Yes, God was talking to us. He said: ‘You’re a superstitious lot, aren’t you?’...

Ah, but.... the timing, the timing! Why would God decide to strike down the Azure Window on that particular day?

The collapse of the Azure Window might have been a divine message from Poseidon...
The collapse of the Azure Window might have been a divine message from Poseidon...

I normally try not to use this space to respond to other individual columnists directly – not always with 100% success, I’ll grant you – but there are moments when the temptation becomes simply too strong. I am, after all, no St Anthony: my flesh is weak, and my ‘spirit’ – when I happen to have any – generally gets poured into a tall glass with tonic water, two ice cubes and a wedge of lemon or lime.

So, when I read, in an opinion piece in the Times, that the collapse of the Azure Window in Dwejra last year may have been ‘the Lord speaking to us’... well, let’s just say that it got my attention, alright.  It’s not every day that God Almighty Himself takes time out of His busy schedule to send us all a personalised message: still less one as dramatic and (literally) earth-shattering as that. If nothing else, I think it would be rude not to at least send back a little acknowledgement of receipt, and maybe even a short reply.

Even so, however, under normal circumstances I wouldn’t bother. I have long come round to accepting that the world is spacious enough to accommodate all manner of opinion, no matter how superstitious, bizarrely anachronistic, or just plain... um... ‘fuzzy’. And besides: what poetry would there be left in the universe, if we all limited ourselves only to pointedly rational and uncompromisingly scientific observations... if such phenomena as ‘the sea’, or ‘the sky’, or ‘a beautiful sunset’ were reduced only to their precise molecular and/or chemical structures?

Let’s try it out, shall we? “Behold, how the [G-type main sequence Yellow Dwarf] descends majestically through the [gas-cloud made up of 78.09% nitrogen, 20.95% oxygen, 0.93% argon, 0.04% carbon dioxide, etc.], to plunge its fiery beams into the [mass of 85% oxygen, 10.82% hydrogen, 1.94% chloride, 1.84% sodium, with the rest made of up of magnesium, sulphur, calcium, etc.]...”

Hmm. Call me old-fashioned, but I still prefer Keats, Milton, Shakespeare et al. Each to his own.

And that, naturally, applies just as much to the author of that opinion column, a certain Patrick Pullicino. Like everyone else, he is more than welcome to his own interpretation of the Dwejra collapse, or the two occasions he cites when lightning struck the cupola of St Peter’s in Rome (not, of course, because it is the tallest building in that part of the city, and – like all tall buildings – therefore equipped with lightning conductors... but apparently, because God tried to strike down Pope Francis, and missed).

In fact I wouldn’t even bring it up at all, were it not for one small detail. This is an excerpt from said article: “Dwejra was certainly iconic for the Maltese and a great loss, so this suggests the crash contains a message for the Maltese. Many think that it was the Lord speaking to us.”

Whatever we make of the rest of Pullicino’s argument, there can be little doubt that the last sentence is absolutely spot on. Many people in this country do indeed think along precisely those lines: not just with regard to Dwejra, but with regard to pretty much everything that ever happens... in this country, or anywhere else in the world.

A few years ago, for instance, hundreds of people would regularly converge on Borg in-Nadur, Birzebbuga, to witness the miraculous torments of a certain Angelik Caruana. Apart from watching that man writhing on the ground in beatific delirium – pausing to fight off the occasional invisible demon here and there – they were also treated to the spectacle of Angelik pulling out one of the thorns from Jesus Christ’s crown... from his own mouth.

Leaving aside that it happens to be among the oldest conjuring tricks known to mankind – the human mouth is full of cavities which can conceal long, narrow objects like an acacia spine – the question remains: why the heck would God even choose to insert that thorn into Angelik Caruana’s mouth in the first place? If – like Dwejra – that was also a ‘message from the Lord’: what on earth was it intended to convey?

For what it’s worth, my own fuzzy interpretation – to which I am surely equally entitled – is that it could have been a Divine warning about the importance of maintaining proper oral hygiene at all times. (If so, it was pretty darn effective: heck, I’ve been religiously flossing twice a day ever since...)

But interestingly enough, the same congregation also got to hear Caruana’s ‘prophecies’ – which he claimed had been revealed to him by Our Lady in person – and what do you know? Some of those Apocalyptic visions bore an uncanny resemblance to Pullicino’s entire argument about Dwejra last Thursday.

For instance: in 2011 – shortly before Malta introduced divorce by means of a national referendum – Caruana had warned that: “The time has come… for Malta’s turn to experience the tremors and you shall see buildings shake, especially in that area that your ancestors built for defence: the area around the port...”

More than seven years have since elapsed, and to be best of my knowledge the harbour area has so far been spared the predicted earthquake... even though we did defy Our Lady’s warning, by voting in favour of divorce just a few weeks later. How, then, are we to interpret this failure of a Divine prophecy to actually materialise? Is it because Our Lady changed her mind? Or because Angelik Caruana was a fraud and a charlatan (as, in fact, he was judged to be by the Curia itself, in 2016)?

Of course not! O ye of little faith, tut-tut, tsk, tsk, etc. Very obviously, the reason we averted Armageddon on that occasion is because enough people heeded Caruana’s advice to recite the Rosary on a daily basis... “so that we may be spared the tragedy”. (You’ve got to hand it to these divine interlocutors, though... they’ve always got absolutely every angle covered). Which is also remarkably similar to Pullicino’s own conclusion, that: “we need to pray the rosary for all the tribulations that the Church is going through. This might also be a message for us in Malta.”

And indeed it might. For another part where Pullicino is 100% correct concerns the following line: “Only the overconfident or spiritually disconnected would deny that it could have been a message for us.” Who could argue with that? It would be highly illogical to deny the possibility that random natural occurrences – such as lightning strikes on buildings, or the erosion of geological formations over millennia – could be some form of coded Divine communication, for us to interpret as we deem fit.

Just as they could also possibly be the handiwork of dragons, sea-monsters, or Olympian deities casting fiery spears down from the heavens: all of which were once considered perfectly plausible explanations for the exact same phenomena. Who are we to simply rule out such possibilities, just because they don’t conform to our own pre-conceived notions of ‘the truth’?

No, indeed. The Dwejra collapse could, in fact, have been a Divine message for the Maltese people. And by the same fuzzy logic, it could also have been a belated after-effect of the Ray Harryhausen monster that tried to climb up on it in ‘Clash of the Titans’ (United Artists, 1981).

And hey, who knows? Maybe it was as Pullicino also observed... that “the arch only crashed because of its progressive weakening over the years, which could be seen as a parallel to the erosion of Malta’s morality.” For it’s not as though the loss of the Dwejra natural arch hadn’t been predicted long, long ago; not by any Biblical prophet or visionary mountebank, but by geologists who had been warning about its imminent collapse for decades. It was never a question of ‘if’; only of ‘when’. Erosion is not, after all, a process that takes such issues as ‘tourism landmarks’ into any consideration, as it wreaks its eternal havoc across the aeons.

Ah, but.... the timing, the timing! Why would God decide to strike down the Azure Window on that particular day... and not at any other point in any other year/century?

Let’s see now. Pullicino speculates that: “the timing was suggestive: gay marriage was introduced four months later. Seven months later Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered. Embryo freezing has now been introduced...” And yes, I suppose that makes a certain fuzzy sort of sense... from God’s point of view, at least. He is, after all, omnipotent and omniscient; and He exists outside and beyond all notions of the space-time continuum. So, it would seem perfectly rational to Him to punish us all for sins He knew we were all going to commit... but which we hadn’t actually committed yet.

No, as I see it, the only problem with that hypothesis is that... well... did God strike down the Azure Window specifically because of gay marriage... Daphne Caruana Galizia’s murder... embryo freezing... or a combination of all three? If, for argument’s sake, one (or more) of those events hadn’t occurred, four, seven or nine months later: would God have been merciful, and allowed the Dwejra arch to exist for at least a few more millennia? And if so... what sort of ‘message’ did the act of destroying it actually convey?

As far as I can understand, it would translate into something like: “Dear Maltese people... how are you? Hope all is well. I thought I’d just smash down your cherished Dwejra tourist attraction, as fair warning ahead of any of a number of random chance occurrences that I know are going to happen over the next year (but you don’t). Nothing you can do about it now, of course – the Window is gone – but just be warned: next time, it will be a plague of locusts, followed by fire and brimstone, and maybe a rain of frogs. And it’s up to you to guess what I’m pissed off with you about this time. Fond regards, God.”

That, at least, is the message as it emerges from Pullicino’s article. There is another possible interpretation (actually, there are several trillion), and – again, for what it’s worth – here is mine:

‘Dear Maltese people: man, but you are a gullible, superstitious lot, aren’t you? What’s it going to be next? Human sacrifice in exchange for a bountiful harvest? Or to guarantee a fair trade wind? Or to spare your island from a second Biblical deluge? Sorry, I don’t do that kind of stuff anymore. Maybe it’s time you updated your notions of religion to somewhere closer to the 21st century, instead of the second millennium BC. Just an idea... Fond regards, God’.

There: I’m sure Pullicino – and all who think likewise – will readily concur that “only the overconfident or spiritually disconnected” would deny that my interpretation is just as possible (and fuzzy) as theirs...

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