The Beggar at the Beautiful Gate

 

Deborah Beach Giordano
© April 16, 2018

The Beggar’s Story

It was evening; I was climbing up a steep hillside toward a city; the lights were shining bright, creating a halo above it in the heavens. Occasionally I stumbled, and thorns and thistles snagged my robe and scratched my feet as I made my way along.

At length the terrain leveled off; I had nearly reached the top — but then I saw an enormous storm cloud approaching, so vast as to nearly fill the sky; lightning flashed from within the cloud as it drew nearer. From the depths came the sound of a low-pitched hum; the whole earth trembled in response, as if the voice of God spoke from the abyss. And I was lifted up, and soaring into the center of the tremendous deep. I awoke, shivering.

Lemuel glowered over at me, “It’s about time you woke up, you worthless sod!” His words were without malice; a joking phrase grown dull with repetition.

I grunted an acknowledgement and began folding the blanket that also served as my robe and my sunshade. In time it would be my shroud, I had no doubt.

Pulling myself across the tiles, I reached for the bowl that he had placed on the stool where I could reach it. He caught my hand and held it as he recited a psalm of thanksgiving to its conclusion; only then would we eat our meal. Never was there such a one for prayer as my brother! 

Lemuel then set a small cup of milk down next to my bowl, giving me a grudging smile — my brother truly does have a good heart. And at that moment, as if summoned by a bell that only she can hear, my Lady Herodias appeared.

Although she is only three years old, Heri — as I sometimes call her — is infinitely wise; you can see it when she gazes at you with her deep and thoughtful eyes, holding secrets that she will never reveal. The Egyptians of olden days worshipped these creatures as gods and, although it is quite wrong-headed, you can see how they got the idea.

Before beginning my meal, I set the cup of milk on the floor next to me, where Heri very delicately lapped it up. When she had finished she began the process of cleaning her face — giving special attention to her long, elegant whiskers, and then each of her white-tipped paws. Watching her I remembered — suddenly, vividly — my dream: how easily I had climbed the hill, how steady my steps, how strong my legs. How unlike the reality of my life!

My throat felt thick; I coughed, so abruptly that a startled Heri ceased her cleaning for a moment and stared at me. I rubbed my hand over my face, “I’m ready when you are, Lemuel.”

With a deep sigh my brother slapped his hands down on the table, “Let’s roll out!”

It’s another of those routine phrases of his. Another is “Onward we go!” both of which he adopted from hearing soldiers in the Roman legion shout the words as they marched through the town when we were still young boys.

Lemuel would like to have been a solider, I think; he is fascinated by tales of foreign lands, and his eyes positively sparkle when Caesar’s troops pass by, as if reflecting the shine of their bright armor and glittering spears. Instead, his life is spent in servitude to me; as my guardian, nursemaid, my all-in-all. Without him I would very simply be dead: I cannot walk, I cannot work, I cannot prepare my meals or clean myself. My damaged legs have crippled my brother, as well.

That Lemuel is sometimes angry and resentful, no one can blame him. Least of all me, his terrible, weighty burden. His love for me is all that has kept me alive. 

And so we are off again; my brother pushing me through the streets in a sort of carriage he built using the parts from a discarded wheelbarrow, Lady Herodias perched on my knees like a queen reviewing her subjects as we head toward the temple gate. We can always be found in the same place, every day, from early morning until the last light, with a brief return to home in early afternoon for a small meal — beggars are not to be seen eating: a sure sign that they have all that they need!

Suddenly the cart sped up as my brother started to run. “Make way!” Lemuel cried, “Make way for the prince!” 

I laughed, feeling the air brushing against my face. When we were young — when our parents were still living — my father bought a beautiful little cart for me to ride in and Lemuel would push me through the marketplace calling out like that. People had stopped and stared then, as they were doing now.

For a moment life was sweet again. Like the midday meal had been. Sometimes you just never know how things will turn out.

Too soon we reached the entrance to the temple; “the Beautiful Gate” where I sit each day, among the others — the aged, the lame, the blind, the deaf, the deformed, the demon-haunted; each of us with our tragic story, each one vying against the others to reach the hearts of the temple worshippers. And, of course, their pocketbooks. Who among us is the most pitiful? Whose misery most deserving of relief? 

Alms! Alms! Charity, for God’s sake! 

When I was younger the handouts were more generous. After all, who isn’t moved by the sight of a lame child? But a crippled old man gleans far less sympathy, and far fewer coins. But haven’t I suffered longer? Should I be punished because poverty and pain have eroded my appearance? Am I not like the one Isaiah spoke of:

despised and rejected, a man of sorrows and companion of grief; one from whom others look away; he was ignored and avoided, considered worthless. ~ Isaiah 53:3

There are days when I consider it a bitter irony that this doorway is also called “the Gate of Mercy.” Get it? I sit outside the threshold of God’s charity and compassion. But then Heri yawns and stretches and winds her way around me, insisting on being petted, and life is suddenly sweet once again.

Lemuel lifted me out of my carriage and half carried, half dragged me to the spot where I can always be found. Age does have its privilege here: a regular position, like the elders in the temple; preferential seating which I am expected to occupy. So my brother’s facetious cry has become true: I am a prince — among beggars. I would give anything to be a pauper among the able-bodied. But I have nothing to give…..

I settled on my blanket as the worshippers made their way into the temple for afternoon prayers. This hour is favored by merchants and innkeepers — many of whom are often quite generous; last-minute good deeds to soothe uneasy consciences, perhaps. Whatever the reason, it is a good time to be here. I glanced over and saw that Lemuel had stationed himself a short distance away, mingling with the crowd, pretending to admire the vendors’ wares. In reality he was standing guard to make sure I would not be robbed, as has happened in the past. Our eyes met and it was as if an arrow pierced my heart: my poor brother! Tied to me by invisible strings, his life as constricted as my own.

Lady Herodias, meanwhile, was drawn to my neighbor’s knapsack, her eyes narrowed, her tail twitching, crouching. Slowly a foolish brown bug began to emerge — just the head and feelers visible. Heri backed up a few inches, and bent lower, ready to spring .… when suddenly the cricket made a huge leap and landed on her left foot: in an instant the hunter became the prey. With a startled mew! she turned tail and burrowed under my blanket. As I say, you never know how things will turn out.

The sound of a metallic click on the marble tiles drew my attention back to the passing crowd; someone had tossed a coin to little Jacob, with his huge dark eyes. None of us will fight him for his gleanings; his body so thin, his movements so jerky, we’ve seen it all before; soon he will be too weak to sit up, and soon he will sleep with his ancestors, God be praised. God be praised, indeed! For the mercy of an end to suffering! Is that why we sit here — is that all we hope for — here at this Gate of Mercy: the mercy of our final rest?

I shake my head and get down to the business at hand, “Alms! Alms for the poor! Charity, for God’s sake!”

“Look here!” a voice called out, I looked up into the eyes of the man who spoke — a rarity, it must be said: most people hurry past, discomfited by our many maladies, embarrassed by our begging, preferring to look away; perhaps to spare us their looks of pity — or contempt. But this man and his companion were looking directly at me. They were dressed modestly, but their clothes were clean, and they looked well-nourished.

I put on my meekest, most ingratiating smile; you never know: sometimes the most bedraggled person will hand over a great deal of coin — not guilt-gold as Lemuel calls it, but given out of true, pure generosity; genuinely “for God’s sake.” I’ve heard a story about a poor woman who gave the last coin she had. You never know.

“I have no money, but what I have I give to you,” the man said. I reached out, expecting perhaps a piece of fruit, a slice of bread or even a flask of wine — when suddenly the man grabbed my outstretched hand and yanked me to my feet. I gasped in shock and alarm.

“In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene — walk!” said Peter (for this is who it was).

I could see Lemuel fighting his way through the crowd to reach me, but what was more pressing at that moment was the sensation in my legs and feet: I could feel them! For the first time in my life I could feel.. … there was warmth, and then as if they were on fire — but not in a painful way; as if they were filled with life, with energy, with strength. I could stand!

I began jumping and leaping like Heri’s cricket. I practically ran into the temple, shouting Hosannahs all the way, Peter and John barely keeping up, and Lemuel following behind, calling my name. 

Everyone was staring; the priests, the prayerful, the idlers, the lamp lighters. Most recognized me, as they had walked past me day after day for years on end, and their faces registered amazement — and shock, confusion, doubt, and — for a few — delight: here stood a living, breathing confirmation of God’s mercy and compassion. “A miracle!” someone whispered. “God be praised!” another voice, louder. Then a shout: Lemuel had caught up to us and, pushing Peter and John aside, reached for me, “What are you doing?! Let my brother go!” 

Then he saw me standing before him on my own two legs. He stared, unblinking, his body as motionless as one of the temple pillars. I laughed and called out — my voice echoing through the temple, “Look, Lemuel! I can walk!”

I kicked my feet in the air and did a little dance — one of the priests put his hands to his face in horror (honestly: if David danced before the ark, it should be perfectly fitting for the rest of us to do the same, don’t you think?). I paused, breathless, and then said, again, “Lemuel! Do you see what God has done? I can walk!” After a moment I had another realization, and I said, “Lemuel, you are free!” We fell on each others’ shoulders, sobbing.

It has been many months since the miracle, and life has changed in amazing ways. Now that I can get around on my own, Lemuel has taken a job with a spice merchant which gives him an opportunity to travel, and everywhere he goes, he tells our story: one of many chapters in the good news of Jesus Christ. 

And as for me? I have found work on a fishing boat — although I’ve been known to cast my net for for other “catch” as well. Lady Herodias has adapted to her new position as ship’s cat, and her coat has never been sleeker (or her body rounder!).

As I’ve always said: You never know how things will turn out.

Grateful as I am to our gracious God, I often wonder “why me?” Why wasn’t little Jacob healed instead? or old Nathaniel, or Joel, or Hannah’s baby daughter… or any of the rest of those who were there that day? Why was I singled out for this miracle when others needed healing and restoration just as much, if not more? 

I have no answer; I can only show forth the reality that I embody. What I have I give to you: I have been healed; I have been given a new life through Jesus Christ, son of God, savior. In His name I seek to do as He instructed all who follow Him: let us love one another — for I believe there can be no greater healing miracle than love.

In His Name,

Gabriel

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Have faith in God’s grace and the healing power of Jesus Christ. It all starts (and continues, eternally) with love.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Acts 3:1-16 ~ told by Deborah

Peter and John were heading to the temple for afternoon prayer as a man who had been lame from birth was being carried in. He could always be found at the gate to the Beautiful temple, where he begged from those who were going inside.

When he saw Peter and John at the entrance to the temple, he immediately called out, “Alms! Alms for the poor!” And Peter, and John, too, looked directly at him and said, “Look here!” And as he looked at them, expecting to receive a handout, Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene — walk!” And grabbing his right hand, he pulled him to his feet; and immediately his feet and his ankles became strong. 

With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he went into the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. And everyone who saw him walking and praising God recognized him as the one who used to sit at the entrance to the temple to beg alms, and they were incredulous that such a thing could have happened.

Seeing their looks of amazement, Peter said, “Why are you surprised by this, you who worship the Living God? Why do you stare in awe as if we did this through our own power? The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God of our ancestors has glorified his servant Jesus — the one you rejected and handed over to Pilate, even though he had decided to release him. But you rejected the Holy and Righteous One, asking for a murderer to be released instead, and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. We are witnesses to that crime. But by faith the very mention of His name has made this man strong — the man you see before you, and know personally. It is the faith that comes through Jesus that gave him this perfect health that is right before your eyes.

“And now, friends, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. And God used that to fulfill what the holy prophets had foretold: that his Messiah would suffer. So turn, then; turn to God so that you can have a fresh start.”

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Silence

Deborah Beach Giordano
© April 9, 2018

Mark 16:1-8 ~ told by Deborah

After the sabbath, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, in order to anoint him.

Very early on the first day of the week, as the sun was starting to light the sky, they set off for the tomb. Along the way they began to worry, “How will we reach him?” “Who will remove the stone from the entrance to the tomb?”

But when they got there, they saw that the stone, which was massive, had already been set aside.

As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were shocked.

But he said to them, “Don’t be afraid; you’re looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he isn’t here. See,” he pointed to the rock shelf, “That’s where they put him. Now, go and tell his disciples and Peter that he is headed for Galilee; that’s where you will see him, just as he told you.”

So they went out and ran from the tomb, terrified and bewildered; and they said nothing to any one, because they were frightened.

They Went to the Tomb at Dawn

The image that comes to me is of midwives, these women who went to Jesus’ tomb that early morning — and who came away from that place in awe, carrying their incredible knowledge with them. 

They are witnesses to a new birth, a redemption from death; Jesus is “the firstborn of all creation,” as a later apostle will say. Life is reborn, renewed: hope is born out of despair, joy is born from sorrow. 

and there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the former things have passed away. ~ Revelation 21:4

It is a precious, sacred message they are carrying, these midwives to the Gospel, and they are terrified and confused by what they have seen, despite the angel’s reassurance. “Don’t be afraid”? Is he kidding? Who wouldn’t be overwhelmed and alarmed by such an awesome responsibility?

They Said Nothing to Anyone

Most scholars believe that Mark’s gospel originally ended with the women’s hurried departure from the tomb, the Story yet untold. Later editors “helpfully” added material to explain how things worked out. 

I prefer this incomplete version. The women’s silence is more believable and, I think, gives greater honor and respect to the Message they were carrying. This wasn’t simply a pretty sunrise, a lost coin that had been found, or even a minor earthquake — nothing that could be easily described or readily comprehended. This was a divine revelation which will only be understood by those with ears to hear. 

If we were in their sandals, what would we say? They had been in the presence of absolute holiness revealed; a place where God had acted, definitively. They had stood in the portal between all that had gone before and A New Revelation; between non-being and the fullness of life. Explain that, if you can. What happened there? What did you see? Tell me about this “Jesus who was crucified and has been raised.” Who was he…. Who is he?

Sometimes what is true is far beyond mere words.

Awe-Struck

I have stood in the presence of birth and of death and, as strange as this may sound, the two share a similar essence — if you will. Again, as with certain events and experiences, it is difficult to describe what that “essence” is. There is a kind of shimmering; a sort of “bright darkness,” an energy field, a sense of profound depth; a powerful, overwhelming silence — even as monitors beep, alarms sound, cries and moans and prayers are raised. 

At such times there truly is a holy breath — a Spirit that speaks for us and to us, with sighs too deep for words. It is there, in the deep silence, beyond description, beyond explanation. Midwives and hospice chaplains know this Holy Land, this liminal space where this world and the other mingle gently, softly, deeply; where an unseen, powerful Presence keeps watch; where there is no fear or sorrow, only peace.

How do you talk about the Utterly Divine; the Alpha and the Omega, the Absolutely True? What words could be adequate? What language shall I borrow?

So they went out and ran from the tomb, terrified and bewildered; and they said nothing to any one…

Perhaps because there was nothing they could say.

Go and Tell

Although the women initially remained silent, the word got out. They safely delivered the Message entrusted to them, and the other disciples were able to go and see the Lord Christ — just as He had said. 

Overcoming their fear and confusion, the women found a way to share what they had witnessed. They had to find the right words, and the right time, and the right people to tell. It had to be done carefully, thoughtfully, gently; like carrying a newborn child: far too precious to be handed over to just anybody. 

“Carry tenderly the Virgin’s Son.”
~ St. Giles of Assisi

Entrust

I came across the word “entrust” as I was composing this reflection, and saw it with new eyes. What is entrusted to us is of great value: emotionally, spiritually, or physically; if we are good stewards, we will take special care of this en-trust-ment; ensuring that it is kept safe and secure. If I entrust to you the pearl necklace that belonged to my mom, I have faith/hope that you will treat it gently and care-fully — and not mislay it or mistreat it or cast it to swine.

Our Easter morning midwives were entrusted with the infant Gospel, which they carried away with them in silence, in awe and trembling. They held and beheld this precious trust, this awesome responsibility, and treated it accordingly.

And I wonder.

What about us? How careful are we? Like those women at the tomb, we Christians have been entrusted with a precious Gift: the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen. Do we tremble in awe of this sacred responsibility? Do we carry it tenderly? Do we carry it at all?

Temptations along the Way

Those holy women were faced with great temptation as they ran away from the Sacred Mystery. They could have kept on running and never looked back; they could have remained silent, never telling what they knew. They could have succumbed to fear: fear of ridicule, of public opinion; fear of being thought of as liars or foolish or insane.

After all, it is a pretty extraordinary Story. Not the sort of thing you can tell to just anybody.

So how, then, are we to carry the ever-newborn Gospel that has been entrusted to us? How can we bring the Good News to those who do not yet know it? 

Sing Hallelujah

As our Easter midwives demonstrated, the Message is to be delivered with awe and tender care. We are called to honor the gift and the Giver — with grateful praise and astonished hearts singing “Hallelujah!” Singing, not shouting; offering, not demanding; revealing the radiant visage of the Lord Christ in our own lives as living founts of compassion, charity, and courage. 

If we so choose. 

Like the women running from the tomb, we can remain silent, or we can reveal the glorious Good News of “Jesus who was crucified and has been raised.”

And thus Mark concludes …. dropping off into silence, waiting for our decision, waiting for our witness. The story does not end, not as long as the Gospel continues to be told, as long as lives are transformed, as long as faith and hope and love remain.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Sing “Hallelujah!”

 

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The Anointing

 

Deborah Beach Giordano
© March 28, 2018

Mark 14:1-11 ~ told by Deborah

It was two days before Passover and the religious authorities were continuing their efforts to get rid of Jesus permanently — but they agreed: “Not during the festival, otherwise the crowds may riot.”

At the time, Jesus was staying at the house of Simon the leper. That evening at dinner one of the women brought an alabaster jar of fragrant oil, and she broke the seal on the jar and poured the oil over his head.

Some who were there whispered angrily to one another, “Why waste such expensive oil like that? It could have been sold for a small fortune — and the money given to the poor.”

And they scolded her, “What’s the matter with you? Do you have any idea what you’ve done?!”

But Jesus said, “Stop right there. Why are you hassling her? She has done a beautiful thing for me. You can show charity to the poor any time, but I won’t always be here. She has done all that she could; she has anointed my body in anticipation of its burial. I’m telling you truly: wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will also be told in remembrance of her.”

It was then that Judas Iscariot went to the religious authorities and offered to betray him to them. They were grateful — and promised to pay him, so he began to look for an opportunity to hand him over to them.

The Beginning of the End

Jesus and his disciples were dining at the house of a friend two days before Passover. As observant Jews, the coming holiday would have been foremost in their minds, celebrating the birth of their nation, when Egyptian slaves followed God’s call and became The People of Israel. Yet here they were, preparing to celebrate a festival of freedom while living under the sovereignty of a foreign king.

This fact was not overlooked by the multitudes who came to Jerusalem for the holiday. Surely the Eternal, the Almighty, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had heard the cries of His people — for they were groaning under the oppression of Caesar, his taxes, his soldiers, his bureaucrats. How long, O Lord? Had Moses lead the people out of Egypt so they could die under Roman rule? When would the promised messiah come: the one who would lead them to victory, and (re)establish God’s kingdom as David had done? Many had grown tired of waiting, and agitated for a revolution.

The religious authorities were well aware of the volatility of the crowds who swarmed into the town during this emotionally-charged festival, and they feared the carnage that might occur if things got out of hand. Therefore, it was decided that this was not a good time to continue their  pursuit of that troublemaker, Jesus.

And there, in this season of hopes and dreams and national enthusiasm, just outside the City where David had ruled by divine right as king, a woman came to Jesus carrying a flask — made of alabaster, the symbol of purity and perfection, filled with fragrant oil. Breaking the seal, she poured the contents over Jesus’ head.

Different Seeing

The literal-minded who were that evening saw only the thing-as-it-was: the oil, its expensive container, its costly ingredients, its resale price on the open market. Others looked upon it with different eyes, honoring its symbolic purpose, seeing its value as far beyond mere money. It was a chrism; the oil of anointing:

a consecration, a coronation.

Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

The messiah of God, the Lord Christ, the anointed One.

Here was an enactment, a confession, a demand: Lord, be for us the One who was promised.

Our Views

Despite the Lord’s commendation, this (unnamed!) woman’s action has quite certainly not been “remembered wherever the Gospel is told.” Historically, it’s generally been overlooked, or brushed aside — as if she were some kind of crazy lady who followed Jesus into Lazarus’ house and attacked him with a flask of oil. At best it might be thought that she was a sort of prophet who knew that she was pouring fragrant oil over the soon-to-be-corpse of the Lord.

Her action, so daring and so devout, has been misunderstood, overshadowed by Jesus’ recontextualizing of it. This was not an anticipation of his death, but an avowal of his messiahship; an affirmation that he — and not that schmo Herod — was the true King of the Jews; that God had indeed heard the groaning of His children and had sent a Divine Rescuer to free them from their servitude and misery.

What that woman did was extraordinary — very much a “goodness” done to the Lord; a beautiful thing: proclaiming to him and to the assembled community that he was their king. She, and others, saw and understood Who he was, even if the bureaucrats in Jerusalem did not.

Jesus, of course, viewed the situation from a different perspective. He saw the inevitable outcome of his mission and ministry: the authorities would not approve of, or allow, or tolerate it. He was a marked man; a dead man walking.

The woman was right and righteous in her intention, as was Jesus, who accepted her blessing, the consecration — and the responsibility that came with it. What came next would not be a glorious elevation to the throne of Israel, but an ignominious elevation on a cross of suffering and death. It was both an anointing and a preparation for his burial.

The Stages to the Cross

In her (brazen?) act of anointing Jesus, consecrating him as the Christ, the woman set off a chain of events that brought His ministry to its fruition. And so, perhaps, we might say that wherever the Gospel is proclaimed it is a remembrance of her faith and courage. This may also explain why all of the other Gospels “sanitize” the woman’s act by setting her at the Lord’s feet, because a consecration — in which the holy oil was poured over the ordinand’s head — was to be done only by a man, and only by a priest, at that.

While we need to be cautious about reading the scriptures through a modern lens, it seems very possible that the description of the events as given in Mark more accurately reflect what happened than do the Gospels which were written much later. It may also shed some light on why it was at that time that Judas decided to betray Jesus.

Later reports label Judas as “a thief” and that thirty pieces of silver was enough to buy his loyalty, but that’s not what Mark implies. Something happens that night at the dinner table that causes him to decide to hand Jesus over to his enemies. Could it have been Jesus’ willingness to accept a woman’s consecration? Was it that He not only allowed, but defended her use of the oil of anointing? Was this the last straw in a long pattern of Jesus being just too darned accepting?

An Unlikely Messiah

How could this Jesus be the messiah when he didn’t care about raising an army or taking over the temple? It was nearly Passover; the city was filled with willing bodies, if only they were mobilized, but Jesus is just sitting there, eating with this bunch of sickies and sinners! And why wasn’t he concerned with holiness, if he really had been sent by God? What was he doing fraternizing with lepers and layabouts, tax collectors, wine merchants, and women of every type and condition?!

It was as if nothing was too extraordinary; no sin too vile, no behavior too loathsome, no history too shameful, no character too questionable. All were welcome, all were precious in his sight. Just look around the table: there was no preference in the seating: you sat wherever you sat — disciples who had been with Jesus from the beginning weren’t treated any different from the bedraggled camel-trader who just came in from off the street. If everybody was ok, how could you tell who wasn’t? How could you be sure that you were loved if everyone was loved and cared for?

It simply isn’t right. It doesn’t make sense. It isn’t the way the world works. There has to be an elite group; there have to be outsiders so that the insiders know we are special. This guy can’t be the messiah we’ve been awaiting if he is so lacking in a basic understanding of how things are done. …. And so Judas pushes himself away from the table, slipping out the door, down the shadowed alleyways, into the depths of the night. This Jesus is not the messiah he was waiting for.

Washing His Feet with Her Tears

Jesus had noticed Judas’ departure, perhaps even risen to follow him and offer some comfort or consolation — but the man was lost in the darkness, his anger enveloping him like a shroud. The rest of the company was quiet, possibly shocked into silence by the Lord’s announcement of his coming death and burial. The woman was weeping. Had even Jesus himself misunderstood what she had done?

She knelt before him, washing his feet with her tears, wiping them with her hair, pleading for his life, begging him to claim his rightful heritage, to be the messiah they had been waiting for. And Jesus gently stroked her hair and wept beside her.

Was this the inauguration of the ritual of foot washing as commemorating in some of the early Christian communities? Was it a sign of both devotion and sorrow: an acknowledgement of holiness, and sorrow at the brevity of life?

Wouldn’t it be just like Jesus — this most unlikely of messiahs — to offer to his followers a reminder of the sacredness of one another; an honoring of each person individually, intimately, in the washing of each other’s feet? Here, indeed, was a king whose kingdom was not of this world: a community of compassion, ruled by the law of love and service — utterly unlike the way we expect these things to be done.

The Coronation

King Jesus’ only crown will be one cruelly fashioned out of thorns, he will be mocked and scorned, betrayed and denied and deserted by his followers; his reign lasting for but a few dozen hours. The oil of his consecration was indeed the anointing of his body for its burial, just as he said. But, despite the most determined efforts of his enemies, his kingdom is still with us — we are living in its midst. God’s Word is the last word, and that Word is Life.

And what of the legacy of that devout and daring woman? Surely we do remember her whenever we proclaim the Gospel — whenever we affirm, with her, that Jesus is the Christ, our Lord, the king whose law of love rules our lives.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Once a year, on Maundy Thursday, the Christian community reenacts the Lord’s washing of his disciples feet. What would it be like to approach everyone we meet with an equal attitude of humility and compassion and care — every day?

 

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A Glorious Event?

Deborah Beach Giordano
© March 19, 2018

John 12:20-33 ~ told by Deborah

It was Passover, and people who had come to Jerusalem from Greece met with Philip and asked, “Please, sir, we’d like to meet Jesus.”

Philip went to Andrew and told him, and then the two of them went to tell Jesus.

Jesus nodded, “Now the time has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” He took a grain of wheat and placed it in the palm of his hand: “Think about it: a grain of wheat is just that: a single grain; but if it falls into the earth and dies, it grows into a huge plant, producing a lot of grain.”

He continued, softly, meditatively, his eyes on the grain of wheat as it rested in his hand, “If there’s nothing you’re willing to die for, there’s nothing to live for; but if you have no fear of death, eternal life will be yours.”

Jesus looked up at the disciples, “Those who serve me will follow me, and will accompany me wherever I go. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”

He brushed the wheat from his hand and watched as it fell to the earth: “I’m troubled, deep in my soul; so should I say: ‘Father, save me from this’? No, it’s why I came; this is what I’m here to do.”

Jesus raised his eyes, “Father, glorify Your name.”

At that moment a voice came from above, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

Some of those who heard the sound said it was a thunderclap. There were others who said, “An angel spoke to him.”

Jesus replied, “That was said for your sake, not for mine. Now the world will be judged; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all people into myself.” (He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.)

Glorious?

Glorify. Glorify. Glorify. What’s with all this “glorifying” business? That’s a peculiar way to describe the approaching tragedy. Soon the group of disciples will be torn apart by the betrayal, arrest, trial, torture, and death of their leader. Jesus is going to be scorned and spat upon, he will be beaten, flogged, mocked and maligned. He is going to be condemned and crucified; he will die, and be buried.

Not exactly “glorious” by the standard definition of the term.

But the Johannine community looks at things differently. They view all that happens over the next several days as a single event — the Glorification — beginning with the betrayal of the Lord, through his arrest, trial, crucifixion, death and burial, all the way to the resurrection. The Easter event is the defining aspect of their faith and their understanding; it’s what makes the “glorification” glorious — transfiguring all that went before into a prelude to the Divine Proclamation of love and light.

Easter changes everything.

Logical

John can appear almost casual toward Jesus’ “passion” by comparison with the other Gospels — notably Mark — which focus on the terrible suffering and sorrow that the Lord endured. In John’s version, Jesus not only accepts, but actually orchestrates his betrayal, and forces Pilate to condemn him. He has a couple of moments of hesitation, but otherwise seems to understand it as necessary, inevitable; he is riding the wave along to its conclusion:

This is why I’m here. This is what I’ve come to do. If the grain doesn’t fall into the earth and die, it won’t be raised up into a stalk of wheat that will fill the fields with grain.

One event leads to the other, that’s simply how it works. It’s presented as very reasonable, rational, logical. I can imagine Mr. Spock as the Jesus of John’s gospel: “Quite logical.”

Even as he writhed, cut and bleeding and dying, from the cross, John’s Jesus did not cry out in mortal despair (“My God, My God, why have You forsaken me?”), but arranged for his mother to be looked after by one of the disciples (“Son, behold your mother”). It is positively other-worldly; very unlike the other Gospels. So, which one is right?

Divine Understanding

Just as no two witnesses of a bank robbery or a ball game will describe what happened in the same way, neither do the witnesses to the Christ event. Each of the Gospels offers a different perspective on the life of Jesus: Mark speaks to the Lord’s deep humanity, Matthew and Luke are concerned with shaping an understanding of his Message, and why he should be accepted as the Messiah. And then there’s John.

John is in an entirely different realm, working from an entirely different premise. For the writer of this gospel, Jesus is the Risen Lord; he is the Christ, and all else flows from there. If you don’t know that — and I mean really know: accept it as a fact, deep in your bones and firmly in your heart; hold it as the foundation of all that you say and do, hope for and believe, pray for, and work for — if you don’t get it, you simply won’t understand.

“If you have to ask what jazz is, man, you’re never gonna know.”
~ Louis Armstrong

John doesn’t seek to convince anyone, he simply presents the facts (as he understands them). To know Jesus as Lord is not through “reason” or logic, but through direct apprehension: some folks are going to “get it” (more or less spontaneously) and some aren’t. It is an experiential gift of the Spirit that blows where it will. It is a truth that presents itself to you; it is a knowing: divine wisdom that exceeds mere logic.

Difficult Understanding

The tricky bit is that, for those who have been given access to this divine insight, nothing is more frustrating than those who don’t have it. And so they fuss and complain and often, unfortunately, condemn those who “refuse to see” what to them is obvious.

This week’s passage provides a perfect example of the situation between those who “get it,” and those who don’t. After Jesus prays, a sound is heard from the heavens. The rational and literal-minded hear thunder; but there are others who “have ears to hear,” and they say that it was the voice of an angel.

Both are right. And each side will accuse the other of ignorance, stupidity, or stubbornness.

The members of John’s community simply can’t understand how anyone can fail to see that Jesus is the Christ. As far as they are concerned, there can be only two possible explanations: either God specifically hardened the hearts/ closed the eyes and ears of the disbelievers, or they have intentionally, maliciously, chosen not to see the truth. Regardless, those others are headed down the wrong path.

No, YOU are Wrong!

Meanwhile, the Jews who are continuing to faithfully worship the Lord God as they have always done consider these “Christ-followers” to be a bunch of disruptive troublemakers. There can only be two possible explanations for their behavior: either God has hardened their hearts/ closed their eyes and ears to the teachings of Moses and the prophets, or they have intentionally, maliciously, chosen to depart from the truth. Regardless, they are headed down the wrong path.

For the sake of the faith community and the souls of those confused enthusiasts, many rabbis and religious elders decided that a line must be drawn. These new notions, this claim that the messiah of God had come, was condemned and crucified, died and was buried — and rose from the dead! — wasn’t consistent with the Scriptures. These characters would have to decide: either they were Jews, in which case they were welcome in the synagogues, or they were something else — and had to take themselves and their permutated faith elsewhere.

Of course that went over like the proverbial lead balloon with the Johannine community. Confused and angry that others did not see as they did, they retaliated against those who excluded them by referring to them as sanctimonious jerks: “those Jews.”

And so what began as a family quarrel became institutionalized enmity; each side suspicious and fearful of the other, each more concerned with being right than being kind; neither realizing the toxic nature of the seeds they were sowing.

They knew so much, and yet understood so little. They were so wise and yet so foolish.

Both sides knew God as gracious and merciful, patient and forgiving, and abounding in steadfast love. But they stood apart from one another. This division, this unyielding separation, is the abiding tragedy, continuing sorrow — and sometimes cause of wickedness — embedded within the beginnings of our Christian faith.

And so they could not believe, because, as Isaiah also said, “He has blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, so that they might not look with their eyes, and understand with their heart and turn — for then I would heal them.” ~ John 12:39–40

It’s alarmingly easy — even for those who “know the Lord” — to attribute blindness to others, and fall into a ditch themselves (Mt 15:14, c.f., Mt 7:4).

It’s So Obvious

It’s all about Easter, man. Easter. That’s all you gotta know.
~ Gospel of John (attributed 😉)

As far as John and his community are concerned, once you know about Easter (really know), you can see why all that happened, happened. It’s obvious; it’s perfectly logical. You understand why Jesus had to do what he did, why he spoke as he did, why he endured what he did: why he was crucified, died, and was buried. It wasn’t pointless suffering and needless dying, but a necessary prelude to the Extraordinary Demonstration of God’s absolute, unequivocal, abundant and unrestrained love for us.

For God so loved the world…

It’s the Gospel passage we all know — well, it’s the passage we recognize. Perhaps we should stand back and consider: do we know it as passionately, fully, and completely as the Johannine community did? Do we hold it as an article of faith — as the article of our faith — that God loves us?

“I have glorified and I will glorify again.”

Some people heard thunder, others heard an angel speak; some people saw an empty tomb, others saw the Risen Lord; some ran away in fear and sorrow, others came together, professing God’s love for us.

The Lord Christ wasn’t sent to condemn the world, but to transform it; he wasn’t sent to die, but to give life. The crucifixion wasn’t the most important thing; the Resurrection is what defines the Gospel: God’s love is so luminous, so transforming, so glorious, that all else — whatever we have done or left undone — is dim and inconsequential by comparison.

We know how much God loves us, and we have put our trust in his love. God is love, and all who live in love live in God, and God lives in them.
~ 1 John 4:15-16

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Is it utterly obvious that God loves you? Do you believe it, fully and completely? Or is there a sneaking, shadowy doubt? Do you love gently and generously — others as well as yourself? Do you live as if the Truth is true?

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In the Silence

In the Silence

Holy God, I’m feeling very lonely.
You seem so far away; distant,
like a stranger hurrying past, looking at his phone,
unseeing, uncaring,
as I sit, weeping endless tears.

Night and day I call, but the only response is silence.

Silence,
and the mocking of my enemies,
who laugh and take delight in my suffering.
Beyond that, there is nothing;
there is no one who will take my part.

Yet they say that You are the Faithful One,
that You can be relied on when the chips are down.
In the past You were really something;
pulling off miracles right and left.
When the people cried, you listened;
when they were in danger, you lead them to safety;
when they were hungry, you gave them food to eat.

But as for me, it is not so.
Despite my pleas, nothing changes,
I am an outcast;
scorned and shunned,
treated like contagion,
avoided like the plague.

Others stare and shake their heads,
then whisper, as they turn away,
certain that I am guilty of great wickedness,
the author of an evil deed that has brought a terrible retribution.

But You know better, O Eternal;
You’ve been here from the start:
I’m the same as everyone else — no better, but no worse.

Show Yourself, Guardian of my life,
for trouble lurks around every corner,
lying in ambush, ready to bring me down.

I’m wearied beyond exhaustion,
I can hardly raise my head
it takes all of my strength to face each new day,
I tremble and hesitate,
I take one step forward and then fall back;
my heart awash with grief,
my eyes dimmed with tears,
my mind a torrent of fears.
I am drowning in my sorrows.

I am surrounded, Lord;
an army of fiends encircles me.
I am defenseless, helpless, weak.
My courage has failed.
They smirk and sneer;
their sharp remarks cut my heart,
their hatred pulls down my spirit;
circling like wolves, they wait for me to collapse.

Yet wolves only kill from hunger, not malice.
These predators destroy for sport;
preying on the weak and vulnerable,
killing because they can.
Red in tooth and claw,
the blood of the innocent drips from their mouths.

Oh my God, can’t You hear me?
Don’t leave me here alone!
O my Help, my Salvation, hurry and rescue me!
Otherwise I will be devoured:
consumed by despair,
my spirit broken,
my life in shreds,
my soul crumbled into dust.

Despite it all, I will not give in.
I will not succumb
to the howling,
yowling,
growling beast
that seeks to lure me to hopelessness
and destruction.

Evil will not claim me;
I will not forsake You, O my God,
no matter how long the silence,
how deep the loneliness —
for You are there, even in the silence;
You are the Presence too deep for words.

In the midst of it all, I will be thankful.
Through my tears, I will praise You —
for there is beauty in the darkness,
there is majesty in the depths,
there is grandeur in the stillness.

You, O glorious Comforter, will never abandon me;
You are faithful, trustworthy, reliable —
You’ve been here all along;
ignoring my insults,
hearing my complaints,
easing my pain.

Yes. Yes… Yes, here; here with me:
the unspeakable Presence,
the silent Word,
the Voice that resounds across the universe,
singing.

Yes, singing.

I hear it everywhere: a hymn of joy sung by all creation —
from the sun’s rising to its setting
and throughout the star-strewn night:
butterflies and bats and grizzly bears,
dogs and dragonfish and dandelions,
tortoises and trout and tabby cats,
lizards and leopards and mountain lions,
geese and gazelles and geraniums,
roses and ravens and rainbows:
the forests and the wheatfields,
the mountains and the valleys,
the seashore and the ocean,
the laughing and the crying,
the birthing and the dying…

A glorious multitude
of beauty and blessedness;
important, essential,
filled with grace and truth.
This is God’s world and all have their part;
we are the words and the music.

Lifting up my heart in praise and rejoicing
I become the song:
swept up, swept in — deeper into Your love;
so much a part of You
that there is no separation.
You are my life:
I am Yours.
We are One.

May all who call upon the Beloved be given ears to hear;
may your souls sing gloriously —
in joy and sorrow,
in laughter and tears,
in waking and sleeping,
in sickness and health,
at this life’s beginning and through to its ending —
this day and forevermore.

Deborah Beach Giordano
March 16, 2018
Based on Psalm 22

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Knowing Good and Evil

Deborah Beach Giordano
© February 18, 2018

Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 ~ told by Deborah

God put the man in the garden of Eden to cultivate it and maintain it.

And God said, “You can eat as much as you want of everything that grows in this garden — except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; you mustn’t eat from that, because the day that do, you will die.”

Now the serpent was the slyest of all of the wild creatures that God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God say, ‘You mustn’t eat from any tree in the garden’?”

“We can eat the fruit of any of the trees in the garden,” she replied, “but God said, ‘You must not eat the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden — don’t even touch it — or you will die.’”

“Oh, piffle!” the serpent said, “You won’t die! It’s just that God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened — and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

When the woman realized that the fruit of the tree was edible as well as lovely to look at — and who wouldn’t want to be wise? — she picked some and ate it, and gave some to her husband who was there with her, and he ate it, too.

Then they had understanding; and they covered their bodies, concealing themselves from one another.

Again We Weep — and Point Our Fingers

This past week I was on vacation, enjoying a sabbatical from news and networks. But on Thursday as we drove into a nearby town we saw flags at half-mast everywhere, and we learned of another national tragedy. And the too-familiar pattern repeats: another heavily-armed young gunman, another community devastated, and another round of finger-pointing.

No one wants to be responsible for an action that is almost impossible to imagine in its horror: the cold, calculating planning and execution of a vicious, evil deed. No, this cannot have anything to do with us. It must be the fault of someone else: and the litany of “the guilty others” begins.

The identity of who is to blame varies, depending on who is pointing the finger. One thing you can be sure of: it isn’t the one who is doing the pointing. After all, it is too terrible for any of us to even imagine.

Ultimate Responsibility

One target for a great deal of blame and resentment is God. We’ve all witnessed it — and engaged in it ourselves, perhaps. If God is everywhere, always, what the #ell happened on Valentine’s Day? That is the Big Question we all struggle with, making peace (or continuing the battle) each to our own ability and with God’s grace. In my own Walk, I understand it as contingent on the gift of free will.

As the story of Genesis tells us, humanity has claimed the knowledge and power to know and do both good and evil. Our choices have god-like results: to maim, kill, and destroy — or to bless, comfort, and build up.

What we do cannot be undone; the responsibility is ours. That is the Original Obligation: our actions have consequences — sometimes terrifying, irreparable consequences to ourselves and to others. To wish otherwise would be to want to be simply divinely-powered marionettes, with God pulling the strings. No, we are here, in this world, in all its majesty, splendor, challenges and opportunities.

Tall Poppies?

As people of faith, we naturally turn first to prayer in times of trouble — and are often scorned and belittled for doing so: “Prayer is useless. Do something.” “Your God didn’t prevent it, so what’s he gonna do now?”

I think this is a variation of the “tall poppy” syndrome: those who raise their heads and speak become targets for the angry and the grieving. The desire for an undoing of the damage that has been done runs deep, and its impossibility cuts to the heart. The implication that “mere words” can bring relief is considered an insult to the intelligence, an outrage against reason — and all of the suppressed resentment and rage and sorrow is turned against those who dare to suggest A Path of Peace.

It is not our task to explain or justify why prayer is our first recourse in times of trouble. It is enough — it is all that is necessary — to recognize that such reactions flow out of a lack of understanding and an agonizing hurt. What matters is that we cling tenaciously to our Work of prayer always — and especially when horror and chaos and fear are at their utmost.

Prayer helps us respond rather than react, reminding us that, whatever may come, God’s redeeming love is the last word. Prayer helps us to focus on restoration, not revenge; it leads us upon the path of compassion, for His Name’s sake, and delivers us from despair. Upheld on the wings of prayer, we will act with wisdom, grace and energy.

And yet, despite our prayers and our pleas, and our best intentions, these tragedies persist. Why?

Changing the System

People of good will insist that we yearn, deeply and truly, to prevent another tragedy such as the one in Florida. Yet we argue, debate, and disagree over methods of keeping our loved ones and ourselves safe, never coming to an agreement, always insisting on our own way, never seeking a compromise. And, in the end, nothing is done. And so the story repeats, again and again.

We point our fingers, we find fault and blame. We establish a scapegoat, an “other,” absolutely unlike ourselves, convinced that those who do evil are utterly different from us. We’re not responsible, these things have nothing to do with us….

But I wonder.

All human beings are “as gods, knowing (and doing) good and evil,” and, altogether all too often, we dabble in that which is evil. But just a bit. Only a little, not a lot. We just dip our toes into the poisoned spring, we don’t dive all the way in. We’re not all that bad.

We aren’t major sinners, we don’t murder or rob or steal. We love God and we love our neighbors as ourselves — except for the neighbors who always park in the spot in front of our house. We only hate a few people. We have compassion for sojourners, the poor, the ill, and those in prison, but despise those who disagree with us. After all, they’re in the wrong, so it’s ok. Right?

Jesus told his disciples, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not murder,’ and anyone who murders will be brought to judgment.’ But I am telling you that whoever is angry with his brother or sister will be brought to judgment. Whoever calls his brother or sister ‘worthless’ or ‘stupid,’ is answerable to the court. Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ is bound for destruction.”  ~ Matthew 5:21-22

How much harm do we do when we carry hatred and contempt in our hearts? Who among us can honestly say that we have not “been angry with our brother or sister,” have not called anyone “stupid” or “foolish” or worse?

Spiritually such an attitude creates a trail of destruction a mile wide wherever we go. Now multiply that by all of the angry, hateful encounters that occur throughout our nation, day after day. What happened in Florida was mild, by comparison.

Consequences

The ancient prophets repeatedly warned the people of Israel that their actions had consequences; not only their individual actions, but what we might call their “cultural values,” as well. When great evils arose, where once they had known joy there was an abundance of sorrow; when violence and cruelty grew commonplace, as “brother rose up against brother,” the impoverished and the ill crowded the streets, as the nation was besieged by foreign enemies and beset by political unrest at home ….. it seemed as if God had disappeared.

The problems, the prophets insisted, were not due to God abandoning the people, but came about because the people had abandoned God. They were no longer concerned with doing what was right — only in looking out for themselves. But all was not lost:

If you remove oppression from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted, then the Light will dawn brightly in the midst of this present darkness, and your saddest day will be like a celebration.
~ Isaiah 58:9-10

All is not lost. But things will not get better on their own.

Without the protective shield of love and compassion, evil spreads; hatred and violence seep into the national consciousness. Getting and grasping and pushing others aside are seen as virtues. The gentle warmth of kindness is supplanted by the heat of anger, the delight in building up is displaced by the thrill of tearing down. “If it bleeds, it leads:” what’s important — who is important — is the one who does the most harm.

When destroying our enemies is presented as a solution to our problems, can we be surprised when fragile or disordered minds take us at our word?

Slouching Toward Calvary

Perhaps we can glean a lesson, a divine Warning, from the most recent tragedy. Could there be a more powerful condemnation of our national attitude? There, in all its vivid horror, was a physical manifestation of the hatred and division, alienation and violence, viciousness and destruction that passes for conversation in our daily lives.

It was not the first, and it will not be the last such tragedy unless and until we change our ways. And I think it is particularly significant that it occurred on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. This is the season of special mindfulness for Christians; during this time we are called to look at our lives in the light of our Lord Jesus’ life and teachings.

How will you honor Him throughout the days ahead?

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Reflect on this Scripture passage:

If you remove oppression from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you feed the hungry and comfort the afflicted, then the Light will dawn brightly in the midst of this present darkness, and your saddest day will be like a celebration.
~ Isaiah 58:9-10

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The Magnificent Yes/es

 

Deborah Beach Giordano
© December 18, 2017

Isaiah 61:1-11 ~ interpreted by Deborah, imagined as Mary might have heard it

“The Holy Spirit has seized me, claimed me, captivated me, anointed me, and sent me forth. I bring you tidings of great joy: good news to the weary, the worn out, the weak, and the grieving. 

“It is Jubilee: the year of the Lord’s gracious compassion and mercy, poured out in abundance. I must tell you — I cannot hold back! Blessed! You are blessed by God: cherished and cared for beyond all imagining. Soon you will see it with your own eyes, know it in your own hearts!

“Blessed! Blessed are you who are impoverished in body, mind, or spirit — riches beyond compare are yours. Blessed are you who hunger and thirst for righteousness — a great banquet is being prepared! Blessed are you who work for peace — the harvest is ready; you will reap in gladness what you have sown in sorrow. Blessed are you who have been brought low — you will be raised up like mighty oaks planted by the Lord, revelations of His glory.

“You are blessed! Blessed, now and forever.

“And as for me, from now on all generations will call me blessed — for the glory of the Lord radiates from my very being, shining forth like a city on a hill; like a lamp in the darkness; like the sun at its rising.

“I rejoice in God my Savior, my Beloved, my All-in-All, and I will serve Him with all my heart and soul and mind and strength; for He has brought forth in me the good news of salvation as a midwife brings forth a precious child, and has dressed me in the robe of righteousness as a bride is adorned with her gown.

“The earth brings forth green grasses, and gardens give birth to what is sown within them, so the Lord God causes compassion and mercy, joy and gladness to be born in our world in accord with the promise given to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

Yes!

She awoke to the sound of her father’s husky recitation of the morning prayer streaming through her window as though carried on the rays of the sun. Miriam listened to the end, adding her own whispered “Amen.” Yes. May it be so. Let it be so, O Gracious One, holy is Your Name, that Your kingdom be made present in our world.

Miriam pondered these words as she arose and straightened the bed linens; this notion of a land ruled in accordance with the divine will. What would it be like to live in a place free from injustice and unkindness, where all people would live in harmony? It would be gloriously peaceful, safe, and … well, heavenly. Earth would be like heaven. She closed her eyes and for a moment Miriam felt herself enter into that Place; she could smell the spring grasses and feel the gentle breeze touch her face, and her heart leapt within her, “Yes!”

“Hey, dreamer-dreamer! Wake up!” Amos was leaning on the doorframe. He struck a pose and declaimed: “‘You shall all bow down before me! I have seen it in a dream!’” He wrinkled his nose and crossed his eyes at her, “All of the dreaming and daydreaming you do, Mom and Dad should have named you Joseph-ah!” He drew out the final syllable as a goatish bray — then ducked out of the way of an expertly-thrown sandal. Missing its intended target, it landed in the hall just as their father was coming in from the garden.

Joachim shook his head, “I hope this isn’t the way you’ll deal with disagreements when you are married.” Handing the sandal to his eldest child, he marveled at how lovely she was — and how grown up.

He reached out to smooth an unruly strand of her hair, remembering, suddenly, the first time he had touched her head; so long ago and yet surely only yesterday — when what had only been imagined was suddenly real: a child, his child, living, breathing, a precious, holy gift. He had placed his hands upon the tiny head crowned by a soft coat like the velvet on a young deer’s antlers, her olive-dark eyes looking into his, “May the One who has delivered our people bless this child. May she carry the name of her grandmother with honor, and be a blessing to our people, to the memory of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”

Not a son, but a daughter — but not “just” a daughter. The child would be taught to pray and to read the Scriptures as well as to weave and to spin; she would be a fine jewel, a pearl of great price, pleasing to God and a helpmeet to her husband, blessed by her children, doing good, not harm, all the days of her life.

And so it was; he and his beloved Anne had raised a child wise and good and lovely. And soon she would be leaving their nest and making a new home with her husband. As it should be; another stage in life, lived fully. Yes.

“Dearest Daddy!” As if reading the thoughts of his heart, Miriam kissed his hand and held it to her forehead, “I am so blessed.”

After breakfast Amos went off to Torah study “with all of the willingness of Jonah bound for Nineveh,” his father observed.

“He’s just a boy,” Anne felt the need to defend her son; he was a bright, social child, but quite unlike their firstborn. It was as if Miriam had been delivered to them full of grace: she was wise and good and kind; an embodiment of love, of the grace-filled Yes between her and Joachim.

She looked at her daughter, “You’ll understand, when you have children of your own.”

Miriam’s smile faded into a frown and she pressed her hand to her chest, as her eyes filled with tears.

“My child! What is wrong?” Anne put her arm around her daughter.

“I… I don’t know,” Miriam replied, resting her head in her hands, “It’s… I’m all right now.” She took a deep breath and remained silent, unwilling to alarm her parents; it had been a sudden sharp pain — as if an arrow had pierced her heart.

“Fresh air.” Joachim prescribed, “That’s what you need; go out and spend some time in the garden.” Privately he wondered if it had been a reaction to the thought of coming together with her intended bridegroom.

Had he and Anne been wrong to arrange this marriage? Joseph’s family was a good one, descended from the line of David, and Joseph was a skilled tradesman who could provide for a family. He was a kindly fellow, a bit older than Miriam, it was true — but not past his prime; more important, he seemed to genuinely care for her, and she for him. Joachim looked at his wife, “Oh, my dear Anne, have we done the right thing?”

In the Garden

Out in the garden, Miriam took a deep, cleansing breath: “Ah, yes,” she sighed. She delighted in this blessed space; this, her sanctuary. Surely the first Garden could not have been more glorious than this one; each tree giving abundantly: persimmons and pears, olives and lemons and trailing lilacs. Here her father spoke his morning prayers as he had done for as long as she could remember; here her mother praised God as she planted, nurtured, and harvested; here she and her brother had laughed and played for hours. And here she found peace and contentment.

She had brought Joseph here after their betrothal, taking his hand and leading him, timidly, as though entering the bridal chamber itself; revealing this most intimate space, allowing him to see where her soul took its pleasure. He had been gentle, admiring each bud and blossom, and taking special care not to disturb the plantings.

They had lingered in the garden, breathing in its peace, learning about one another in tender silence. It was then that she became certain that he was the right man; a man who had eyes to see the reality beneath the surface, as seeds deep in the soil begin to sprout before green shoots appear in the ground above.

Miriam was certain that her Yes to Joseph had been right. He truly was as wise as he was good.

She closed her eyes and tried to imagine their life together and immediately remembered throwing her sandal at her brother this morning. The thought made her smile, and then brought sadness: she would miss her family. Would there be a place for her in Joseph’s world? He was busy nearly every day in his shop, and his family was originally from Bethlehem; what if he decided to move there?

Miriam sat down on the bench beneath the ancient olive tree, so large it could hold “all the birds from everywhere,” Amos had said when he was young. She resolved never to forget it, no matter how far away she went; she would remember and tell her children and her children’s children of this wonderful garden, this wonderful tree, this garden paradise, and all future generations would say that she was blessed.

“Thank You, O Holy Lord, for this place, this day, and my part in it,” she said aloud.

The Scripture

As she had often did when troubled or uncertain — as her father had taught her — Miriam turned to the Scriptures to calm her spirit and seek Wisdom’s leadings. On this day she opened the text of Isaiah and began to read.

“The Holy Spirit has claimed me and anointed me to bring tidings of great joy: good news to the weary, the worn out, the weak, and the grieving. Jubilee: the year of the Lord’s gracious compassion and mercy, poured out in abundance.”

Miriam blinked and tilted the book back and forth, but in sunlight or shadow the letters appeared the same — as if they had been written in gold, bright, as if on fire. Their meaning thundered off the page and made her soul tremble: it was not a story of long ago, or the expression of a distant hope; it was a description of this very day, and this very place, calling for the world to be redeemed.… and it was speaking directly to her.

This very day. Her very own life. It seemed so real, and yet unbelievable. “How can this be,” Miriam asked, “I’m nobody; an unmarried girl, powerless. And the world is so big, and the troubles so enormous.”

A dove cooed softly in the branches.

A dove. Doves were made as offerings in the temple when a child was newly born. Could it be, Miriam wondered, that her child would bring about the Holy Kingdom?

“How could it be me?” Miriam shook her head as though to banish the thought.

But the words spoke to her again, “Good news. Good news. Good news. Comfort and joy.”

“Yes.” Miriam said, “If it is Your will, O Holy Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. I will love and serve You forever.”

At that moment the sky clouded over. Miriam looked up, expecting to see the beginnings of a rain storm; the dove fluttered down from the tree and landed at her feet as if he, too, sensed the change — but, in an instant, the sun shone brightly again. A flock of songbirds from somewhere beyond the garden began to sing, a distant rooster crowed; it was as if a new day had begun.

Miriam closed the book and cradled it in her arms. She felt the stirrings of new life within the very center of her being.

❤︎

May this story, which is offered with respect and reverence, increase our understanding and our admiration of the blessed Mary, Mother of the Lord.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Imagine a life lived in service to the Lord.

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