Filtering by Tag: imagination

the visitors

 

“Gold, as to a king; myrrh, as to one who was mortal; and incense, as to a God.”

They sat in the front room, silent.
“A star, you said?”
“Yes,” replied one of them, speaking for the group.
“Hmm,” she replied. She nodded and looked over at Joseph, who smiled. She looked at their robes, the stitching and texture of the fabrics. “I’m sorry we don’t have more than the bread to serve.”
The one who spoke for the group shook his head. “Please,” he said, “there’s no need to apologize.”
There was a pause. They searched for questions. “Does he sleep well?” Asked the first.
“For a young child, yes. He has nights, as children do. He is learning to sleep.”
“Of course, yes.” 

A second visitor nodded, then leaned forward toward the mother and father. “And it was…it was a manger? In a stable?”
She nodded. “There was no room elsewhere.”
“Was it cold?”
“Yes — but Joseph brought blankets. We were warm enough.”
“Was it painful?”
“Yes — but all births are painful.”
“Do you remember it? The birth?”

Mary looked at the visitor. She looked again at his ornate clothes, his formality and posture. “I remember the taste of the tears I shed during the birth, and I remember the steam from the blood, and I remember his voice — like laughter, also — the cattle, and he.” She thought back to the moment, and she grinned. “I thought his voice would split me and the ceiling of the stable in two.”

After a moment, the third visitor interjected. “Were you afraid?”
Mary looked over at Joseph. “At times, yes.”
“What changed your minds?”
“An angel appeared to both of us and told us not to be afraid.”
“And that was all?”
Mary again looked over at Joseph, who spoke to the third visitor. “It was an angel; a messenger. It was an issue of whether or not to trust the one who sent the message.”
The visitor nodded and thought about the angel. 
Mary studied his face. “Do you have children?”
“No,” said the third visitor.
“You?” She asked the first.
“No.”
“You?” She asked the second.
“No.”
“Did any of you ever wish to have children?”
The first and second visitors shook their heads. The third, after pausing to reflect, spoke. “Yes.”
Mary turned her eyes toward him, and the third visitor continued. “I feel like I’ve been faithful to a calling — I feel — I feel peace about what I’ve done, and on most evenings, I sleep well because of it.”
“And the other nights?”

The third visitor managed a weak smile. “On those nights, I remember when I was a child, and I remember my own father, my mother — and I feel like there’s an empty room inside my heart — I can’t always see the details of the room — the shape or if anyone’s inside, but it always seems to take the shape of a child. It is a child’s room — a child-shaped room.”

Mary’s eyes welled with tears. She opened her mouth to speak — but then stopped. Her focus turned toward the other room. She heard something.
“Is everything alright?” Asked the third visitor.
Mary smiled. She turned back to him. “I think he’s awake. Would you like to meet him?”

And now it was the visitor’s turn to cry. He smiled.
“Yes,” he said. “I would.”  

 

This I Know to be True

These are the things I know to be true. 
I am made of music. 
I am a storyteller. 
Sometimes I do not live up to that calling. 
Sometimes I am the best firefighter and the worst flame. 
Sometimes I am the best hunter and the worst prey. 
Sometimes I sing the song I know sounds within me 24/7.

These are the things I know to be true. 
I am a bad detective. 
I have a subjective view point, and that means sometimes I don’t consider elements of an event that other people consider to be vitally important. 
I trespass. 

These are the things I know to be true. 
I am commanded to love people I don’t always love, including myself.
Sometimes I let myself off the hook of loving others.
Sometimes I let myself off the hook of loving myself. 
I am skilled at letting myself on and off the hook, getting on and off the wagon.

These are the things I know to be true. 
I have olive skin. 
In time, the skin will wrinkle. My skin is not impenetrable. My skin, like a flag, like a quilt, is not a shield, is not a mask. 
My skin, like a flag, like a quilt, tells a story.

These are the things I know to be true.
My grandfather had skin made of stories. 
I miss my grandfather.
My grandfather is dead. 

These are the things I know to be true. 
Sometimes I don’t take care of myself as well as I know how to do.
Sometimes I ignore God’s voice within me because I don’t want the responsibility.
Sometimes I don’t want the responsibility of storytelling. 
Sometimes I don’t want the responsibility of friendship. 
Sometimes I don’t want the responsibility of forgiving people I don’t want to forgive, including myself. 

These are the things I know to be true. 
I have a heart made with love. 
I have a heart made of love.
I have a heart made to give love, to receive love. 

These are the things I know to be true. 
I need help. 
I need help. 
I need help. 

Amen. 
Amen. 
Amen. 

 

Yad Ha'Elohim -- The Hand of God

Abinadab had gathered with the rest of the crowd. He stretched and pushed and shoved and shouted, “Uzzah, My son! My son! He carries the ark! He carries the ark as we celebrate its homecoming!”

He saw his son astride the ark. “My son!” Shouted Abinadab. “My son who guides the ark!”         For years, the ark of the covenant had been lost. Philistines had taken it, but the ark had, without the hand of man, destroyed the idols of the Philistines. False gods were, simply by being in the presence of it, beheaded and toppled. For years, the ark had rested in the house of Abinadab, and King David requested the ark return to Jerusalem.

The ark neared Abinadab. “My son!” He shouted. “I must see my son!” There was commotion in the crowd, all eager to press in and see the ark of the covenant up close. He shoved and was shoved sharp from behind. The air shot up out of him; skyward, as doves. His vision blurred. He stumbled.

There was a shout, and then a scream. 

When Abinadab regained footing and focus, the crowd was silent.

And in that silence, Abinadab noticed he felt different than before — something was missing. His hand, on instinct, reached for his chest. He felt it beat once, twice. He traced no wound or gape along his skin — but something had been removed. 

He paused to pray, and in a flash, the words rushed up from his heart and out between his lips —

“My son!” He shouted. “Uzzah, my son! I must see my son!” Trembling and panicked, he pushed through the crowd, now as motionless as reeds on a windless day.

He pushed through to the front. He saw first the oxen, and then the ark of the covenant.

And then his eyes tracked downward, where his son lay; dead in the dust. 

He fell. 

He fell to the feet of his son and gathered Uzzah to himself. 

“My son,” he wept. “My son who carries the ark. Speak to me, my beloved. Speak.”

*    *    *

Abinadab sat and lamented of Uzzah’s death to his friend. “Years have we watched over the ark. We are Kish, descendants of the tribe of Levi, chosen by God to watch and protect the sacred objects of Yahweh. Why would the wrath of His hand extend toward those he commanded to watch over the ark?”

“We do not know the ways of God,” replied his friend. “Uzzah sinned, Abinadab. God is holy, and Uzzah touched the ark.”
“Yes, because it was falling.”
“It is the dwelling place of God.”

Abinadab nodded. “From the days of Moses, adorned with cherubim, yes. I taught my sons to know the ark and love it. Who do you take me for?” Abinadab stood and paced in the room. “Bezalel made the ark of acacia wood— two and a half cubits long, a cubit and a half wide, and a cubit and a half high. He overlaid it with pure gold, both inside and out, and made a gold molding around it. He cast four gold rings for it and fastened them to its four feet, with two rings on one side and two rings on the other. Then he made poles of acacia wood and overlaid them with gold. And he inserted the poles into the rings on the sides of the ark to carry it. He made the atonement cover of pure gold—two and a half cubits long and a cubit and a half wide. Then he made two cherubim out of hammered gold at the ends of the cover. He made one cherub on one end and the second cherub on the other; at the two ends he made them of one piece with the cover. The cherubim had their wings spread upward, overshadowing the cover with them. The cherubim faced each other, looking toward the cover.”

Abinadab crouched and held the hands of his friend. “I have seen the space between the cherubim. I taught my sons to listen for the presence — for the song of God. I taught them to love Him and seek Him.”

“I know, Uzzah." His friend said. "I know. But if you have seen the space between the cherubim, if you know the sound and shine of hammered gold, then you also know the power and might of Elohim. You know the Hand that held back the waters, the Hand that washed away Pharaoh, the hand that opened the earth and swallowed the house of Korah.”
“Should my beloved have allowed that which he loves to fall, then? Would you have reached out?”
“I do not ask such questions.”
“Why? Because you fear the answer?”
“I have nothing to fear. I keep the commandments of the Lord, and I know the Lord is good.”
“Yes, yes —" said Abinadab. "I too believe He is good. He brought our people out of Egypt. He freed us from the bonds of slavery and Pharaoh’s horse and rider were hurled into the sea.

He guided us through the wilderness, though we forged a golden calf and forsook his commands. We transgressed, and those who transgressed were not allowed to enter the promised land. 

Even Moses, a beloved, in anger struck the stone, and by his wrath removed himself from the land. Even Moses, whom God used to free our ancestors, could not — because of sin — enter the land.

And then Joshua led us into the land. But upon crossing the Jordan, we had to wait upon the Lord for guidance and for his glory to be known. Joshua took the soldiers and marched around the city for seven days. On the seventh day, they gave a great shout, and Jericho’s strongholds fell away.

The Lord proves faithful. Kings go to war, prophets seek wisdom, the teachers and the priests seek out his presence where he may be found. Blood is shed, and God speaks — in whispers, in full-throated song.

The Lord is good, and He brought the ark back to the city. He has condoned the violence of David, our king — the bloodshed of Joshua, a great warrior, and the violence of the Sea, the hunger and the gaping mouth of the Sea which swallowed Pharaoh and his mighty army.

The Lord is good, and my son is dead because he loved Him and reached out in a time of need.”

Abinadab walked to the window. “When I held Uzzah, I remembered how I would find him at rest, close to the ark. I scolded him, because I knew it was dangerous. ‘I want to hear Him,’ he said. ‘I want to hear God.’ Tears formed in Abinadab’s eyes. “Did not Samuel sleep at the base of the ark? Did he not care for the ark, spurred on by love? And did he not, one night, hear God speak?”   

 “Abinadab, friend — please. You were wrong to keep the ark in your home. You know this.”

“Yes, I was wrong. Yes, I was reckless. But did not even those who cast the calf out of the fire, they were forced to drink their sin, but they too, they were still permit to choke praise from their lungs? How were they preserved and allowed to praise the Father — but my son, spurred by love, was struck down ?” 

At this, Abinadab’s friend fell silent.

*    *    *

Late, when all were asleep. Abinadab could not rest. He left his bed, and stood in the front room. He listened for any animals or footsteps outside. 

Silence. Abinadab prayed. 

I want to speak your name as I would a friend — but you are not my friend. 
You are my God. My creator. 
From dust have I been drawn, and it is dust that draws me now.

I wish to know the reasons behind your ways — which is blasphemy. 
I wish to call you by your name and pull you close — which is blasphemy. 

I wish to question you and doubt you — which is blasphemy. 

So then, God Almighty, my teacher, you know me, and my heart, and my name — 
and now you know what I wish for — what I long for — 
I pray for blasphemy. 

Amen.

The Good Shepherd

    He entered the house, shook his head. “Your son, again.”

    Without looking up, she tsked-tsked with her tongue. “Our son, again.”

    “He loves you more.”

    “He loves you as well.”

    “He never says it.”

    “Because he doesn’t know the words yet.” She turned to face her husband. “You are a good teacher. You care about about his learning, yes?”

    “I do.”

    “Because you want him to be a good shepherd, yes?”
    Adriel sighed and glanced back out the entrance, before returning his focus to his wife. “He lost some sheep. I found all but one. We’ve been searching, but…” He shook his head. 

    She nodded. “Where is he?”

    “Outside, I think. I shouted at him, and told him to wait until I allowed him to enter.”

    Galila put her hands to her husband’s cheek, and with her thumbs, she traced crescents under his eyes — back and forth, back and forth, like tidewaters from the sea. She pulled his head down and kissed his forehead.

    “You, my love, are a good shepherd. You sit. I’ll go talk to him.”

    

    *    *    *

    

    “Nechemya,” she called. “Nechemya, where are you?”

    Silence. Galila took a few steps, noting the sound of the rocks beneath her sandals. “Nechemya, it’s your mother. Come sit with me.” She sat on the edge of the well, and exhaled. “It’s beautiful this evening, no? Why don’t we sit together?”

    Silence. Galila looked down at her hands, flipped them once, twice, then slid off the edge of the well and sat down on the ground. She rested against the well. “I’m going to tell you a story, Nechemya. Is that alright?” She waited, but heard no response.
    “Once, I lived in a town. This is before you were born, before I knew your father. When Roman soldiers rode through the village, they would ask for wine. I would serve them wine.”

    Galila picked up a small pebble, held it in her palm. “They would ask for other things as well…and I would give them those other things. Because they could make life bad for me if I said no.” She closed her fingers over the pebble, turning her hand into a fist. “You understand this, Nechemya? There was no choice.” Her breath, heavier now. “But people in the town, they disapproved. They wanted to teach me I was wrong to do what I did.” She paused. “So, one morning they — ”

    “Teach, mama…like the way papa teaches?”

    Galila turned her eyes right, and she saw Nechemya, her son. He held his shepherd’s staff loose. He didn’t stand still, but instead shifted his weight from side to side. 

    “Why do you do that, Nechemya? You sway like a reed.”

    “I don’t like to stand still, mama.”
    Galila opened her fist, and re-examined the pebble. She dropped it. “Nechemya, my love.”
    Nechemya approached and sat next to his mother.

    She smiled. “Papa teaches out of love. But the people who wanted to teach me — they were angry. They took me from my house. I shouted for help, but no one stopped them. They brought me to the feet of a Teacher in the square. I’d been accused of a crime, but they weren’t sure how I should be punished.”

    “What did the Teacher say?”

    Galila smiled. Her finger traced a winding path in the sand. “He said nothing. He drew.”
    “What’d he draw, mama?”

    “He drew a tree. He asked me what kind it resembled. ‘It looks like an olive tree, Teacher.’ I said. ‘Is it an olive tree?’”

    Nechemya shifted closer to his mother. “What’d he say?”
    Galila shrugged. “He told me about how he knew many people who’d sat under trees. ‘Friends, Teacher?’ I asked. He nodded. ‘Yes, child. Friends.’ He told me about one person who sat under a tree, and ravens came to him with food. This man was tired and near death, and he was afraid — but the tree provided shade and shelter from the sun. As he sat, ravens visited him and kept him alive with food, and the nearby river gave him water to drink.

    As he told me this story, he drew the wings of the raven. ‘Do you have a favorite bird?’ He asked. ‘No, Teacher.’ I replied. ‘The birds,’ he said, ‘the birds provide shelter and safety for their offspring with their wings. When a predator comes, the birds spread their wings wide and gather their young to their breast. Here, they are safest.’”

    Galila extended her arm and draped it over her son. Nechemya glanced at his mother’s hand at his side, and smiled. “What happened next, mama?”

    “Next, he wrote his name — the name of God.”

    Nechemya’s eyes opened wide. “But that name must not be said. It is blasphemy.”

    She nodded. “Yes. But what if it’s God who’s doing the writing?” Nechemya said nothing. Galila continued making a path with her finger. “Other people before him claimed to the Messiah, my love. And afterward, people after him have claimed to be the Messiah. They come from dust, they claim to be the Messiah, and then the dust claims them back.”

    “Did he die?”

    “Yes.” Galila thought of the hill. She thought of the storm and the blood and the crown. “Yes, he did.” She wiped a tear from her cheek. “But the dust did not claim him.” 

    “What’d he say — when he wrote his name?”

    “He — ” Galila stopped, laughed. “He started humming; singing even.” 

    “What’d he sing?”

    “Do you remember the song I sang while you were falling asleep?”

    “Yes.”

    She kissed her son on the forehead. “That’s His song.”
    Her son smiled. But when he looked back at the house, his smile fell from his face. 

    “Why now are you sad, my son? I thought my story made you glad.”

    “Father hates me.”

    “He’s angry about the lost animals, but he loves you.”

    “Do you believe that?”

    “When he’s out with the animals, keeping them safe, he’s finding the words to tell you how much he loves you. When he’s repairing the walls of our home, with each movement of his hand, he’s building the words, casting the words.”

    Galila leaned close to whisper. “And when he sits alone in the room, as he does now, he prays for words, for help — and like manna, the words fall into his lap. Everything he does, he’s learning how to say ‘I love you.’”

    “I don’t think I’m going to be a good shepherd.”
    Galila paged through the hairs on her son’s head. Specs of dust kicked up in the air. “Do you want to be a shepherd?”

    “I do.”

    “Do you want to care for the animals?”

    “I do.”

    Galila put her hands to her son’s cheeks and, with her thumbs, drew crescents underneath her son’s eyes — back and forth, back and forth, like tidewaters from the sea. She kissed him on the forehead.

    “Go back to where you last remember having all the sheep, and start there. Look in the shaded areas, in the cracks of rocks — in the shadows of the mountains.”

    “Yes, mama.”

    He stood to leave, and headed toward the pasture. 

    “Nechemya,” she said. “If you’re still having trouble finding the sheep…sing.”