Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Messages from a wax tablet

Some notes written on a wax tablet, which had to be erased regularly to make space for the next note.

- I can't speak.

- I've noticed that! Did you lose your voice on the walk back from Jerusalem?

- No, I lost it before I started the walk back.

- Have you tried honey?

- It's not that kind of lost voice. What are you saying? Write it down!

- Are you deaf too?

- Yes, it seems so. Liz, wait. Don't cry.

- I don't understand. What has happened? Are you sick? Did you catch cold at the temple? Or is it more serious?

- Sit down. I have some news.

- Are you going to write everything like this? This is taking a long time.

- I've thought of that. I have written a letter with the full description of what I saw.

- What you saw?

- I need to explain something first, before I give you the letter.

- All right.

- At the temple, I drew the lot for the ceremony of incense. I was in the holy place. Liz? Come back! Don't forget I can't hear you!

- Sorry - I was excited! Zach, that's wonderful news, congratulations! You have been waiting all your life to do that! I wish you could tell me what it was like!

- I will! It's all in the letter! Liz, sit down again, there is more. While I was at the altar of incense, I saw a vision. God's angel spoke to me.

- !!!!!!!

- I know what you must be thinking, but Liz, my love, BE CAREFUL. Don't react to what I am about to tell you. Don't say anything foolish, as I did. That's the reason I can't speak or hear.

- In what way foolish? What did you say?

- The angel gave me some news that I found very difficult to believe, and I asked him for proof.

- You answered him back? An angel? In the sanctuary?!

- I know, I know. Liz, it's very difficult to explain. It's all in the letter.

- You could have been killed! So after you asked for proof, the angel struck you with this disease?

- It isn't a disease. This is the proof. God is good. He gave me what I asked for.

- This is proof? Proof of what?

- The angel said that I will not be able to speak again until I see the thing he told me come to pass. So be very careful, Liz, when I tell you what God's message was. The proof has already been given. We don't want two people in this house to be unable to speak for that length of time.

- For what length of time?

- About 9 months.

- WHAT?!?! Why are you grinning like that? Zach, don't tease me. What have you done? I can see that you are waiting for something to dawn on me, but I'm coming to some very unpleasant conclusions. Are you saying that you are going to have a child? Who have you met up with in Jerusalem when you should have been at the temple?

- No, my darling wife! Wipe your eyes! I am not going to have a child.

- Well, that's a relief.

- WE are going to have a child.



...Write something?

- What should I write? You told me to be careful.

- Don't you believe me? Think of Hannah. Think of Abraham and Sarah. Have we not always said to each other that God always has a good reason for preventing a couple from having children?

- I love you, and I trust you. I know you wouldn't say this to hurt me, and I know you know it's not funny. I'm waiting to hear your double meaning.

- I have no double meaning. The angel told me that we will have a son. I didn't believe it either, and I now can't talk as a result. I couldn't pronounce the blessing when I came out of the temple, and I couldn't tell anybody the news, until you. I'm telling you the truth - this is what God said.

- A son?

- Yes, a son, a boy, just as we've always dreamed. His name will be John.

- John? That's not even your name!

- I know, but that's what I was instructed to name him. It means 'God is gracious', and He is. He has been - He will be.

- Zach, I know the story of Abraham and Sarah, but we live in very different times now. Miracles don't happen any more. You and I both know that I am far, far, far too old for this to be true. It isn't physically possible. And even if it were, by some divine means, possible for me to conceive, can you imagine the strain of pregnancy on a body this age? Or the stress of giving birth? I thought that you and I had made our peace with being barren. I thought that all those years of tears and frustration and waiting and being disappointed over and over again, and all those years of praying and pleading and sacrificing, and all those years of explaining ourselves to neighbours and family and having to accept their stupid, uncomprehending sympathy while visiting houses packed to the brim with other people's children - I thought that those years ended when we discovered, at last, that there was no point in hoping any more. It was such a relief, wasn't it, when I reached that stage of life when my week of impurity was no longer something to be feared? You're not going to make me go through it all again, are you? Are you?

- There will be no wax left on this slate, Elizabeth, if you carry on like that.

- I'm sorry. I'm not trying to upset you, Zach. I suppose I'm just surprised, after all these years, that you've brought up this subject again. Don't you see what I mean?

- What do you mean? That God doesn't exist any more? That my family line, my priesthood, serves a fiction? Have you and I served a fictional God for our whole marriage?

- No!

- What, then? Presented with the evidence of a deaf and dumb husband, how can you write that miracles no longer happen? Or is it that you have come to believe that God's only actions are cruel ones?

- Look, Zach, which incense offering was it?

- The evening one, on the first day of the week.

- Well, all I'm saying is...isn't it possible that after a long day, the excitement and wonder of entering the holy place for the only time in your life, combined with nerves about performing the ceremony and the headiness of being so close to the incense - all experiences you have never had before - may have made you imagine a brightness in the haze of the smoke, perhaps a reflection of the gold on the altar, that you took to be an angel? And couldn't that experience of such a unique, holy and important moment of your life have caused you to remember other moments of high emotion in your life, and made those old hopes and dreams from our marriage come flooding back? If that happened, in a moment of heightened emotion and alone in such a holy place, I can understand perfectly how you could have felt that God was promising you a miracle. I have felt it so often myself - watching the sun come up over the hills, or washing in a clear mountain stream, or seeing a rainbow after a summer storm. So many times, over the years, I thought I heard God speak comfort and give promises, but nothing ever came of those moments except God's peace. Couldn't that be what happened to you?

- I don't know, Elizabeth. I don't think so, myself, but then I forget that I haven't yet been able to tell you about my vision. You will need to read my letter, and make up your mind for yourself after that.

- Very well, I will. Give me the letter to read.

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