Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt Page 27

But James, who stood by himself, under the roof that jutted out over the courtyard stones, stared at me; and when Joseph went off, he crept up, and whispered in my ear:

"Why don't you pray for gold to drop from Heaven!"

I felt my face on fire.

But he was gone with the others. And we were almost never, never alone.

Later that day - the eight days of the Feast of Lights had ended at dawn - I sought out the grove of trees, the only place in the whole creation where I could be alone. The snow was thick. I wore heavy wool around my feet with thick sandals, but the wool was wet by the time I got there and I was very cold. I couldn't stay long under the trees, but I stood there, thinking to myself and looking at the wonder of the snow covering the fields and making them look so very beautiful like a woman dressed in her finest robes.

How fresh, how clean it all looked.

I prayed. Father in Heaven, tell me what you want of me. Tell me what all these things mean? Everything has a story to it. And what is the story of all this?

I closed my eyes, and when I opened them, I saw the heavens had given us more snow, and it was making a veil over Nazareth. Slowly as I watched, the village disappeared. Yet I knew it was there.

"Father in Heaven, I won't pray for snow, Father in Heaven, I will never pray for what is not your will. Father in Heaven, I won't pray for this one to live or that one to die, oh, no, never for that one to die, and never, never will I try even to make it rain or stop rain, or to make it snow, never until I understand what it means, all of it..." And there my prayer ran out into flashing memories, and the snow caught my eyes as I looked up into the trees and the snow came down softly on me as if it were kissing me.

I was hidden in the snow, I was hidden and safe, even from myself.

Far away someone called my name.

I woke from my prayer, I woke from the stillness, and the softness of the snow, and I ran down the hill, waving, and calling, and heading for the warm firelight and the family all around it.

Chapter 22

My first year in the Promised Land came to an end as it had commenced: with the opening of the New Year for Israel.

Herod Archelaus and the Roman soldiers from Syria had made peace in Judea - at least enough peace - for us to pass through the land of Herod Archelaus, through the Jordan Valley, and up into the hill country to Jerusalem for the Feast of Passover.

To myself I was an older child since that sorrowful and frightening journey on the very same path to Nazareth. I knew many new words to think in my head about what I'd seen. And I loved it when we were in the open country. I loved the smiling and the laughter. And I loved the bathing in the Jordan River again.

Many other villagers had joined the men of our family, many wives had come along, and a great flock of young maidens under the eye of fathers and mothers, and all of my new friends from the village, most of them my kindred, and some not.

The little rains had been good this year, everyone said, and for a long time the land was green.

Old Sarah made the journey with us and she rode the back of the donkey, and it was good to have her. We crowded around her. My mother came also, but Aunt Esther and Aunt Salome stayed behind to tend to the little ones and Little Salome remained with them.

Bruria, our refugee, came with us, and so did the Greek slave girl Riba, with her newborn in a sling, tending to everyone.

Now I should say one reason that Joseph brought Bruria was in the hope that when we passed the site of her farm Bruria would want to reclaim it. Bruria had many of her papers, which had been recovered from the burnt place, and surely, said Joseph, there were people there who knew it was her property.

But Bruria had no desire to do this. She wanted nothing. She worked as a woman in sleep, helping but wanting nothing for herself. And Joseph told us apart from her that we must never judge her or be unkind to her. If she wanted to remain with us forever, she could. We had all been strangers once in the Land of Egypt.

No one minded at all, and my mother said so. Riba was a joy to the women, said my aunt Salome. She was modest as a Jewish woman, and clean and helpful, and did as we all did in everything.

We had come to love Riba and Bruria. And when Bruria passed the site of her old farm and did not care, we were sad for her. That was her land and she ought to have it.

Now with us too on the road came the Pharisees, all in a group with their beasts for the women and the old men to ride, and their household. And there were other households from Nazareth as well, and from many other villages who joined the procession.

Our kindred from Capernaum, the fishermen and their wives and sons met us too - these were Zebedee, the beloved cousin of my mother and his wife, Mary Alexandra who was my mother's cousin, too, and both distantly cousins of Joseph, and many others, some of whom I remembered, some not.

Soon there was no end of people on the road, talking and singing the Psalms as we'd done that first day in Jerusalem so long ago. We sang those sweetest Psalms called the Psalms of Praise.

When we started to climb up from the Jordan towards the Holy City, through the steep mountains, I felt the old fear. I wanted my mother and I didn't want anyone to know it. It had been a long time since I'd had the bad dreams, but they came back. I slept close to Old Sarah when I could, and if I woke up crying, her voice would make the dream go away. I knew that James woke up at these times, and I didn't want for him to know this. I wanted to be strong, and with the men now.

It was not a hard journey; it was good to see the villages being rebuilt which had suffered fire; the city of Jericho was being rebuilt and all around it the beautiful date palms and the great forests of balsam were doing well.

Now the balsam was a tree that grew nowhere else in the world but here, and its perfume sold for a great deal, and the Romans were a big market for it.

The sun was shining on all this when I saw it this time, and before Jericho had been a city of the night in flames and made me cry in terror. Of course we had to see the foundations of the new palace and how the carpenters were proceeding. My uncles inspected everything from the piles of masonry on the site to the framing and the clearing of the land for the new rooms that would be built for Archelaus.

Now right after Jericho we came to the village where we'd left our cousin Elizabeth and Little John.

My mother was troubled as we approached, and so were Zebedee and his wife. It had been a long time since anyone had received a letter from Elizabeth.

When we arrived, we found the little house where we'd stayed shuttered and vacant. I thought my mother was going to suffer a terrible blow, and it did come but not as bad as I had feared.

Distant kindred there soon came to tell us that Elizabeth, wife of Zechariah the priest, had suffered a fall only a month before, and she'd been taken up to Bethany near Jerusalem. She could no longer speak, they told us, or move very much, and Little John had gone on to live with the Essenes in the desert. Several of the Essenes had come to take him out with them to a place near the edge of the mountains just above the Dead Sea.

Finally we had come up through the long winding mountain passes, to the Mount of Olives, from which we could see, over the Kidron Valley, the Holy City lying before us. There rose the white walls of the Temple, with its great trimmings of gold, and all the little houses spilling up and down the hills around it.

Everyone cried for joy and gave thanks at the sight of it. But the fear got a grip on me, and I didn't tell anyone. Joseph lifted me up but I was too big now to be on his shoulders. Some of the children were trying to squeeze to the front of the crowd. I didn't want to go.

Fear rose in me like a sickness in my throat, from which I couldn't escape. It didn't matter that there was the sun in the sky. I didn't see it. I didn't see anything but darkness. I think Old Sarah knew because she drew me close to her. I loved the smell of her wool robe, and the soft touch of her hand.

After the prayers were offered, people began to point out where the colonnades had been burned, and where there was rebuilding. There was much pointing and trying to determine things.

"And you can be sure the carpenters and the stonemasons are happy," said my uncle Cleopas bitterly. "They burn it, we rebuild it." We laughed at the truth of that, but James gave Cleopas a sharp look as though he didn't want him to say this. My uncle Alphaeus spoke up, "Well, the carpenters and the stonemasons of Jerusalem are always happy. They've been working on the Temple since they were born, most of them!"

"They'll never finish," said Cleopas. "And why should they? We have kings with blood on their hands and in their guilt they build the great Temple as if this will make them righteous in the eyes of the Lord. Well, let them do it. Let them offer their sacrifices, the Prophets have spoken on their sacrifices - ."

"That's enough talk against them," said Alphaeus. "We're going down into the city."

"And the Prophets have said it," Joseph added quietly with a smile.

Cleopas said under his breath the words of the Prophet, " 'Yea, I am the Lord and I do not change.' "

And more and more they talked of how this was the biggest Temple in all the world. But these things I heard through the fear I felt, remembering the bodies everywhere, and more than that a great terrible misery, a misery that said, you will know nothing but misery. This will never go away.

Again, I was lifted, this time by my uncle Alphaeus.

I looked at the Temple, fighting the fear, looking at its great size, and how the city appeared to grow up around it and hold on to it. The city was part of it. The city was nothing without it. There were no other temples in Jerusalem but the Temple. And the great glory of the Temple did seem beautiful - white and shining and full of gold - unspoilt - at least at this distance.

There were other big buildings, yes. Uncle Cleopas pointed out to me the great palace of Herod, and the fortress, the Antonio, which was right beside the Temple, and always full of soldiers. But these were nothing. The Temple was Jerusalem. I saw it. And the sunlight was shining, and the fear, the memories, the darkness, went away.

Now my mother wanted to go down into Bethany which was only a short distance from where we were, so that she could see to her cousin Elizabeth. But the kindred wanted to go down first into Jerusalem and find the place where we would stay. And so we went.

People were packed together, moving more and more tightly, and coming to stops when no one could move at all, and we all sang to keep up our spirits.

When at last we reached the city, it was very hard for us to get through the gates, the crowds were so thick, and all of us little ones were tired by that time. Some of the children were crying. Some had fallen asleep in their mothers' arms. I was far too old now, I thought, to ask anyone to carry me. And so I could not see where we were going or what we were doing.

Before we were very far inside the city, word reached us that all the synagogues were full, and that the houses had taken in all of the pilgrims that they could take, and Joseph decided we would go back out to Bethany where we had kindred near whom we could camp.

We had thought to come before so many people. We had hoped to have the rites of purification in the Temple, the same rite which we'd had in the village, yes, with the ashes and the living water, and the two sprinklings, but we had wanted it again in the Temple.

Now it was clear to us that too many other people had come for the same reasons, and the Feast had drawn all the world to it.

In such a crowd it was to be expected that people broke into arguments, and some even shouted at others, and when this happened, my teeth chattered. But as far as I could see, there was no fighting. High on the walls, the soldiers walked, and I tried not to look at them. My legs ached and I was hungry. But I knew it was the same for everyone else.

After the long struggle uphill away from the city and to the village, I was so tired I wanted to save all my joy and thanks for being near Jerusalem for tomorrow.

It was still daylight, but getting on towards dark. People were camped everywhere. And my mother and father took me by the hand and we went to see to Elizabeth right away.

It was a big house, a rich house, with fine pavers and painted walls, and rich curtains over the doors, and a young man received us who had a fine manner about him that marked him at once as rich. He was dressed completely in white linen and he wore fine tooled sandals. His black hair and his beard were shining with perfumed oil. He had a bright face, and he welcomed us with his arms out.

"This is your cousin Joseph," my mother said immediately. "Your cousin Joseph is a priest, and his father Caiaphas is a priest, and his father before him was a priest. Here is our son, Jesus." She laid her hand on my shoulder. "We come to find our cousin Elizabeth of Zechariah. We've been told she's not well, and is being kept here by your goodness and we're grateful for that."

"Elizabeth is my cousin, just as you are," said the young man in a soft voice. He had quick dark eyes, and he smiled at me in an open way that made me feel at ease. "You come into the house, please. I'd offer you a place to sleep here, but you see, we have people everywhere. The house is overflowing..."

"Oh, no, we're not looking for that," Joseph said quickly to him, "only to see Elizabeth. And if we can camp outside. There, you see, there's quite a tribe of us from Nazareth and Capernaum and Cana."

"You're most welcome," he said. He beckoned for us to follow him. "You'll find Elizabeth peaceful but silent. I don't know whether or not she will know you. Don't hope for that."

I knew we were tracking the dust of the road through this house, but there was nothing to be done about it. There were pilgrims everywhere, on their blankets in every room, and people running here and there with jugs, and plenty of dust already. So all we could do was go on.

We came into a room that was as crowded as the others, but it had big latticed windows and the late sunlight was pouring in, and the air was nice and warm. Our cousin took us to a corner, where on a raised bed, propped on clean pillows, there lay Elizabeth, very wrapped up in white wool, with her eyes towards the window, and I think she was looking at the movement of the green leaves.

Source: www_Novel22_Net

Prev Next