Sunday, March 31, 2013

new life

If you are new to this blog, start at the bottom of the scroll with Palm Sunday, and move upward, or click on any link at right for each day of the week.

A rattle at my door awakens me. It is not even dawn, but even so, I am afraid I am too late. When I open the door, a small dove is on the stones outside. It is larger than most, and purest white in colour. As soon as I see it, the dove lifts gently into flight, hovering above my head and then gliding into the narrow street. I gather my robe and put my shawl around my face to conceal it, leaving only the eyes. Under my robe I am clutching the sack with the oil and spices. Their fragrance is strong, I fear I will be discovered because of them. I enter the road and do not look back, hurrying toward the edge of Calvary.

In the dark, it is hard to know my way. I am still not used to Jerusalem - roads and buildings which lean only shadows out to meet me. Once, I cannot see where I am going and stop, my heart beating. The fluttering of wings guides me forward. My dove is my guide - it seems to know where I am headed and takes me there. When I think about this I start to feel safe, I know the Lord has sent me this winged angel.

We reach the edge of the mount, the dove and I. The crosses are bare, all the dead have been removed. Smoke and ash mix with mist - some of them have burned in the night, there is the smell of rotting flesh. I draw the robe closer and follow the dove around the edge of the hill and out again into the fields near the cliffs. After a while I recognize where I am. Approaching the tomb, my step falters, I fall short.

The stone in front of the sepulchre has been rolled away. Immediately, I fear the worst and start to weep. The dove has hovered and landed on my shoulder. I cannot seem to move. I am rooted like a tree in front of the open tomb, weeping and crying out in anger. The claws of the dove's feet dig into my shoulder and give me pain. I step forward and it flutters ahead of me, disappearing into the tomb.

I walk inside and collapse in grief. Immediately it is all confirmed: they have taken my Lord. His shroud is here, even the towels of blood I kept with him. It is all there, but he is not. Wherever they have taken him, they haven't even kept him wrapped. It is unbearable. I cry and wail and and weep as I have not done yet in the whole time of Jersualem. I am unable to console myself. I am kneeling in the midst of the imprint of his body, holding the shrouds. I cannot see or think for weeping. My cries echo in the dark space and crush me.

The flutter of wings returns to my ear. I expect the bird to light again on my shoulder but it is gone. I lift my eyes and see the watered image of divine shapes, holy ones, thin as the air and wholly there to my touch. I stand to reach out to them. Their wings are like silk. Then I sink again to my knees and am unable to lift my head.

"Woman", one of them says to me. The voice is like a heavenly song. "Why do you weep so."

I fall into fresh laments and cannot speak. One of the holy ones lifts out a feathery hand and raises my chin. Immediately, I am calmed by light.
"They have taken my Lord," I manage. "And I don't know where they've laid him."

They speak to me but I do not understand. The rush of sound is in my ears again, like wings and like air. My garments lift a little. The shroud and the towels move and I take hold of them quickly, clutching them to myself.

At the entrance to the tomb, there is a shadow. A gardener has come, perhaps hearing my pleas and cries. The shimmering sound intensifies, I can barely hear or see. The gardener enters and tries to approach me.

"Please sir," I say. "Where have you taken my Lord? Is it you who took him? I must anoint him." I take out the sack from under my robe. It has become wet and limp from my crying and my anxious body. I start to unpack it, sobbing anew. I want to prove to him my intentions, I need to show him I mean well. Oh that I could bribe him. I speak in a torrent even as I thrust my hand into the sack. "I have oil in here. And the best spices. Please let me see him."

My body is curled over in grief and crying, the sack on the ground. I have no light, I am blinded by light but have no light. I cannot see the light and I cannot see the sack and the things in the sack.

Again, this grip of my shoulder. The bird returned? The holy ones? The gardener? I must not be deterred. Let me pull out the oil!

"Mary," the presence says. The vial of oil slips from my hands and rolls on the ground. Immediately my sobs are calmed and I am flooded with peace.

I rise slowly, turn slowly.
Before me is my Lord. He is transformed, though he is himself. He is not real, though he is the same man. He is shimmering, though I can see his hands.
"Teacher!," I cry out and fall upon him in amazement.

He catches me, holding me at a distance from him. But even his arms on mine are familiar and warm. His face is transformed and it is also momentarily sad.

"I cannot," he whispers. "I cannot hold you. Do not try to hold me."
I stare into his eyes, which are like orbs radiating out the cosmos both in front and behind. I am calmed at once by them.

"I am on my way to my Father. Go and tell the others that you have seen me. And tell them that I am ascending to my Father."

I am still transfixed. I cannot move or blink or speak. I want only to follow him.
"Take me with you," I say.

He shakes his head.
"Do as I tell you." He says it in the firmest, gentlest voice. His arms on mine, holding me back, are trembling. He is not yet gone, and neither here. He is something inbetween.

I let go of him and step back. I don't know what to say. He is smiling at me.

"Go," he whispers. But I cannot move. We hang there in a breath of silence.

"A dove led me here," I say then. He nods.

"A temple dove," he says and even as he says it, he is fading gently. I cry out and reach forward to stop him.

The light lingers, but he is gone. I look about the tomb, the holy ones are also gone. It is black again, it is just me again.

The tomb entrance is wide open. Outside, the dawn of the new world has begun and risen, stretching out to the ends of the earth.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

saturday: hades

I have a Hades heart. It is the blackness of the tomb we laid him in today. His mother and Mary and Martha and Junia and myself and John and Joseph, the councilman from Arimathea who carried his body in the pouring rain, carried it with John. Martha gave us her cloak and we ripped it so we could tie pieces around his feet and hands to catch his blood. This councilman, Joseph, was so kind: we told him he is the first true follower of Our Lord's death. He put up his hands in humility. He said he had done nothing: the money he paid to remove our Lord from the cross was less than the cost of a temple dove. I told him my Lord would like that.

Now it is much later and I have come back into the Kidron, to the place where we made our fire while he was teaching. I have come here on my own, slipping away from the others and even Junia. I find there the few last traces of our group: a sandal, a broken piece of bread, the empty fire. I leave it almost as soon as I arrive and go back into the hill. I want to be in the place where my Lord went night after night. The mountain is empty, the stars are out. I stumble in and out of the graveyard, walking its edge, the stones of our ancestors upright in the moonlight. The rain has washed everything without leaving it clean. The ground is still wet. The wind is gentle, it stirs my garments. It seems to circle me, though its breath is small. There is the quiet wind and the drooping trees and the sad stars.

And there is my Hades heart.

For the cost of a temple dove, they gave him to us. For the cost of a temple dove, we could pull the nails from his feet and his hands. (Joseph put these nails in the fold of his garment to take away with him.) We could lift him and straighten his body and put his arms at his sides. And we could carry him through the rain, our feet caked in mud, wet earth spattering our legs. We could carry him to a place that the councilman had found, a fresh tomb. And there, by the light of torches, and as the moon rose and the men stepped out for sabbath prayers, I could hold him one last time. How warm his body still was! How still were his eyes. The marks of flogging made his mother weep. We all wept. The rain stopped then, and the sun emerged just before setting. By the light of torches and the dying light of sun we pulled the thorns from his head and bathed his wounds, keeping all the pieces of bloodied cloth, keeping all the blood of him together. Soldiers came then and we were made to leave. Even in death he has no peace.

Some time in the hours after we left, the soldiers came and rolled a stone in front of the tomb, in the case that we might steal him. As if we might steal something that belongs to us. I feel finally the anger that he had all last week. I am flooded with it. I am filled with weeping and washing of rain and lamenting and anger. Now I must worry about how we will anoint him. He must be anointed. Huddled here on the mountain, staring into the stars, I try to conceive of a way.

Instead, I myself am anointed by silence. It is the first silence I have known in days, since I hid in Gethsemane with my Lord and the others. I lean against a tree and stare at the moon. It is rounding, moving to be new again. Alone with God, I start to weep again, and weep uncontrollably. I do not cry out, for fear of being heard. I have had so much scolding and derision, chastisement and mocking; there has been so much danger.

Now that he is gone, I am nothing. I talk to him, ask him to give me a sign. Something to show me how to go on, how to be the person I was when he was here. I am nothing now, I tell him. I am just a woman to my women. I have his teachings in my heart and no one to teach. The twelve have deserted me, and each other. Only John is here; only John has come back. He disliked me when you were here, I tell my Lord. How will we ever find a way of teaching, now that you are gone? My mind turns to Judas and I beg my Lord to intervene with the Lord our God, the Lord of our ancestors for mercy on him. He has not been seen since yesterday. Since the day they did this terrible thing.

I pray and chatter quietly and weep like this for hours. Then I am quiet, just as my Lord was that night in the garden: so anguished, then suddenly quiet. A slow peace starts within me. I feel him suddenly, feel him so near, so present that I look around for him as if I might actually see him. I call out to him. But there is nothing. It is the same presence, as it was whenever we were with the others and he could read my mind, find my thoughts, from the midst of a crowd. I wait, hoping for words or a sign, but there is none.

Still, a peace has girded me. I feel stronger now.

The wind has increased and lifts me, draws me to my feet. It stirs the grass around me in small, eddying circles. I begin to walk away, back toward the house of my friends. Soon I will be in their embrace and we will talk of nothing else for the rest of the night and we will weep and lament and call to God with psalms. But right now as I walk, there is only this wind that is always near me. And there are these stones and epitaphs of the graveyard, the faces of our forefathers buried in the mount, lifting their stone-white voices to heaven.

Friday, March 29, 2013

friday: passion

Unravelling. The world has gone to choshek, to the darkness of creation. They say the veil in the temple rent from top to bottom when they hung him - the sky went black for a long time here too, the crowd dispersing in fear. Then the rain came, drowning us all, leaving us with drowning and darkness.

It is over now and I am still here. And the soldiers are still here. And his mother is still here. And Mary my friend is still here. And Junia is here. She wants to run to get us water in case they let us sponge him. I tell her to set the sponge on the ground and let it soak up the rain - it will be enough. A while ago, they pierced him and water ran out with blood. Some argued the water was rain. Others said that it came from his body. The blood ran down his leg. Since we cannot sponge him, I gather the blood on the ground with a towel. We must keep all his blood together. It is the law. We must keep the blood together and bury it with him. We must do everything properly. They must let us anoint him. They must.

I say these things many times to the soldiers. The rain spits in their faces. "There are many crucifixions," one of them tells us. "If we allow it for you, then everyone will want to do the same." "Everyone must do the same!" I don't know where my boldness comes from.

They keep pushing us back in case we come too near. The other two men have died already. My Lord is still alive, his chest barely moving, his face downward, his gaze washed over like a pool, staring to me and the others, and to whomever passes into it. He does not move so that many times we think he is gone and then there is some sign. I pray for his death with everything I have. His suffering is unbearable.

The others cannot endure it and have fled. They fled one-by-one through the night last night, through the day today. From the moment that the soldiers came, from the long night of waiting, through the long morning of trial, through the flogging, through the hanging, one by one they fled. I have not seen John or Peter, they've fled. I have not seen Thomas or Andrew or Philip or Bartholomew, they've fled. All who ate with him are gone, they have fled. I saw Judas here a while ago, crying out and weeping and cursing our Lord and falling at his feet at the cross and weeping until a soldier started to whip him away. I sent some of the women after him.

I have been remembering something our Lord said once. About the presence of holy ones, the holy ones of God who are always here with us. I feel them in our midst. I feel them close to me. I feel them close to him. The rain whips us all for the wind is great. But on him it appears to fall more gently, as if above us in the firmament there were a small hole, just above his head and only dew could fall there. Gentle mist.

Sometimes I move forward to be in his gaze and to look in his eyes. I steel myself for it, to look past the horrible piercing holes, the blood. To look only for his eyes. I have to twist myself to see them. I wait til the soldiers have left, or have forgotten him for a few moments and have turned their backs. I hold my eyes wide open, so he knows that I see him. I hold my gaze steady so to look right into him. His face is frozen open, his mouth twisted in agony. But his eyes are like pools, hovering between life and death. I talk to him. I pray with him. I even try to smile. His mother joins me sometimes. We stand together in each other's arms within his gaze and tell him we will anoint him, we will serve him. We will love him.

Just now, a woman has returned who was among those who went after Judas. She is out of breath and filled with fear. She says he was heading for the Temple to clasp the horns on the altar, seeking absolution. But then seeing soldiers there he changed his mind and ran away from them instead, pushing our people away and running into the hills. I hate Judas and I love him. I am frightened for him. I remember my Lord's tenderness to him the night he drew the letter in the ash of the fire. I remember how he said, "I love you - do not forget it."

Darkness has begun to fall. Still he breathes. They have mocked him. The agony of my Lord is nothing to the shame they bring on him through their jeers and taunts and their piercing of him, their rending of his garments. Every time they touch him I cry out in anger, "Leave him!" One of them struck me and I fell back. Another suggested I be arrested too. At this my Lord's mother intervened and they backed away.

She has been with us since the trial. I am so grateful for her presence. Her face has grown thin and pale with grief and terror. Sometimes she has clung to me, to my garment. When they hung him, we enfolded her, all crying out together. When the crowds were gathering, I huddled with her to shield her from the rain. Junia on one side, myself and her sister on the other, Mary and Martha of Bethany holding a veil before her from the front so that others would not see her and mock her in her grief. Her face rested in my shoulder, her tears against my neck. We whispered to each other agonized words, bodies tense, the ringing of iron hitting iron like nails through our own skin. When it was done and the crowd dispersed, we stayed like this. Eventually Martha took my place to hold her so that I could go speak with the soldiers. I could not rest while they mocked him.

Now, as darkness falls, she sits with us again in the open, at the foot of his cross. Someone calls the guards to food. Since the crowd has thinned to almost nothing, they decide to go and leave only one behind. Just as they are deciding this, I see John returning. He is limping from having been beaten by some people. He is weeping and falls at the feet of our Lord. Crying out to him. The soldiers mock him and laugh as they leave.

The only soldier left is just a boy, too young for his clothing. When we are all alone, our Lord speaks, whispering words we cannot really hear or understand. His mother and myself and John and Mary our friend, draw closer too. The boy-soldier allows it, looking helpless. His face shows sadness, compassion. He inches closer, more to listen than to scold. We cannot hear what my Lord is saying. We turn to the boy-soldier and say, "he is dying. Please give him a drink." The only thing nearby is some sour wine. The boy does not hesitate, puts some on the sponge I had set on the ground, so it is wine mixed with water, and stabs it with his spear. The boy lifts the spear to our Lord's mouth and we see him taste it.
Then he speaks again.
"It is finished," he says clearly. And then he dies. We know it because his head falls to his chest and his chest hollows.

The wind blows up from behind us, sending our garments straight out in front of us, as if they might shroud him. We fall into weeping and calling his name. We lament. We cry out. We fall to the ground. The circle of gentle mist-like rain that was just for him, widens to include us. It washes us, gently, even as our voices rend the air it glides in.

For hours we lament, wailing loudly. Until there is no voice left in us. Until darkness falls again. We are wrapped again in black, the wasteland of wastelands, like the first words of the Word. 'In a beginning God made heavens and earth. And darkness, choshek, was over the face of the deep.' Right now is the time even before spirit.

Then I remember a teaching from earlier in the week, when one of us asked him what would happen to him. He had not answered. And then instead he had recited. "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Stretch out your hand towards heaven so that there may be darkness over the land of Egypt, a darkness that can be felt.' So Moses stretched out his hand towards heaven, and there was dense darkness in all the land of Egypt for three days. People could not see one another, and for three days they could not move from where they were."

We were quiet then, each of us thinking about this omen and its frightening teaching. My mind raced.

"But Lord," I had said. "What about what follows then? the next words are that the people of God had light where they lived. The others were in darkness and they were in light. But if you are gone, it must be darkness for us too."

He did not answer, looking downward. I reflected deeply on his silence but could not make the teaching work.

"What you have said is true, Mary," he said then, when the silence had gone on too long. "But hear the words as they fall. The darkness comes for all, but the light follows the darkness for those who love me."

My memory dissolves into the pitch of mud, the splashing of animal feet. Horses with soldiers, are returning from their meal. I look again at my Lord whose body has emptied of all life; and try to cherish his words in my heart. Even as the very blackness of his prophecy pours its rain upon us.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

thursday: the supper; the garden

Into the whisper of morning, comes the slow crawl of light through trees by the wadi where we slept last night. We have decided to stay in Bethany near the garden, to stay together and do the passover. It was difficult to send the message to all, so dispersed had we become. James and Bartholomew are still missing from the day in the Temple so Andrew and Philip and I slept outside near the wadi, so as to better be seen by them whenever they came. I slept alone, then Junia came and slept beside me and I dreamt all night of terrible things. Omens and portents and horrors too great to be imagined. I cried out over and over and Junia wiped my brow and gave me water. Eventually, I looked up to see myself held in the arms of my Lord. Junia had slipped away and instead the teacher held me close, rocking me with greatest tenderness. Singing to me in psalms.

"Do not be afraid," he whispered in my ear, even as he rocked me. Eventually we fell asleep this way, my head cradled in his shoulder.

Now the dawn has broken and we are awake, he and I, huddled close together. When I open my eyes, he is staring in my face. He pushes the hair from my eyes, takes hold of my hand. I see then that he is weeping again.

"What is it?," I say quietly.
He shakes his head.
"This will be the last time we are alone together." He says it simply. I start to cry but he hushes me gently, sweetly and kisses my hands. "We will meet again. I will come to you first. I promise." I do not understand this and start to tremble.

The others from the camp are starting toward us, also awake. Two of the men see us and look away, thinking the teacher has lain with me. My heart sinks into the ground: already, I am starting the day in shame. The earth is cold and damp, the grasses soaked with dew beneath me. My Lord rises, takes his garment to go and pray. I lie where I am, huddled into the earth, thinking over what he has just said and holding the last of his warmth to me.

Later in the day when we are all gathered, my Lord sends someone to secure a room in an inn. When the man returns he tells us that the only place he could find is not big enough for all.
Almost right away there is talk about leaving behind the women. Oddly, by this time, the twelve have begun to accept that our Lord wants us near; instead it is the new disciples who are agitated. They insist we must be left behind. Angered by them, m
y Lord says he will take only the twelve and myself and a few others. I beg the teacher for Junia to come and he agrees. Thaddeus, who has seen the room, insists that there will not be room for the women at table. In the end, it is decided we can come and be present, but cannot eat until after. We will sit on the sides of the room. I am pleased enough with this, as it is better than nothing at all!

When the hour comes, my Lord performs the role of priest and does all the blessings. They recline and drink and break the bread and eat. The lamb is brought in and they eat heartily. Then my Lord insists that we eat too and while we do so he makes the others wait and watch. Finally, it is time for the last cup, after the grace. My Lord takes off the priestly garments he had put on for the night and lays them to one side.
"Bring them to the table," he says now to the twelve, but he is referring to us.
"You must never deny them the table again. All are welcome at my table. Everyone. Surely you must know this by now. We have eaten with tax collectors and Samaritans and the unclean. These women are ours, they are clean. Think of these words of mine and never fail them."

The men are shamed and move to allow us in: myself and Junia, and Mary and Martha our friends, the sisters of Lazarus and two other women who have been with us from the start. Staring into the table, he pours the wine again, blesses it and looks at us all. His eyes are anxious and sad, full of longing for us. His gaze falls on me and I smile. He is mournful as he speaks.
"Love," he says, "is all that matters. You must all love one another or you do not love me."

There is silence as we feel the weight of this. I steal a look at John with whom I have been hardly speaking. There are many such moments and looks to one another. These have not been easy days.

My Lord then turns to Judas, who is sitting near to him, once again. He kisses him and then, when the disciple has started to weep, speaks gently.
"You as well I love."
Not long afterward, Judas rises and leaves us. I think of the time in the temple yesterday, of my strange foreboding. And the letter he drew in the ashes of our camp that night. I do not understand and yet I know everything. "The hour has come," my Lord has been saying. And I am beginning to see what hour he means and what it is that is coming. Quietly he lifts the cup as if for the final blessing after all. Instead he tells us stories and sayings.

He tells us that soon he will be gone. He instructs us how to continue in his absence. How we should take the wine of festivals and drink it as if it were his blood. To eat the bread of our festivals, as if it were he himself we were eating. He speaks of his body and how it no longer belongs to him, but to others. However, he will always belong to us, always be with us. He tells us not to be afraid, and not to fear his pain. He tells us we will all suffer greatly because of him but that his father and he himself will never desert us. He talks of his father, the God of our ancestors, to whom he will soon be returning.

In all these things, we recline in amazed silence, unable to fathom what he is meaning and filled with foreboding. I feel my heart and my kidneys slide like streams and fail to sustain me. I can see it now, the message of my dreams and of my waking fears.

"How will they do it?," I hear myself say, out of turn, out of place. As usual, drawing stares. He shakes his head and doesn't answer.
He looks at me, as if speaking to me directly.
"Soon you will know me again."

We are quiet a long while, as the torches and candles dim their light and begin to fade.

Not long after that, he takes some of the men with him and goes out to walk in the Kidron. I beg to come, but Matthew denies me. When they have gone, I sneak out after them, following at a distance. My Lord leads them into Gethsemane, to pray. I stay behind rocks where I might watch and pray also, as always I do. It is terribly dangerous but I do not even think of the danger anymore. My Lord instructs them all to listen closely, to watch out for him while he prays and to not fall asleep. But no sooner has he left their sides than the food and drink take liberty with their eyes and they slide away. I take advantage of their sleeping to creep a little closer.

My Lord is in a terrible anguish, such as I have never seen. He pleads with his father to spare him the cup of trial. He does not intuit my presence, as often he has in the past. I want to run to him, anoint his brow, bathe his feet as he did for us all before we ate this night. I want to hold him as he held me in the dawn that began this very day. But it is as if a wall has now dropped between us which time has hurled us against, and which nothing can break.

He truly does not see me or know I am there - it is so unusual. It is for this reason that I know it is unfolding exactly as he said. It is now that I understand that even he no longer can control it. It is as if in submitting to the future, he is less with us, less one of us. I am no longer scared and now am only sad. He is gone already, although he is here. I silently wish I had not come out to follow them.

Twice, he returns to the disciples and rouses them, asking them to stay close and keep watch. And both times, they fall asleep again. His prayers become more agitated and frightened until at last something in him breaks and he submits into a quiet trance of peace. In this moment, the wind returns, lifting the branches of the trees and ruffling all our garments. I huddle again behind the rock, nearly asleep myself.

After a while of hearing nothing, I look round again to see where he is. To my amazement, he is asleep, just like the others, though apart from them. From my place of watching, I fall on my knees now and pray to God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my might. I beg God to spare him, to give him to us for more time so that we might learn more and learn it better. The wind scatters my whispered pleas into the brambles and the night shadows. Eventually, I just rest in silence. In front of me is my beautiful Lord, curled up like a child.

Soon I know I must make my way back or I will be missed and Junia will come looking for me. I look at him one more time, then start back into the valley. Behind me, the stars above the place where they are sleeping are ranged like watchful angels, the holy ones who never sleep. I search them with the quiet of my heart and see in the direction of Nazareth, the subtle blinking of his natal star. I hold it to my heart all the way back to the inn, guided by it, and stumbling in darkness.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

wednesday: the temple

From one pool to another. From Bethesda to Siloam, the pool for travellers, for those coming to pay their taxes. We have bathed and healed, ourselves and others. The long narrow stairs away from the pool and up to the temple seems to take forever, but it is our preferred way, as we find we are less likely to run into soldiers and priests.

The day has filled with tension. There are too many new people. We have outgrown even what we know how to do. There are many times when I cannot even see one of our group, let alone the teacher. My Lord travels among crowds without thought of his safety and no longer thinks at all of his own wellbeing. No rest, no food, no time alone. He is forgetful of his ablutions, his garments, his prayers. Only at night does he steal away, often taking one of us with him.

John and I are not getting along. Peter scorns me too. They say I am too bold, that I have become vain. They are unkind and their words sting. I ignore them and they me. I know the teacher gives them messages for me that they do not relay. I have given up trying to stay alongside them, or anyone. I have begun to sink back in the crowds, to become less visible, to them, to anyone. I am lost in bewildering feelings, as if my old shame will never truly leave me. I have spent the day drifting from one place to another, avoiding all those who judge me. The closer I come to the edge of the crowd, the more likely I am to find the men of my former life. Some I used to know stare at me and try to present me with favors. I hurry away but do not always escape their grasping hands. When we have been there nearly four hours, Junia searches me out, brings me word from my Lord. Running toward me, out of breath.
"The teacher says," she begins, and then leans over, hands on her knees, "that you are being too modest. He needs you to stay closer. He was quite firm as he said it. Mary, you are too far back. If you stay here then even I cannot be with you."
My heart melts at this. For my friend's sake, I overcome my own shame and fear and anguish. Taking her arm, I let her guide me forward again.

The group has become too big for fires, for ritual prayers. Our numbers are filled with strangers who have only just joined us. There is no way to tell who is good and who isn't. A woman from Nazareth told Thomas there are spies among us and many times we believe it to be true. But it is more worrisome than that. It almost seems as if the more people he gathers, the more the spirit of my Lord shifts and his impatience grows. I can see by his face and his body that he is too tired, too drawn. He is frightened too, though he will not say it. He prefers to be angry.

And there is much to anger him.

Now we have been inside the temple terrace all day and his mood has worsened by the hour. He speaks harshly to the priests who are trying to disperse us. Sometimes it seems he is courting their judgement by choice, by will. He insults the Sadduccees; as always there are other priests trying to trick him in his teaching. He gives them harsh teachings; he has even called them not of Abraham! Then, as if even he cannot bear his own behaviour, he retreats and sits against the terrace wall among the widows and orphans. He sits with them as they wait for doves and teaches them. Slowly his voice becomes quiet and restored, his face alive with beauty. One of the widows has purchased her dove and brings it to him, offering the dove to him instead of giving it over for sacrifice. The gesture moves him. She sits down beside him and he blesses her. Then he holds the bird, stroking its wings with tender grace.

I have known for some time that my Lord is partial to these small birds. Their beauty bewitches him, he cradles them like the most beloved of beasts. And yet in every moment there is the scream from afar of one being slaughtered.

Eventually, he stares forward, listening to something internal none of us can ever fully grasp. Sadly, he stands again, breathes deeply and moves to go inside the temple. We follow.

It is hours later and it is not going well. Inside, the sheep and cattle roam without rope or containment. Those who are changing the money haggle with simple farmers over rates much too high and my Lord tries to reason with them. More than once we all have stepped forward on their behalf. It is this that reawakens his anger. He sees and hears the harsh dismissal of the money lenders, the dejection of the peasants. My Lord begs them to be fair. All as the soldiers watch him. The priests watch him. They are never far away now.

He sees things we don't. He knows which people have been here for days unable to pay the money-changers their interest. He sees the children and old people who are waiting for someone to buy them a dove so they can make their atonement. He points these things out to us all the time.

And then it happens. I see a man I have known: a terrible man from long ago, who beat me and enslaved me. I start to cry as he makes his way toward me. For now he is a soldier, a man with power. He has recognized me. There can be no doubt what he wants. I start to cry out for my friends, my voice lost in the wilderness of sound.

Now he grabs me, pulling me out of the crowd so that all can see, dragging me forward and holding me by the hair in front of my Lord.
"Do you really care what a woman like this is offering?," he sneers.
Two of the priests snicker behind me. The crowd falls silent and watches me; some turn their heads in shame.
"Don't you think this girl herself should be an offering? For how will she ever atone for all of her sins!"
I am in pain, my whole body trembling. Staring at the floor in agony.
Then I hear a violent rush. Stealing a glance upward I see that my Lord has pushed over a doveseller's table to come forward and fallen to the floor with the force of it. He is laughed at and mocked by the soldiers. I follow his face, his gaze, see what he sees. There is a whip used for the cattle not far from his hand. Immediately he is on his feet with it. The whip cracks across the floor in our direction and the soldiers react in shock, letting go of me. I shield my face, run into my women who enfold me as if returning me to a womb.

The whip cracks again, scattering people. The sheep and cattle are restless and make a terrible din. In the far reaches of the temple, all continues as normal, for they cannot hear us way down there. The same Roman soldier shouts now, clearly looking for me.
"Well then teacher, take her and whip her, if you want something to whip."
My women scream.

My Lord falls into rage. His rage tears out against all he has seen throughout the day. The tables fall, the moneychangers are chased from their seats. My Lord moves in terrible anger, shakes out purses so that the coins fall together in uncountable piles. He takes handfuls of them and throws them into the crowd. The peasants scramble on the floor. Matthew tries to reach him, tries to restrain him. John is at his side, begging him to stop. But my Lord is overcome. I see it, peering out from where they are concealing me. I hear the air crackling, the floor alive with pounding and the rushing here and there of animals.

Something catches my eye then, almost unseen. Between the robes of my friends I spy Judas standing near a column, shaking his head in disgust and moving away so as not to be counted with our Lord. "No!," I cry out to him, for I have a knowledge I don't understand. "No!!!" I say it again. But he does not hear. He has left the column and is moving away in the temple toward the other places. Within my hiding place, I fall back in despair. My knees slide like water; I am terrified.

There is a moment of stillness then. When it has gone on too long, I cannot control my desire to know what is happening and slowly stand up. My Lord is catching up to himself, seeing what he has done. His face is alive with emotion and sadness, surveying it all. The soldiers and priests are frozen in place. In this odd silence there is only the sound of the doves. My Lord is suddenly drawn to it.

Laying down the whip, he claps his hands loudly several times. Immediately the cages of the doves fly open and the birds take flight. The sound of their wings becomes like angels rising, hovering and beating against the roof of the temple. Everyone falls back in astonishment. The soldiers move to grab him and he leaves quickly, eluding them in the crowd and going out to the terrace. I see James and Philip suddenly move to follow. Thomas runs anxiously behind them. One of our women cries out for us to follow. Junia pushes me forward, wraps her cloak around me again to conceal me. I am moving with her, against her body, blind, unable to see what is happening past the soldiers and the priests. Bodies press in around me as we go, half-running. I feel the sudden press of air, even through the cloak that conceals me, the din of voices released into the sounds of the terrace. Junia's arm tightens around me under her cloak, guiding me swiftly. Down the steps, I fumble and fall and she rushes me to my feet again. Breaking free of the cloak, I find my strength and we run together. The head of Andrew visible before us in the crowd, is how we know where to go.

It is long after dark when my women and I finally arrive at the fire outside the city wall. We had lost Andrew, lost the others, wandered in fear from one place to another, constantly hiding. Two or three of our party who were looking for us met us on the way and we fell on them with gratitude. Then they told Junia, myself, the other Mary, and some other women to wait now til after dark to try to leave. We took refuge with some tentmakers who love our Lord, hiding inside their tent. Finally, late in the night, we passed through the gate quickly, after the judges were gone from their posts and the guards were drunk.

Now as we approach the fire, I see my Lord rise and come toward us. When we are near he pushes gently through us and soon draws me to him, embracing me and holding me. Immediately, I feel all my shame from the day vanish. The horror and fear and the shaming of my body dissolve into peace. I feel only joy, only love. I cling to him, while behind my closed eyes, I see the swooping and halting of released doves, binding us in cords of blinding white.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

tuesday: bethesda

We start out before dawn. My Lord and the others hope to arrive at Bethesda before the time of morning prayers. We are quiet as we walk, shadows chased by light. The fireflies are out, mystical companions. My friend Junia tries to catch them. My Lord smiles at her. He stretches out a hand from his garment. Immediately the flies light on his arm and hand.
"Take one," he says to Junia, and she does.

On our way, we find a sheep caught in a thicket, half-dead. I begin to weep a little.
"I heard this sheep last night," I say. The teacher is walking near me.
"It was lost. Its bells rang after dark while we were sitting by the fire."
Some among us began to tend to it, for it was bleeding and weak.
My Lord spoke to us, teaching us in sayings about the sheep.

"How many of us would go after a lost sheep when 99 sheep are safe behind the fold? But I say to you we must always search out the lost sheep. Even if one sheep is lost in 100, that sheep is the most precious to its owner."
We understand him and are happy for this.
The sheep is struggling and some among us think we should kill it so that it might not die and cause us to be unclean. Our Lord goes to the sheep and putting his hand on its neck, restores it to life. Those who have joined us recently react with amazement as the sheep lifts itself and begins to run in the grass.
Our Lord appears unhappy with their wonder and motions us forward.
"Come, we are late," he says.

He has begun to be impatient. It has been this way since we arrived in Jerusalem. I cannot always make him out, or know what he is thinking. I watch him now as we walk, studying his face when I can. Without looking at me, he reaches for my hand and holds it, then lets it go.
"Do not worry," he says. And then strides on ahead. I run to catch up to him.
We walk in silence.
"You are frightened too," I say to him quietly after a while. He does not respond, but leaves me then, moving to some others.

We are late indeed. Even as we go, slivers of sunlight chase the moon out of the sky behind us. Eventually, we have to stop so the men can pray. I stand behind a large rock out of sight. There I pray with them, all the words engraved on my heart. Closing my eyes, I can hear my voice blending in with theirs. Opening my eyes, Junia and another of her women look at me nervously. Several others are scorning me. Junia watches them, then turns to me and smiles with affection. I am awash with gratitude. I squeeze her hand in passing, say nothing to the women and move on, just as my Lord did with me.

The sun is round and beating down as we draw near the place of the pools. Someone has gone ahead to say we will be there and even before we have come round the hill, some in need of cures are waiting for us. My Lord is not happy to see them. His agitation grows more bold and he thinks we do not see it.
"You must be in the water," he says to one of them sharply, and keeps walking. A few steps later, he stops. A man lies on the ground, lame in one of his legs. His arm is outstretched to the teacher. But the teacher does not touch him.
"Who carried you away from the pool?," my Lord asks the man.
The man is immediately shamed.
"I paid my friend to do it. I wanted to be first."
"Soon you will see that the first shall be last and the last shall be first."
To our amazement, he then moves on, without healing the man.
Thaddeus, whose heart is the most tender, picks the man up and carries him.
When we have walked some time in silence, our Lord sees Thaddeus and the man and ceases walking. He appears sad. He then moves through our crowd to them. Taking the man gently from Thaddeus', he continues walking, carrying the man himself. They are in the midst of the crowd and soon we take no notice. Not long after, however, the man cries out. He is standing now behind our Lord, with his legs restored. He is shouting in amazement and gratitude, praising God and dancing.
Again, the teacher says nothing, appears almost sullen, and urges us on.
The man runs into the hills, leaping like the sheep.

I draw near to my Lord and walk alongside him. He is not in a good temperament, he is brooding and tired. He limps a little from the sores on his feet. The same sores I felt under my hand as he rode on the horse when we first arrived.
The chill in the air has started to lift but the ground is wet and hard.
"Let us stop and rest, so I can tend your feet," I say to him.
He halts in his path, sagging a little. Impatience is there again.
He starts to say something, then doesn't. He is lost in his own thoughts, his face lined with sadness. He stares into the hills, at the last traces of night sky, flushed with pink and blue. His lips utter something I cannot hear.

He appears to forget me and walks on. I do not know how to be with him sometimes. I too become distant and silent. We walk apart a long ways. I use the time to go within myself and experience peace. It is hard to find. The morning has brought birds singing and sparkling dew. Each is beautiful when observed by itself but now they just make noise in my ears and give me cold wet feet. I want to push this out, rest in peace. I cannot.

Soon there are voices. A few steps later, we have come over the hill and the pools are in view. They are overburdened with people. There are lepers and many who are sick or afflicted and those who are unclean. It is more than one man can do in one day.

But it is not just this. On a nearby ridge are some priests and in another direction, some soldiers are there, waiting also. We all cry out in seeing them.
We do not understand. It is not the sabbath for another few days. Why have they assembled? We stand staring, no one speaking.
"Is it because we are not preparing for the feast? Is that it?," James breaks the silence.
"No, it is because of those we ate with last night," says Bartholomew. "You said they were forgiven their sins. Word spreads quickly."
"Yes." It is Peter. "I heard a priest say, who does he think he is? Who can forgive sins but God?"
Even in our gathering there are those new ones who are shocked to hear these things. They look at the teacher in wonder and awe.
"My Lord, what shall we do?" It is Philip who says it, trying hard to sound calm.
My Lord is silent. Many behind him murmur in fear. Some begin to leave the party and make their way back in haste into the valley.

Studying his face, I have new understanding. I realise now why he had hesitated at every stage. Why he has been brooding throughout our journey. And yet he has said nothing.
One of us says, "They want to trick you; catch you making errors. You cannot heal so many without breaking the laws. They will watch you like a hawk."
Thomas steps forward.
"Lord, you came here to teach, not to heal. There is no harm in teaching."
Junia speaks up, her tiny voice like a bird.
"They have no doubt heard about the lame man," she says bravely.
We all adjust to this realization. There can be no question that news like that travels faster than any other kind.
"He came to heal," says Judas. "We knew this when we set out."
We look at him. Something in his voice. A clutch comes in my heart and makes me cold. I remember the time last night by the fire, the letter drawn in ash, the sadness of the Lord. Others are thinking the same thing. Some begin to look on him with accusing.
Judas is angered, turns to the teacher.
"I didn't tell them, Lord."
The teacher nods.

For a while, we do not move. Instead our eyes travel from the pool to the soldiers to the priests. The wind that has been following us since we came to Jerusalem tosses up dust in a small column before us. The tall grasses that slope gently downward to the pool undulate and wave like the palms of our arrival.

Without saying a word, he steps forward and motions to us to follow. One by one we fall in behind. Hesitant. Faltering. Going with him.

The waters of the pools of Bethesda are coral pink from their journey through the earth. The source is moving and bubbles forth from its hidden place in the wall. The stirring is a gentle stream eddying over rocks. I sit in one of the five porticos which divide the two pools, right near the source. My feet are in the women's pool, but I have one hand dribbling in the water at its source.

The women in the pool are tired and poor; some are old; almost all are peasants. They chatter with each other, even as they pray and do their ablutions.
"He won't have time for us," says one very old woman, hobbling slowly up the stair near my leg. I lean forward to assist her with my hand.

A little while later, I am helping a small girl into the pool. Her body is perilously thin and she cannot walk. I lay her gently in the waters and she continues to cling to me. I sink into the pool myself, sitting on the step up to my neck and holding her closely there. She lays her head in my neck and appears to sleep, her body finally comforted. I look up to my Lord and he sees me, even in that minute, even from so far away. He leaves where he is and starts to come. The girl stirs, starts to cry and I soothe her, tell her he will soon help her.

Then there is the sound of commotion, a clamouring of voices. I look up to see my Lord being dragged at the elbows away. I lift the girl into the arms of a woman and rush to see what has happened, my garments wet, my body cold. I shout to the others, who leave where they are. Two priests have the teacher by his arms and escort him away toward the field nearby. The soldiers follow them and intercede. Junia folds another cloak around me, even as I pass. I stare into the field by the north end of the pool, hurrying forward and trying to make out what is happening. They are talking and arguing while my Lord is silent. I hear water dripping to the stone beneath me, almost as loud as the pounding of my heart.

Eventually, the priests let go of him and he walks slowly back toward us. I sigh with all of me. I feel again the gnawing fear which will not let me rest.

Someone runs toward us, explaining: they have let him go, but he must heal no more. Our faces watch him as he draws among us. To my surprise, for the first time today, he seems content. Only now does he seem himself. No longer fretful or in moods, but smiling and peaceful.
"You were right," he says to me as he comes alongside. "To bring us here." I am not so sure but smile. His peace making mine.

The figures of the priests and the soldiers on horses have faded into dimming lines behind the hills. We all turn round to face the pools again. It hardly seems possible but now there are even more there than before. They call out, cry out his name.

Thomas and some of the others implore him. "My Lord, please, no. They will return. You will be taken." The teacher listens, cupping the face of a lame man in his hand, to gaze in his eyes.
"Yes, I will be taken."

He says this to Thomas.
He lifts his eyes to the others in the pool, waiting.
Immediately, his name is called out in supplication. Many voices at once. Their plea is like that of the wanderers, calling out to the God of all Israel. He moves now toward the women's side, towards the small girl even now very still in the arms of her elders.
I breathe in deeply and hurry behind him.

We carry her together, out of the arms of her womenfolk and into the waters. Her small thin arm is around my Lord's neck, my body cradling her feet. We lower her, lowering ourselves as well.
The sun of creation bears down on us all, drenching the world in wind-smitten light.

Monday, March 25, 2013

monday: prophecy

Sunset. The time of day when I long for God. Orange and pink fingers of creation. Last night, I leaned into it with my whole alive being. It seemed to me that at the end of the earth, the God of my ancestors was weaving together the sky and the sea in tranquility. Yet, even in this glory, I could not shake my fear. It was as if the ground beneath my feet was restless, and somewhere deep in the earth, was the stirring of earthquakes. I have this fear all the time now. I wake up to it, as I used to wake up to strangers, feeling the same turmoil in my kidneys and my heart. I have been longing for a mikvah, to bathe properly, to feel the dust lift off my soul and know that I am resting in the peace of being clean.

Returning to where they were gathered, last night I begged my Lord to take us out to the edge of the city for some purification. We have been so negligent. He agreed immediately.

Now it is a day later, the sun has set again, and we are in the Kidron, camped by a wadi there but still we have not bathed. Earlier I watched them say their prayers. I listened as I love to do, to the sound of my Lord in his own voice among the others. "Hear o Israel, the Lord our God is one, and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." Now, by a fire, he teaches us, saying he himself is Israel now. "I am the true vine," he says. "I am the true Israel." He says these and many other good sayings that we struggle to remember. I sit on the edge of the circle, staring out into the valley, feeling the cold wind stirring the garment from my shoulder so it is exposed. I keep covering it again. My feelings are confused and troubled. On the one hand, I am filled with love for the teacher and on the other, I have great, great fear. It is as if the womb of the earth that the psalm describes, is about to enclose me in its cave. I shudder.

In the valley I hear sheep bells, after dark. It feels like an omen, as the sheep should be inside their gate. I begin to pray silently behind my garment which I have wrapped around my face against the blowing sand and dust. I am praying as the others did, the same words. It is dangerous I know, but no one can hear me. The stars are rich with light. I think of the words of our holy ones: "and now you are as numerous as the stars in the heaven." I smile, despite my fear.

The teacher stops teaching and speaks to me, even though many others are in front of me, waiting with questions.
"Mary, why are you praying?"
I am amazed that he has read my heart, and do not know how to answer. There is silence and discomfort as one by one the men in the group turn back to look at me. Many shake their heads or look away, ashamed by this deference to a woman, when we have so many new disciples with us. My head, too, is lowered. A terrible silence follows. John walks away and Peter follows. James and Andrew confer with each other. I can tell they believe me to be disrespectful, since I am not listening to the teacher and choosing instead to pray. And praying aloud! Which is forbidden for women.

My Lord has spoken and then not said anything. Now he addresses them, looking first to Philip and Andrew with such an intensity that they cease their whispering immediately. And raising his voice to catch John and Peter.
"The time will come," he says, "when this woman will tell you news that you will not believe. I must know that you will hear it when she comes. My teaching will fail, if you do not hear it." John and Peter have stopped and turn slowly, humble again, and also uncertain. Angry.

My Lord continues. "You will know the moment when it happens. I must know that you will hear her when she comes to you. Promise me that."
His words burn their ears. My heart and my kidneys are alive with trembling. I do not understand this teaching and feel too humbled by it. Peter and John stand by a tree. They listen but do not speak. The teacher turns his gaze back to me.
"Why are you praying, Mary?"
It is more insistent now. I had waited, hoping my silence would be allowed. But just now, as he speaks, the trees that are near me begin to fall into a wind-filled odyssey of stirring and breathing and rustling their branches.

I think of our arrival here in the city, of the palms, the hosannas and the hissing.
I speak, saying my mind, despite myself and my place.
"My Lord, I have been dreaming of water. I have been dreaming that water has come upon the earth and nearly drowned us all as in the time of Noah. And I am frightened. So I am praying."
Thomas shakes his head and scorns me in embarrassment. I see this same disdain on the face of many others. I lower my head in shame.
My Lord is very silent. I have closed my eyes and behind my lids I see his face, that he is weeping. I open my eyes. A woman near to him is wiping his face, for he is indeed crying. We have never seen him cry and now twice in several days, this anguished weeping. First, for Lazarus, now for me? For us? We cannot tell.
"They will not hear you," he whispers. But I hear him.
He says it with such deep lament, more to himself than to us. "You will speak the truth and they will not listen." He takes the face of a woman near to him and cradles it. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Then he looks again at me.
"I will have to appear many times, before they believe you. It should not be so."

There is a sound then, from the town. A shofar. The horn blasts its mournful calling.
"Mary, I am that water that covers the earth." He has said it in the small silence that followed the ram's horn.
I do not understand this saying, and sit in amazed silence. I feel as I do when he stares at me some other times. I feel loved as I have never been, as if the heavens themselves have reached down to embrace me.
"What would you have us do." He is speaking to me again. It is shocking, he is asking my advice. It is a shaming of the others, of the men. I am frightened. But his love for me gives me my voice. I do not hesitate.
"My Lord, I am told that the water is stirring at Bethesda. We should go there. We have not bathed properly. But not only this. There are many to teach there. Many who are ill and in need of cures."
He seems overjoyed with these words.
"Yes. We shall go and teach the living water at Bethesda. It is the right time."

One of the animals tethered nearby is restless. A servant goes to tend to it. There is a skirmish for a moment, as it is meant for sacrifice and must be handled properly. Some among us are concerned. Others do not care at all.

"You love her too much."
It is Judas who says it.
He is sitting closest to the teacher.

My Lord answers by taking a stick and drawing a letter in the ashes of the fire.
"My friend," he says to Judas. "What is the word that I have written in the ash?"
None of us can read it, but it seems Judas can. He falls silent, to the point of gravity.
"Look at me," says my Lord.
Judas raises his head.
"When we go to the temple, you will make friends there. They will offer you something." And here he pauses. It seems as if his face is crumbling again, right before us. He does not weep for himself. Rather, it would seem he weeps for Judas.
"Take what they give you," he whispers.
I do not understand this saying and the others are just as frightened. Judas is the steward of our purse so there is nothing unusual in the instruction, but my Lord is heavy with emotion. And Judas, staring at the ashes, cannot speak.
My Lord kisses his face most tenderly.
"Remember that I love you," he says.

Crackling of the night fires and torches crucifies our silence.
"Tomorrow we will indeed go to Bethesda," the teacher says, and his voice is an oasis of gentleness in the midst of fire sound. He says this, then rises to go and pray. None of us go with him, for we feel chastened by him and are too moved. Eventually, John and Peter, who have returned to the circle, walk away from our group to follow him.
I stare back into the valley, into the vale of darkness, and shiver behind the veil of my garments. In the distance, a sheep's bell rings. Its sound is lost, into the echo of the mournful shofar, into the God-seeking wind.