Saturday, November 03, 2012

Beauty for ashes

There is a place you find yourself in when it has all been too much, when the worst has happened and yet you are still breathing. The ritual wailing of the mourners had already started, but inside her head there was an empty silence, reverberating only with hopelessness. There was no life left in her except the basic, inexorable functions of a body she no longer fully inhabited. She did not even feel the tears that trickled helplessly down her face, but the mourners did, and it worried them far more than a dramatic exhibition of grief.

She knew, though she feared the sin of saying it, that she did not want to live in a world that did not contain her daughter. All during the girl’s short illness she had bargained and pleaded with God to spare the child, but the girl was dead. She might as well have been asking favours of the rocks and stones.

She had even sent her husband off to seek the Healer, who was supposed to be in the town, but it was too late. The girl was dead – and those words, however they were weighed and turned, bore down on her with their crushing weight. Her only child, her love and her joy, was gone from the world, and all the lights had been turned out. She wondered, heavily and drearily, in the wasteland beyond passion, if God really cared for mothers, or daughters at all. Perhaps He only answered prayers for sons?

There was a commotion at the door: her husband was back with the Healer. Why were they bothering? It was too late -- everything was too late. Even the unvoiced thoughts tasted like ash in the back of her throat. She heard the Healer rebuking the mourners, crazily saying that the child was still asleep. Did He think they were naive children, who could not tell the difference between sleep and death? The sudden silence made her ache; she realised that their wailing had actually help her detach from the pain. Now the bitter knife was twisting afresh in her own heart.

The Healer shooed the mourners away and entered the room with just a few people. She shrank back into the shadows, unable to deal with this intrusion. She felt as if this was a charade for someone else’s benefit, but a cruel mockery of her grief. But his keen eyes sought her where she hid, and smiled with such gentle understanding that she had to take notice.  There was no mockery in Him at all.

He moved to the bed where the child lay, and took her by the hand, and spoke. “Little girl, I say unto you arise!” The voice was soft, and incredibly tender, but He spoke with such authority that, in that moment, she had no trouble believing that death itself would have to obey Him. And immediately the child arose, got up and walked around.

What do you do when you stand in the middle of a miracle? She was dazed, stunned as her world revolved into a new position. Was this real? Could this be? Can the dead be restored to life? Does God answer the prayers of an ordinary woman? Who was this Healer, and, if He really did have the power of God, why should He come into her house? She was afraid to move, to touch her child, for fear the miracle should dissolve and the agony return.

But the Healer noticed and spoke again. “Give her something to eat,” He said. And her world, this new, wonderful world full of hope and promise and gladness, turned right way up again, and she turned towards the kitchen.

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