It is everybody’s space, and as such, is tinged with both the defects and the excellence of everybody. Such is humanity. What can I change from it?

What’s next for you?

Later on this year my second book of prose is due to be issued. It ties in with Tħabbat, Xtaqtek, but goes back in time, as in a prequel. There are other works in progress. But as regards to these, one still has to see. Everything in its own time.

The literary scenario mirrors the people who produce it. To change the scenario, one would need to change the people. But I don’t want to change anybody. Everyone comes with his/her baggage, his/her opinions, his/her visions, his/her hurts, his/her dreams and aspirations. Such is the literary space: a space which is not created by one person or one group of individuals. It is everybody’s space, and as such, is tinged with both the defects and the excellence of everybody. Such is humanity. What can I change from it?

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