According to Rudolph Otto, a religious encounter is an encounter of two opposing yet harmonizing and simultaneous feelings of terror–or mysterium tremendum–and fascination–or mysterium fascinosum. One feels terror and horror because of the presence of a higher reality before him which is overwhelmingly powerful, totally inaccessible and radically remote. At the same time, however, he is fascinated and attracted to it because of the feeling of innate kinship with that wholly Other.
Moreover, Otto also believes that this paradox can also be experienced in the celebration of the forces of nature. The Sendong experience last December 2012 which struck Cagayan de Oro City and other neighboring areas was one concrete experience of an act of nature that was truly demonic and horrifying, but at the same time, rich and redeeming. For many Kagay-anons, Sendong was indeed an encounter with the numinous. I, for one, am not from Cagayan de Oro.
On the night of December 16, few hours before Sendong hit the city and took the lives of many, my blockmates and I were busy and on the roll having our Christmas Party at one of the fancy resto-bars in CDO. We were all then having fun, laughing at each others’ jokes, singing and dancing, eating and chatting about random things, unwrapping Christmas presents. Outside, the rain was furiously becoming stronger every minute. And little did we know that few hours from that moment of merriment, a deluge in the form of Sendong will strike, like a thief in the night, and will change the lives of many.
It cannot be denied that Sendong was a demonic, horrifying and unfortunate experience. I may not have been directly affected by it, but I witnessed in its aftermath how it uprooted not only trees and houses of many Kagay-anons, but to a greater extent, their hope and faith. In just a blink of an eye, it broke and tore not only physical properties of the people, but it also mercilessly broke families as it took the lives of many family members.
In my inability to comprehend why such ghastly tragedy happened, it makes me wonder sometimes whether God really exists because if He does, what could his reason be of inflicting such pain and sorrow among his people? If he does, why would He let his people suffer and experience such terror? On the brighter side though, Sendong brought forth human values that depict the innate goodness in every person. Compassion, camaraderie, generosity, and volunteerism were among the values that tinted the dim Sendong experience.
In this modern time when we thought that kindness and goodness are nothing more but an angel’s qualities, Sendong proved us wrong. During Sendong, we saw angels in our very midst in the persons of the victims’ neighbours, friends, family members and even strangers who in one way or another extended their helping hand. Indeed, the Sendong tragedy was not totally an experience that made us crumble and left us fallen in our knees. It didn’t totally break us. If anything, I believe Sendong redeemed us all from our previous, decayed ways of thinking.
It awakened us from our complacency in taking good care of our environment and redeemed us from our growing apathy in extending our help and generosity to our fellow human beings. Looking back, Sendong was indeed one of those moments when our faith is tested. After braving such storm, it could only lead us to one direction: Sendong should bring us closer to the sacred and increase our faith. The polarity of feelings—it being being demonic and redeeming— experienced in this tragedy reflects how Sendong truly was a grace masked in disgrace.