Sunday, December 21, 2008

Yearning for the Impossible: a Monologue of Mary based on Luke 1:26-38

How can this be?

How can this be?

In the name of the God Most High, how is this possible? I know. I know it is impossible.

I am nothing special. I am nothing like our ancestors in faith… I am no Sarah, mother of our people. I am no Rachel and no Leah, mothers of the tribes of Israel. I am no Deborah, wise judge and leader, and I am no Esther, brave queen and savior. I am none of these. I am a girl, only a girl. And yet… when I consider the heavens, the works of God’s fingers, the moon and the stars in their courses: what am I, that God has been mindful of me? Who am I, that God cares for me?

I am a girl. Until the messenger came, I was a girl like every other girl in this village. Living with my parents, and grandparents, and brothers and sisters. Learning the stories of our people: Loyal and steadfast Ruth! Wily Rebecca! Learning that God gives each of us a work to do, and mine was no more taxing than carrying jars of water from the well for my mother, or learning the right measure of leaven to mix with the flour to make a soft and pleasing dough, to be baked into a sweet and fragrant loaf. My accomplishments included learning to write my name in the sand with my finger: Miriam, like the prophet, sister of Moses, guardian of her baby brother by the rushes of the mighty Nile River. One day I could look forward to the accomplishment of being a wife, and, God willing, bringing forth new life, being fruitful, as our mothers were fruitful. God willing. In time, in time.

Let me tell you about Joseph. We have grown up together, side by side. That is the way of life in a small town like Nazareth. Everyone is family, everyone knows everything about everyone. He works with his father and brothers in their woodshop. I never thought much of him, or of any of the boys in this village. Why should I? It was not for me to ponder. I knew when the time came, my father and mother would select someone for me, someone they had weighed and considered and tested. I did not presume to settle my heart on any boy or man. That was their task, and I was just as glad to leave it to them. I was more concerned to learn the psalms by heart. My mother taught me: learn the psalms, and you will not be shy to speak with God Most High. Learn the prayers of our ancestor David, and you will be like a tree planted by a stream of water. In all that you do, you will be nourished.

And so I did. I learned the psalms and carried water and left my future in the hands of my parents and God. And then one day, they presented me to him. Just like that. Miriam, they said, you will be the wife of Joseph the carpenter, son of Heli. I did not object. And, in truth, as the days and weeks went by, and my parents welcomed Joseph and his family into our home more often, and as we were permitted time to speak to one another with some measure of privacy—you understand, someone was always just a few feet away, no more than could be summoned at a moment’s notice—I began to like him.

Joseph shyly showed me some examples of his woodwork. His father wanted him to make tables and trunks, and chairs of the kind the wealthy merchants like to buy. But one day Joseph placed in my hand a small flute, delicately carved with birds and flowers—the flowers…! I spotted a rose, and a lily, and the leaves of a pomegranate tree. It was so beautiful my speech left me for a moment. When I looked at him, he was grinning wildly, as if he had been somehow vindicated. He took the flute back again, and began to play. I never imagined such music. It was both sad and hopeful, the story of our people without any words to weigh it down, the truest story I ever heard. When he finished, and the sound died out in the silence (for even my family were listening in the next room), his eyes looked into mine with an intensity that startled me, and we both were struck silent at the wonder of the moment. It was then I decided that to be Joseph’s wife might just be a wondrous and surprising thing.

We went on like that for some months, and as we passed in the streets, Joseph carrying some item to be delivered to a buyer, and me deftly balancing the jug on top of my head, we conceived and began to communicate with a secret language. A look from him and I knew whether his day had been good or bad, whether his father was in a foul mood or his mother had cooked some wonderful delicacy for him. A look from me and he knew whether my sisters had been overly difficult as I tended them while my mother went to the market. And in our silent language, we both recognized a change in ourselves. We began to feel like what we were: betrothed to one another. Meant for one another.

One evening, just before the Sabbath was about to fall, my mother sent me to the well for water at the last moment. The light was fading and almost no one was on the paths that wound their way through town. It was unusual for my mother to send me so late, but she trusted me, and once the Sabbath came there could be no trips for water until it passed. I came to the stone lip of the great well, and I set down my jar on the edge. I reached down to pull up the rope which held the bucket. As I did, a voice rose towards me, echoing from the water far below.

“Hello Miriam, blessed by God Most High. The Holy One is with you.”

I stumbled back from the well, knocking down the jar; it rolled away noisily. I looked all around me. It was absurd. There could be no one in the well—no one could fall the distance into it and live. I crept tentatively towards the edge, and leaned forward to peer down. What kind of voice was this? It sounded unlike man or woman or child, unlike anything I had ever heard. It was a kind of whisper on the water, yet it was perfectly loud and clear. As I looked down, the voice came again, only it was behind me. I spun around, shaking. I could feel my heart pounding within me.

I was unprepared for what I saw. It looked like a man, but not like a man. It seemed at the same time close enough for me to reach out and touch it, but also somehow at a great distance. It shimmered and moved in the fading light. I wondered whether I was dreaming. Had I fallen at the well and struck my head? Was there anyone nearby to rescue me?

The messenger spoke again, comprehending my thoughts. “Do not be afraid, Miriam, daughter of David. The Lord Most High has blessed you.” And in that instant I knew. I knew what terrible words would issue from his mouth. I knew because I had listened at my mother’s feet, or leaning against her shoulder while she was spinning, or as she whispered in my ear while I kneaded the dough for the bread. I knew what kind of story this was. I knew that I was about to hear the same news that made Sarah and Hannah and Rachel weep for joy. But for me, this was not joyful news. It was the most terrifying thing that could happen to me. And… it was impossible.

The messenger was speaking to me, telling me things about the child—there was to be a child. Of course. I would conceive in my womb, and bear a son. He would be called the Son of God. I nearly laughed when I heard that. Wouldn’t the Emperor Augustus be interested to know that he had lost his title to the illegitimate child of a virgin from a backwater town such as Nazareth. And even as this cruel joke registered with me, I felt in myself a desperate desire to flee, to run, to stop up my ears and make the messenger stop telling me this impossible thing.

“How can this be?” I whispered? How can this be?

And the messenger told me that… God would accomplish it. That was all. God would make a way where there was no way. And in that moment I knew: If this was a messenger of God and no demon, then God would make a way. If this child was of God, and his destiny was to rule over our people, then God would make a way. And no one would stand in God’s way. Not even a girl from Nazareth.

“Let it be,” I said. “Let it be to me, just as you have said.” And I was alone. Except for the Lord, who the messenger had promised, was with me. The Lord was with me.

The Lord was with me. The Lord has been our dwelling place for all generations, and now the Lord was with me. I picked up my jar, and filled it with water… the Sabbath was at hand, and I would have to run to get back to my mother’s house in time. But the Lord was with me, and I arrived before the candles were lit, before my mother covered her eyes and intoned the ancient prayer: Blessed are you, Lord God, Ruler of the Universe. By your goodness, you give us the gift of our sister the Sabbath.

Many months have passed since that day. The first month was the hardest, as I waited for the words of the messenger to be confirmed, and then went to tell Joseph the hard news. I will never forget the look of anguish in his eyes, and then the way they turned steely and cold. I told him that I would understand if he chose to end our betrothal. I watched as he turned and left, and, to my surprise, came back again in the span of a few hours. “I slept,” was all he would say. And he took my hand, and I recognized again our familiar language, and I knew that he would be my husband.

And still, I ask myself: How can this be? How can this be? And the only answer I have is this: the Lord is with me. God Most High has vindicated me, and will do what he wills with me. And I… I will care tenderly for this child, this unimaginable, impossible child, and I will teach him psalms, so that he will never be shy to speak to his father. Thanks be to God. Amen.


Sarah S-D said...

beautiful. you've done it again.

Anonymous said...

I just came across your site today, and I think this post is absolutely incredible. I spent this last Advent Sunday, this deliciously snowy Winter Solstice in devotion to Mary. Reading this piece brought everything to an entirely new level and made me think about her place in the world and in my life in a whole new way.

Many thanks and many blessings,

Wormwood's Doxy said...

Oh, Mags! This is so lovely and it rings so true for me...

Thank you.


August said...

Damn! They don't give sermons like that in the Southern Baptist Church. I'd certainly like them better if they did.

Anonymous said...

Nicely said, Magdalene.

Magdalene6127 said...

Thanks all, and a special thanks to epiphanygirl and Kepha... always lovely to have new commenters!

Blessings to you all.

Rev. Dr. Laura Marie Grimes said...

Oh, just lovely, Mags. Ladybug wants to comment too but it's time for dinner so we'll be back.