I waited. How I waited. But he seemed to grow more distant, and there were so many things in the way … in my way.
Every day I pushed my way through the market place, through all that noise … of animals and birds, the cries of exchange rates and deals to be done, through the haggling and the arguments. Under the eyes of the soldiers; watching … always watching from their tower. Past the colonnades, the courtyards, the treasury boxes, the lampstands, into what should have been my place.
And oh yes, even there I heard the whispers – the gossiping voices, pitying, scorning voices – “Not as good”, “Not from one of the tribes God chose to return” – as though I was still an exile even in God’s house.
There were times they listened, though: “The word of the Lord came to Anna the prophetess…” But there were other times when no word came, and they wandered away, not interested, bored by the repetition – the wicked, the adulterous, always looking for a sign.
The Lord, my God, though, he was always there. Somewhere … somewhere beyond the crowds of men, the huddles of priests, somewhere behind that curtain. Sometimes seeming too remote, too silent, even for me to feel his presence.
I came each day. No son to care for me since my husband died – no Sarah’s blessing, no Hannah’s blessing for me. No daughter-in-law to scold; no grandchildren to chide.
Just my time here. Just my time, each day pushing my way as close to God as I was allowed. My eyes straining through the lamplight and the night vigils. Peering over heads – glimpsing doors and arches, altars, flickering candles, shadows, and the endless stream of worshippers. My sight dimming with the years of waiting – a generation, a whole lifetime of waiting.
And then … I did see … something.
A child. A baby.
One child and his parents. One child among many children – his parents one couple among so many who came through the years to the Temple bringing their beautiful babies, their offerings, their prayers.
And at that moment it was as though all those years – all those obstacles, all the heartache – had fallen away. It was as though, after years of asking and seeking … and not seeing … I was finally gazing on all the beauty of the Lord in the temple where I’d spent a lifetime waiting for him.
When I stop, my hands throb and become all of me. I stop.
I look at my hands in my lap – palm up. They are rough from the grindstone, tiny hairs scorched and withered by the fire. The joints ache – it’s worse at dawn and dusk in the cold. They are red and swollen from washing. I rub oil into them sometimes – oil for the lamps that I fill, the wicks I trim, the bread that I bake. But they still throb – this is the echo of work.
I am not good at being still. I only set one thing down to pick up something else; even as the light slowly fades my eyes strain to stich, to mend. My hands throb – I look at my hands in my lap – they twitch for the work they long to do.
Sometimes the men in the village tell stories – stories of men hiding in the hills or the wilderness; stories of fighting one foreign army after another. But my hands carry the memories of my own battles – moth, rust, decay – a house that wants to fall down, clothes that will not last another summer’s harvest, a sick brother whose body was hurtling towards death.
There were different hands. Hands that took the jug from mine. Hands stilling my hands. Hands leading me to the shade of our doorway. Hands that had been subdued by work: axe, hammer, nails. I looked at his still hands. I looked at his hands and sat at his feet. I sat at his feet and listened. And for a time there was no time. My world shrank to his words as my hands lay still in my lap. There I was: dwelling in his presence.
Until my sister’s voice called my hands back – called me back to bread-making, and fire tending; to lamp-filling. To sweeping, and stitching, and soothing the sick. But he spoke over that battle – that, just once, it was necessary for my hands to be still.
And these things are changed now. There is life in the bread that I bake; light for the world in the lamps that I fill; resurrection hope for the hands in my lap subdued by my work, and now by my age. Here I am: dwelling in his presence.
I think it was his feet that I was aware of first; his feet that brought him to my sea-side town. I must have been in the dust – I was always wrestling in those days – the claws that crept under my hair – the seven voices – speaking as one, speaking as seven. I was always tormented in those days.
I remember his forearms, the muscles hard, sinews tense as he wrestled with me, fought for me. The voices screaming blasphemies, calling up curses, and the sound of his name caught up and fighting with their words. Jesus.
And then it was over. And then I felt such peace. Peace like a house swept clean and tidy. Peace like a house awaiting a guest. And he was my guest. And now there was just one voice inside me – his voice.
What else could I do? I followed. We followed – 12 disciples, a handful of women. All empty or emptied – all strangely filled. We were all following his feet – up and down the rounds, round the lake-shore, villages and towns without number. We were with him as he emptied and filled, emptied and filled.
And then I was aware of his feet again. I could barely see them for my tears and his blood. They were all I could see. I couldn’t bring myself to look at his face – barely recognisable as it was. And for the first time those feet were still. No more walking, no more following. His feet still as stone.
I was afraid. Out there, in the darkness, I could almost hear those voices again. My ears strained, I trembled and flinched at the slightest sound. And we waited. Wept and waited.
And so I went. I went creeping my way through the darkness and the faintest glimmer of dawn. And found his body gone. I could have howled. Just when he’d stopped moving – he was gone.
And then he was back. I heard my name again – Mary – and I clung onto him, desperate to stop him moving, desperate that he should stay. But ever so gently he left. And now I was the one moving, my heart full of his aliveness. I’ve never stopped.
He is with me, constantly, filling my empty house. Gone but not gone. Moving me – moving you?