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.

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