In a way I came by invitation. I mean, I didn't get a paper invitation that said show up here on such and such a day and watch God be born. It wasn't anything formal. And I didn't get any kind of John the Baptist herald shouting for me to show up. It was just...a call...the kind you feel on the inside in the deepest part of yourself. A call from that part back to the deepest part of yourself, and you know you didn't have anything to do with it at all. God simply called you, and for some reason, despite yourself, you showed up.
It looked like any old nondescript place of worship. Just a church. I'm not talking high church either, with onion domes , iconostasis, or any kind of exquisite worship inspiring beauty. It was all clean lines. Square. Boring. It was a building that had the feel of being temporary. There was a cross--really plain, on the roof. Just a wooden cross. Nothing impressive or even compelling to look at.
I walk inside and there are no holiday greens or poinsettia plants to distinguish the season to be jolly. It was stripped bare--if it ever had any pizazz in the first place. And it looks just like the whole manger scene, only without the animals. And the wise men hadn't shown up yet. It was just...you know...a kid and this guy. A shepherd or two.
People were sitting on the floor just watching them.
I take a seat with the other, I dunno, spectators. I sit by this redhead--well, her hair is actually reddish brown, and it's big. Like beauty queen big. Big gal like me. She looks kinda soft and kind...welcoming. She's oddly familiar, though I know I've never met her before. I lean toward her and say, "Is this like some kind of living nativity or something?" And all she does is look at me with those kind eyes of hers and she touches me. She puts her hand on my shoulder and rubs me, then puts her hands back in her lap. I think, "Oh, we're supposed to be quiet," to myself. But I'm grateful that she touched me. Even if she didn't say a word. It comforted me.
But damn. Now I've got to deal with my thoughts, which is the wicked consequence of solitude. I don' t see what the hype is Thomas Merton. I get to torment myself with thinking of the fact that I've been in bed for days crying and feeling dead on the inside. I don't tell people that these are devilish times when I envision my suicide endlessly. Or dream I'm falling in love. It's never anything else. I'm blowing my head off or falling in love. Sometimes a prayer pierces my despair. I say, "I'm so sorry." And I cry again. I don't have the energy to fight my way out of it. I lie there and hope mercy covers me. The good thing is I've trained myself not to harm myself. I don't want to admit how appealing the idea of offing myself is. It would scare the people who love me. And I don't want to hurt them. You know, I'm not even thinking how this is bad for me.
So, no. I don't want to be quiet any freakin' more. I've been quiet for how long? Three days? Seven? I've lost count. I know it's Friday but I don't know what the date is. I'm just...lost. And now here I am in a church that looks like a barn on the inside. With my thoughts.
The lady by me has tears in her eyes. I wish I could ask her how she got here. If she got the same inward invitation that I got. She seems like she deserves to be here. Like maybe she homeschools her kids, or at the very least pays attention to them. I'll bet she hasn't been in a damned vegetative state for days. I'll bet her kids haven't learned, at God only knows what cost, how to leave mama alone.
And speaking of mamas, the girl we're watching? She's pregnant. And she's so much younger than I imagined her. Maybe all those holy card images got to me. The beautiful woman in the blue. With the sad eyes. Or the icons of her got to me. She always seems older to me in the icons. Likes she's been around for a really long time, but here she could be my sixteen-year-old daughter, Abeje. She looks younger than Abbie. And that kinda amazes me.
She's in labor all right. But she's not screaming, or whining her way through like I did with Lumumba. I was so surprised by the pain of it. It felt like my insides were going to come out. Well. That is kinda what happened, only a baby came out. Now with Abbie it was different. I'd been reading those "Farm" midwife books and Ina May Gaskin had me convinced I was having "rushes of energy" instead of contractions. So I rolled with that. Found a mantra that was like "Om" only it was "Ho" so when a "rush" hit I said, "hoooooooooooooooooooo", and you know, it wasn't that bad.
She's not saying ho. Or om. She's just kind of breathing intuitively. I want to ask the lady next to me if she thinks God gave her a break on the labor thing since she was having His Son. But she's really feeling this. I don't interrupt her again.
Doesn't look like God gave her much of a break. I mean, she's in a barn-thing under less than ideal conditions hygiene-wise. And to be honest, she isn't as pretty as the holy cards make her either. But I've got to admit. She's tough. I mean, she's doing this. Away from her mama. And all she's got is this guy who married her even though she said, "The Holy Ghost got me pregnant." And the shepherds. She's got shepherds. And a winking star. And she's got us.
There aren't that many of us. I wonder how many got the invitation. Did they walk away from malls and holiday parties and church activities to come sit in this cool earth? And it is earthy with all its dank "remember that you are dust" smells that leave no doubt. God is coming to terra firma.
I remember that we are dust.
And now I want to be quiet, too. I lay my palms on the cool ground and realize with a start that this is exactly how thy kingdom come began: with God, and a girl. Not even a rich, pretty girl. And she's not giving birth in a palace fit for a king.
And then I do the strangest thing. I rub my dirty palms on my face. Smell it--the dust we're made from. Taste it. And I think, God wrapped Himself in the same dirt that I am made of. He is making His way, right now, in a tiny body of flesh, through the birth canal of a teenage girl. And somehow, He pulled me out of the miserable prison of my brain chemistry so I could bear witness to this.
I see why my friend next to me is so quiet. Why tears have sprang to her eyes. Why she's leaned forward in anticipation.
I fix my eyes on the girl again. Think of the foolishness of God choosing a nobody to be His mama. It comforts me. Somehow I don't feel so alone. The guy? He holds the girl up. Supports her as she leans back into him. I realize God didn't leave her to do this all alone. He doesn't leave any of us alone, and isn't this...the incarnation, proof!? And I like that. I mean, you just know that they're going to be all right, the holy family and you're going to be all right, and all of creation is going to be all right because she's going to have this baby. This flesh and blood Savior who is also God.
I know it sounds crazy. I smile to myself through my tears. He's going to come out, and that first sharp bite of wind He created is going to hit Him, and He'll break those unused lungs in. He'll leave the safety of her warm womb and the comfort of the rhythm of her heartbeat and come out so He can die. And it won't be long, either.
That's why we're so quiet.
I don't know how long the Mother of God will be in labor. I just wait with her. I pray for her to have a good labor, whatever that is. I think of what all of this means, and once again, I cry, and I am glad to not be crying for myself for a change.
I think of the words to a prayer that recalls the annunciation:
Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
I mean, that sounds really good to me right about now. She's got to know something I don't. Right? And she's just doing it. Whatever God said. No complaints. Just "Be it unto me according to thy will." I could learn a few things from this young woman.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and in the hour of our death.
You know, every time I had a baby, even the ones who died in utero, there was this sense of "presence" in the room. Angels. I couldn't see them, but I felt them. And I feel them right now. Who needs Christmas decorations when you can have this?
Let us lay aside all earthly things, even our thoughts.
All of us waiting; angels, humans, dust.
This is it.
He's coming. He's really coming.
And we were invited to watch and wait.