by Heidi White
My heart still aches with love and loss when I remember that he was a baby.
I am an old woman now, and the years have dissolved the memory of his newborn face, but I remember the weight and the wonder of holding him after he had slidden out of me. I throbbed and bled, like all mothers. I nursed him and wrapped him and caressed him, like most mothers. But I have not since encountered a mother as startled as I at the little one that had emerged from her body.
You see, I had prepared to bear the burden of the Messiah. The Shining One had come to me and prophesied the holy mystery that I was to carry and birth the hope of my people. I was unworthy of this greatest of honors. My heart almost burst at his words, for I was young and humble in origin. I was then and now God’s handmaiden, and His command was a great wonder to me. The child would be far greater than I, I knew. I was only the vessel, I reminded myself as he swelled my maiden body with his expanding life. I was only Mary, simple and artless, from a pious but inconsequential family. I was like an ordinary leather pouch, selected from a heap of other such pouches to shelter a priceless gem.
In my mind, I imagined him a strong champion. I envisioned him at the head of Israel’s armies as a great hero, a warrior that felled our foes and restored all things. In my heart I pondered the words of the prophets concerning him, that he would save his people from oppression and exile. He would blaze with glory, this child I carried for God. When he kicked in my belly, I imagined him scaling a Roman wall. When he rolled and tumbled in my womb, I visualized him leading slaves to freedom. I always thought of him as a man, which puzzles me now, but that is the way that it was.
My pains came upon me in Bethlehem. I knew the prophets so I was not surprised. As the birth pangs grew stronger, they swept me away. I was suddenly lost in the fierce waves of bringing forth not an idea, but a life. As my body writhed and pulsed, I thought of nothing; I only strained taut with exertion and cried out for release. After the long hours of travail, he came with gushes of blood and water. I sobbed with relief. I reached for him, my body still trembling from the throes. I remember how I ached and yearned to hold him in my arms.
He was warm and small, smeared with blood and vernix. His eyes were swollen and his forehead wrinkled. I was afraid that he would be cold in the night, so I laid his tiny body over my heart, where he quieted himself and nestled into my bosom. I looked into his face for the first time and gasped, for his lips were shaped like mine. I traced them over and over in wonder as I wept. I kissed his sweet lips and crooned his name to him, over and over. “Jesus, my son, Jesus, my baby, Jesus, my own, my very own little child.” I looked up to heaven, then down at the babe in my arms. I was undone. I counted and caressed his velvet fingers, marveling that not only were they the fingers of God, but also of my son. The babe, Jesus, was my own flesh, my own bone and blood, my own heart. Many years later, as I watched him die, I remembered that moment of revelation when I comprehended that my salvation was my son. I had kissed all of heaven and earth when I kissed those newborn lips that looked like mine. I remembered too the prophet in the temple speaking over me, “A sword shall pierce your own heart too.” The sword has pierced my heart, but it is all mysterious and mighty grace, because He Himself has been my Comforter. My Jesus whom I held to my heart for many years, the Son of God and Son of Man, sits at the right hand of God in heaven. It is finished. I will go to Him soon, I think, and I am eager to kiss his feet in worship and his face with a mother’s love. I do not know if the world will remember my name, for I am only Mary, simple and artless; but Jesus, my savior and my son, knows and loves me. I have always been only the handmaiden of my God.
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