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Saturday 18 December 2010


The dream had come again and as always she could not remember it very well.  In the dream she always woke to the howling of a wolf and found herself in a house among a number of sleeping women. In her heart there was always a feeling of agony, a despair and horror for something that had not yet come to pass and a longing to be with someone – someone she did not yet know. But it was only a dream and awake now she searched the darkness for her child, and found him sleeping soundly on his rush mat in their family tent. 

On their journey to Egypt three years ago, fleeing from Herod and his madness, she had taken to dreaming such a dream, and upon coming to Heliopolis–that island of green calm in the middle of the barren desert–the dreams had made a pause. They had only come again lately, upon this return journey to her homeland, and she did not know what it meant but it seemed to her that it was a portent of peril.

She lay in the darkness listening to her husband’s soft breathing and recalled those years in Egypt with a fond eye. She saw Yeshua walking in the ruins of the fallen temples, his skin browned by the sun; she saw him bathing in the cool waters of the oasis for the holy ablutions, or sitting in the shade of the sycamores eating dates. She longed for the peace and safety she had felt then. For the priests had sequestered them and at the appropriate time, had even begun to instruct Yeshua. 

In the cool, dark, depths of their sacred places he was taught many things: how to listen to what wafts on the warm breezes, to what resounds in the songs of birds and to what lives in the harmony of growing grass. He was taught how to see behind the shapes of twigs and branches and to know what lay behind cloud, sky and storm –  the thoughts of God. She knew this because she had always been with him and she was with him again on the day the priests took him to see an old anchorite.

The anchorite lived on a limestone hill not far from the great city of Alexandria. Having retired to a contemplative life he now spent his days in a holy room, a sanctuary, wherein he celebrated all the mysteries of the holy life. He never admitted anyone to his house and yet he had wanted to see Yeshua.

On the appointed day, Mariam was sat with her son feeling anxious for what he would say. But the old man said nothing for a long time. Instead, he inspected Yeshua from below his wrinkled brow, making soft noises to himself. When it seemed that he would never speak, he smiled suddenly and began to laugh with merriment, as if relieved of some great burden. Surprised, Mariam said nothing, but watched and waited for it to stop, knowing that old sages were known to have a peculiar wisdom. When he addressed her, his face was as unwrinkled as a child’s might be and his eyes were as clear as a stream. 

‘Long ago,’ he told her, ‘there was a teacher whose name was Melchizedek. Old Melchizedek had a favourite pupil to whom he taught all the mysteries of the sun. You see this pupil, my dear, was destined to incarnate many times, and a long line of ancestors had to be prepared to make a body suitable for him. So Melchizedek tutored another pupil, Abraham, and he taught him all the secrets of the moon, the secrets of the blood and the creation of the perfect body. So you see forty-two generations have prepared your ancestors so that you could be here today with the fruit of your loins. My pupil is come again, and I am rejoicing! For my task is near done, and I must now remind him of his past and bring to him all that he has left behind in order that he might perform a special task.’

He reached out and passed both hands over Yeshua’s eyes and immediately her son fell asleep in her arms. The old man closed his own eyes and uttered many prayers over her boy. When it was over and her son was returned to his senses the old man looked at her with kindness and familiarity.

‘Soon you will give birth to another child,’ he told her.

Instinctively she moved a hand over her flat belly. Not even Joseph knew that her bleeding was late. 
‘Herod is dead; soon you will be too big with child to travel. You must go. Take your husband and journey by way of the Sinai desert in the direction of your homeland, but do not take this child to your Temple in Jerusalem for the hope of your priests will nurture him towards earthly and not heavenly ends. There is a safe place to which you can go, called Nazareth. The people who live there are not so different from us, they are called Essenes and you may live among them, untroubled, until the time comes.’

She wanted to ask him when that time would be and what Yeshua was destined to do, but could not bring herself to say anything. 

He told her, ‘A mother must love her son, but you must love the Son of God, even as you love your own son…for the love of a mother can make all things taste sweet.’

Now as she lay upon the rush mat, she wondered what the old sage had meant and wished with all her heart that she had asked the questions that continued to plague her. What was to be her son’s task? When would it come? And how must she love the Son of God as her own? Her vexation with herself made the child in her belly give her a kick and it took away her breath. The child reminded her that by the time they reached Nazareth, she would be a mother twice over.

She did not know what she would find in Nazareth among the Essenes, the pure ones. She only knew what she remembered of her Temple days, that these ascetics were more strict than the Therapeutae of Egypt, more strict even than the Nazarites, for they wore only white and sequestered themselves in their Mother Houses for fear of defilement. What would become of Yeshua’s task in such a place as Nazareth? Could the heir of David be made a king of Israel in such a place, among men whose faces were turned away from Jerusalem? Nothing good had ever come out of Nazareth–that was the saying and she worried that it was true. 

She turned over to hold her husband, who seemed to be older by the day. In truth, the memory of her former life at the Temple had become distant to her eye and the details had lost their clarity and distinction. She remembered how she had been taken to the Temple as a child and how the miracle of the greening staff had proved to the priests the eligibility of an ageing Joseph as a choice of husband. She had not wanted to marry but the priests had reminded her of the duty of every person of sovereign lineage to further their ancestral lineage. She had consented as a service to her people and in time she had grown to love her husband, and if the love she felt was not that young love she had seen in others, it was weighty and costly and she was glad of it. She only hoped he would live long enough to see his son’s task accomplished. 

Outside, the night deepened. Tomorrow would be another long day’s march and she put away her thoughts and fears and resolved to sleep.

She closed her eyes and sleep did come, but it was not peaceful.                                            

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