The hawk

This morning, I watched the chicks scuttle around outside the door.  Their mother was there, of course. Watchful, but not intruding. Because they were quite big now. That gawky, half-feathered stage. And they had no idea that they were gawky, half feathered. They thought they were adult. As we had thought ourselves grown up. Yet it was only the mother hen who saw the circling hawk. Squawked, then they all had to dash for cover and for her.

This is the anniversary, then.  You could never forget it, and it is forever pegged to Passover, to the run-up to Passover. The time just before the frantic clean-up. The time when all kinds of hope and fear and memory grow out of proportion.

I remember a very young Mary, all righteousness and fervour. A slightly sullen Martha, the insult about not remembering, no, not choosing the best thing as yet not wholly forgotten or forgiven. A very very young Lazarus, still a boy really.

I remember my fury with Jesus for not saving Laz, the worse because he had saved so many others, not dear to me at all. Martha being even more sullen. And Laz, well, Laz as a burden on our hearts, as a huge pain somewhere about my diaphragm.

Then, Jesus arriving, and his sitting weeping. And if he had been Laz, I could have gathered him in my arms, but of course I could not. Not touch him. A man and a rabbi and no blood relation at all. And to be honest, I only wanted to comfort him so much, and no more.  Yet I felt for him some, and at last, I said “I am sorry. I am sorry that I thought you did not care.” And his lifting blurred eyes to me, and looking at me as if what I said did not even make the most formal sense. As if there would never be comfort in the world for him again.

Then the amazing trip to the tombside. Jesus standing sobbing again. And the words, and Laz staggering out, and the amazement as the smell fell off with the bandages, and the joy.

And a few days later, the dinner. The men all lying dining, Laz one of them. The joy was still flooding me. Because now it was all over. Lazarus was not just alive, but well. He lay at table with the others, taking his place as a man among men. And the women all serving, so gladly. And then my knowing I wanted to do something more, something special.

Fetching the most valuable thing I had. That pot of nard. Breaking it open. Scent and gladness. And pouring it over Jesus’s feet, because I could never do enough. It was not enough to pour it on his head. His very feet were holy.

Oh yes, I saw the looks, heard the muttering, knew using my hair was so so shocking. I did it to shock, if you have been wondering. Rejoiced in the looks.

And now, I sit in the doorway, and look at the chicken and the hawk. I never saw the hawk. But ever since that Passover, I have known how I helped to draw the hawk down on Jesus.

Now, I am an old woman. Astonishing. I creak when I sit in the doorway. I creak when I rise up from sitting, too. And I sit and think. So. This. It does not matter that I drew the hawk down with a lure as men do. Because there is a price for everything. The love of man and woman brings the child. Brings labour and pain and blood and, if you are lucky, brings a live child. And the child brings pain, too. And grows, and brings more pain. I remember one of Jesus’s stories, and I think of a rich man, so desperate for his son’s love, he would lose his dignity and run to greet him.

I am making a bad job of this. I don’t know how it all works, not really. But I do know that lies, and cruelty and misery and the rich paying a pittance for the work of the poor, and the poor always hungry and desperate – I know these things have to be both forgiven and also put right. I remember the song Jesus’s mother had made, and taught us.

That is what brings the hawk. Every time you put the big ones out of their seats. Every time you fill the poor with good things. And now I realise that when Jesus raised my brother, he chose to call the hawk down on himself. He alone was the grown-up that day. And in all our wild joy, we did not see the cost of what he did. He did not weep for Lazarus dead. He wept for Lazarus living.


Poor old bird

He sat in the shade, wearing the expression we had come to call his ‘teacher with a stupid class’ look. He was looking at once cynical, exasperated and pained. Some child had said something exceptionally idiotic, and probably the naughtiest boy in the class had just farted. We had thought he might be wearing his ‘father getting ready for a wedding when everything is going wrong’ expression because a bunch of reasonably well-intentioned sympathisers had turned up explaining Herod had him in his sights again. This was not long after John … well, bit the dust. Though, to be fair, it was a merciful death. But …

Best just to sit quiet and not exasperate him. Finally, he burst out laughing in that wholly unexpected way of his.

“I’m an old mother hen. Look at me.”

And he got up and scuttled around, his arms crooked and flapping like ineffectual wings.

“Oh my chicks, my chicks, come to me, huddle under my wings. But of course, you won’t.”He snuck up beside James, and cocked a pretend wing over him, clucking furiously. James caught the game, and shot off. Then, grown men though we were, we played some kind of tig in the dust. Hopelessly undignified, and unsuitable. A thing no grown man should ever do. He had that effect on you.

In the end, he stopped laughing, and sat down.

“I long to gather you all, but you won’t. I am a foolish old bird.”

He looked so sad.

Forty 1

The heel of a loaf. The last loaf. Crumbs. And crumbs on the ground. Ants, busier, hungrier. And then columns, crowds. Hungry, hungry. So hard to give crumbs, to get crumbs. Give bread. Get crowds. Get attention. So hungry now.

Mary of Bethany remembers the parable of the bridesmaids

The thing I liked most about him was that he did not make me feel like a woman. He did not make me feel like a man, either. He made me feel like myself. When I took my place among the disciples, the male disciples, sitting there to learn from him, he treated me just like them. Hopeful of me, exasperated with me. But never by a look or a word did he suggest I was – well I was just another disciple.

In a way, that was odd, because he told so many stories that were about women, or where his Father was like a woman, or his Kingdom was like a woman. Like the bridesmaids story, where the only thing that mattered was having oil.

We got his mother back, somehow. Between us. We got her to drink a little water. We got her to bed. I made some food, and some of them pretended to eat some of it.

Now they are in bed, and are pretending to sleep. And I am sitting here, alone. Grief is not a stranger to me. I have buried both my parents, and my brother. Remembering that, remembering how – I am shaking as I sit here, now that I can be alone, and nobody is depending on me any more. This is beyond normal grief, because this is not just his death but the death of every hope, every expectation for my life and the lives of us all.

I run through the bridesmaids story again. I think I have it word perfect. Once he has worked his stories up, he did not change them much. I am filled with fury. Against the Jewish establishment, against the Romans, against him. There is a little lamp burning. I put out the light. I drain the lamp. I take the week’s supply of oil, needed for al sorts of things, and I drain it in the corner of the courtyard. Then, I pick up the lamp and smash it.

Despite all of this, there is a great aching desire to see his dear face just once more. On Sunday, in the first light of morning, I will go and anoint his body – again. He will smell by then, but I do not care. I must see him just once again, and say good-bye properly. although the world is dark, and I will not do a single thing he ever suggested, although I am furious that he raised and dashed so many hopes, I must see him just once more.

Learning to judge

The flocks were headed back to the fold for the night, straggling though they followed their leader, quite a young lad. It was rather different to the eager way they bounced out in the morning, after having been milked. All of them lop eared, with pronounced noses.

We were sitting out in the cool of evening, catching our breath after a hard day of it. I loved these quiet evenings when it was just us best, though the days were more exciting. But in the evenings, when it was cool, and Jesus was unwinding – that was when he would teach us most, I thought.

‘The sheep and goats know which is which,’ said Jesus lazily, watching them peel off into the right fold. The shepherds separated the lambs out, keeping them apart so they could milk the adults in the mornings. They knew the routine and went with few protests. The adults plodded into their folds. At a distance, it was no always obvious to us which the goats were, which the sheep, but they all knew.

‘There you go,’ said Jesus, the lashes once again sweeping down, ‘the judgement you have always wanted. Sheep and goats divided. It seems they judge themselves.’

We shot each other glances. Jesus had been having a bash at ‘not judging others’ and ‘being forgiving’ that day and we were not as convinced as we might have been. We said little but he knew of course. He always knew.

‘So do we judge ourselves?’ asked Andrew, ‘Because I think the shepherd is really the one who decides.’

‘Um,’ said Jesus, ‘Right, you lot, all jump up. Go on, go on!’

Somewhat reluctantly we heaved ourselves up and stood there looking, well looking sheepish.

‘Right,’ he said, ‘All of you who have ever given a thirsty friend, or a beggar, a cup of water, go to the right. You are, lets see, you are the sheep.’

That was easy, we all straggled off to the right. ‘O.K.,’ said Jesus, ‘All of you who ever at any time passed by a beggar who looked thirsty and did not buy a drink, go to the left. You are goats.’ We eyed each other. Of course we had all, at some time, gone past a beggar and given nothing. We all straggled embarrassed to the left.

‘OK,’ says Jesus, ‘Now let us try with the sick. Who has gone to help a sick friend? Who has avoided helping.’ He kept us at it for ages, straggling right, straggling left. Remarkable, Judas once made it as simply a good sheep. He had had friends banged up on suspicion of insurrection, and never failed to visit despite the risk to himself. Every other category we always found ourselves both sheep and goats.

In the end he let us sink down and rest. By now the flocks were settling down for the night safe in pens.

‘People are not quite so easily categorised,’ said Jesus, ‘I do believe in judgement, but you have to learn to judge yourselves. Really, what matters is not simply getting it right (well done Judas, by the way! The only one to be just a sheep in any category).’ Judas gave an ironic little bow. ‘No, what matters is – learning what matters. Seeing clearly what needs to be done, and trying to do it. Keeping your priorities. Because, really sheep and goats are very alike. But what to do, how to live, that is where the difference is.’