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Thursday 9 December 2010

Excerpt from Fifth Gospel: MARY


ORTY generations after Abraham, and some months after the birth of that first child, a young woman called Mary accompanied her husband on a journey from Nazareth. It was the era of Caesar Augustus. Herod the Great had died and his cruel, sadistic son and successor, Archelaus, was deposed and Syria was made a Governorship of the Roman Senator Quirenius.
Under his rule a census was announced for the purpose of taxation and the people of Judea were required by law to travel to the seat of their ancestors to be counted. Mary’s husband, Joseph, was of the lineage of David and so he and Mary had to make the journey to Bethlehem, the town of his forebears, even at this difficult time.
For Mary of Nazareth was long with child.
Nine months earlier the seed had been sown in her belly. That night, the Essene priests had called her and her betrothed, Joseph, to the veiled place. They had given them both a cordial, after which all had fallen into nothingness. So it was with surprise and anxiety that Mary herself greeted the news of her conception, for she could remember nothing of her union with Joseph. It was only the warmth and protection of that radiant angel of God that had calmed her worried heart. For the angel’s soft whispers had announced the birth of her child in these words:
Ave Maria! Blessed are you among women! To you will be born a child and you will name him Jesus, and he will be called the Son of God.
This was the same voice which had compelled her to travel to her older cousin Elisabeth’s house to help her with the imminent birth of her child.
Since her youth, the world had seemed a recent thing to Mary, and she had felt like nothing more than a dust mote drawn upwards by the breezes and the winds of heaven, a dust mote that rarely falls down-to-earth. But on her journey to Elisabeth she found that an awakening was taking place in her soul. As she walked through the cold southlands, among the sadness of the mountains and the misery of the desolate trees, among the mocking face of the unforgiving brown coloured sky of Judea, she found that she was not only on the threshold of Elisabeth’s house, but also on the threshold of her own life.
It became clear to her, that she was coming down to earth, and only now did she truly understand what she must give up.
That had been six months ago and now as she cast a glance at her husband, the young carpenter with the soft brown eyes and hair like charcoal from the fires, she knew her descent was near complete and she put her trust in Joseph, who saw to all her needs and pulled the animal gently on the road, so as not to cause her unnecessary discomfort. He toiled over the frozen hills and mountains, with his feet blue and blistered and his hands callused and frigid, and made no complaint, as others did, of the Romans and the census. 
Joseph did not squander his words.
She remembered his face when he had seen, upon her return from Elizabeth’s house, how she was grown with child. No memory lived in his heart of the union brought about by the ministering of the priests and yet, in his dream-full eyes, she had seen no recrimination; from his mouth, no harsh words had come. When the township gathered to call her to account and she feared the people would stone her, Joseph remained steadfast in his love for her, refusing to shun her, making it possible for the priests to keep to themselves their workings.
She looked out of her thoughts and realised they were nearing Bethlehem. Darkness was fast descending over the highland wilderness of Judea and only a red outline remained in the west where the road to Hebron made a thread through the valleys and hills that separated Bethlehem from Jerusalem. The last of the sun was touching the pinnacles of a mighty palace. She looked to the east, to where a star-like moon was rising behind purpling clouds; a strange moon, a moon unlike any moon she had ever seen, and at that moment, the dusk was pierced by the howling of a wolf. It filled her with dread, and she was glad when they arrived at the outskirts of the town of Bethlehem.
It was cold, but the fields that swept upwards to the heights along which the city stretched, were rich with terraced vineyards and gardens well tended. Lights flickered in the houses, full with guests. The sound of merry talk and laughter reached them even here and it cheered her heart, which until now had been heavy with the bitter knowledge that she was homeless and may not have a warm place to bring forth her child.
She bent over to hold her belly for the pain that came then, and she told her child,
‘Not yet!’
Her husband, having heard this, grew concerned. He hastened through the ruined gates of the city, going from house to house in search of accommodation, but no one had room. Joseph asked those on the crowded streets if they knew of any small space wherein they might spend the night, since his wife, he showed them, was great with child and her hour was at hand. They told him the little town was much burdened by visitors, who had come from near and far to be counted. Every house was full, perhaps they should try the Inn?
The Inn was also full to the brim, but the innkeeper took pity on them and told Joseph of a rocky grotto outside the city walls. He warned him that it had once been a place of sinful ritual and that part of it was used now as a stable, because Bethlehem was so full that even those places reserved for animals in the township had been taken by people as lodgings.
The young couple, having no other choice, made their way to it. And thus it was that Mary entered into that grotto where two years before, Herod had performed a black ritual with the blood of the children of Bethlehem. And in that dark space surrounded by animals, fragrant with dung and straw, she sat. Above her, a cleft in the rock allowed a little of that sun-like moonlight to enter. It brought her peace. Here, she was away from the chattering noise-some crowds and could make herself comfortable, to wait for the onset of the more painful spasms that would soon come again and in the meantime, her young husband would go and find help.
When he returned he was accompanied by two women, a midwife and her young attendant, a girl called Salome, whose dark round face and clear eyes made a gladness in Mary’s heart. The midwife told her that the girl had a withered hand from birth, but that it would not prevent her from collecting the water and folding the cloths and cleaning the knife with wine.
It was many hours later, as Mary lay exhausted with her child suckling at her breast, that the old midwife sent Salome to fetch more water. When she returned, Mary noticed that the girl’s malformed hand was now made well and Salome, following her gaze, noticed it also. She dropped the water vase, and fell to the ground and gave thanks.

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