Friday, December 17, 2010
Do You See What I See?
Every night was the same. Mary slept until some time between the second and third watch. She'd wake, then lie wide-eyed until dawn. It had been this way ever since the great and terrible day of the angel. After his visitation, Mary found it hard to close her eyes, to even blink. Every time she did, she saw not her life, but her son's death, pass before her vision.
How many times each night did she question her divine appointment? She'd move her lips but make no sound.
"Oh, Sovereign Lord, why? Why did you choose me? Holy Father, I don't think I shall be able to bear it. Please, won't you take this lot from me?"
Almost always, she felt her hair stir as a slight breeze sighed through the room where she lay. One night she thought she heard the wind speak. "I am." She'd turned onto her stomach, to be face down.
"Forgive me, my Lord. Your will is perfect. And good. Let it be done to me according to what you have said."
"You're a prophet, Mary," Elizabeth had said. "A prophetess. But don't tell the men. They'll laugh at you. Or yell. Scorn your youth. And your gender."
"A prophet? I don't think so," Mary'd said. "Didn't Joel, the son of Pethuel, write of our people having visions? I don't speak for the Lord. He shows me things."
This was after Elizabeth had made a fuss over Mary's arrival. Elizabeth had washed her feet herself, instead of calling a servant to do it. All the while she murmured things like, "How is it that the mother of my Lord should come to me?"
Mary shook her head. "Elizabeth, stop," she said. "I'm just a girl. Your cousin. The one you see every year at Passover in Jerusalem. Now, tell me what it is like to feel your son move inside you."
Elizabeth took Mary's hands and placed them on either side of the tautness beneath her breasts. She glanced down. Smiled.
"Can you believe I have a bust like this? At my age? Zechariah--"
She stopped when she saw Mary blush. She bowed her head and spoke to her belly.
"Son? Is my cousin, Mary, a prophetess?"
Mary watched her right hand move. "He kicked me!"
She knelt and rested her cheek on Elizabeth's swell. "Baby boy, is the child I carry the Son of the Most High God?"
Mary sat back on her heels and rubbed her face. "That hurt!"
She gulped. Her eyes filled with tears. Elizabeth took her hands and pulled her to standing. She held Mary close and patted her back. Mary thought she could feel faint and gentle movements from inside Elizabeth's belly, as if the baby wanted to communicate to her with his tiny hands.
"Shalom, cousin. Shalom," Elizabeth said. "Peace be with you. Remember what the angel said? You are highly favored among women. Does that not please you?"
Mary pulled away. Used her sleeve to dry her face.
"It does, cousin. It does. I am most grateful that my thoughts and deeds please our Lord. But--"
Elizabeth shook her head. "But what? What could possibly dampen your joy?"
Mary twisted her hands. "The angel-- He said God would give my son the throne of David."
Elizabeth drew her breath in. "But that is good. David was a great man."
Mary walked to the window and looked out. "King David was a man of war."
She sighed and turned her face toward Elizabeth. "Also, King David did not have the Romans to contend with. And . . ."
Elizabeth crossed the room and stood behind Mary. She removed Mary's head covering and laid it over her arm. She took her hair down and combed it with her fingers. She knew how to soothe the young woman. She whispered into the long, dark waves.
Mary's inhale sounded frayed to Elizabeth. "And ever since the angel came, I see things. When I close my eyes."
Elizabeth rested her hands on Mary's shoulders.
"You see things. It is as I said. You have the gift."
Mary turned to face Elizabeth, her face contorted. "No gift this, Elizabeth. I see death. Suffering."
Elizabeth put her hand over her heart. "Of our people? God's chosen remnant?"
Mary lowered her head. Tears fell from her chin to her garment.
"No," she said. "Of my son. My baby boy, but grown. And no one, no not one, acts on his behalf."
Elizabeth winced. "How do you bear it, dear one?"
Mary turned back to the window and looked out into the distance.
"Promises," she said. "The promises of our Lord. "'Weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.' That comforts. Sometimes."
Behind her, Elizabeth shook her head. "You are so young, and yet, a stronger woman than I."
The older woman slipped between Mary and the window. She took the young woman's hands in her own. Rested them on her girth again.
"Tell me what you see."
Mary pulled back. Shook her head. Elizabeth nodded slowly, her eyes narrow. Mary closed hers. Saw. Shuddered. Opened her eyes. To stop the vision.
Elizabeth's voice was low, almost a growl. "Tell me."
"No." The word was a gasp. A plea.
Elizabeth cupped Mary's chin. Lifted it so their eyes met.
"I want to know."
"I need to, Mary."
Mary shook her head. "You don't know what you're asking, cousin."
"Tell me," Elizabeth said. "So I can pray."
"You can't pray away his destiny."
Elizabeth tilted her head. "Can't I?"
Mary's mouth fell open. Her eyes widened.
"No. You can't. Pray for his strength. And yours. And Zechariah's."
Elizabeth's eyes shown with tears. She ran two fingers down the side of Mary's face.
"I see now," she said. "Why He chose you. Now, tell me."
Mary squeezed her eyes shut. Sobs wracked her small frame, but she spoke what she saw.
"I see a king. And a young woman. She's very beautiful. Lovely in form. She dances for him. He's smiling. And then-- Soldiers. The king sent them. For your son."
Mary twitched as her flesh crawled. She swallowed. "For his . . . head."
Mary opened her eyes when she heard Elizabeth moan. There she was. On the floor. In a crumple.