In Arms (Luke 1)

Posted on September 13, 2014

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He’s so light, thought the old man.

This stray thought amused him.  He had seen many babies in his life, had even held more than his share, and he could never remember thinking such a thing before now.  Yet there it was, as he accepted the child into his arms from his mother, this musing that bobbed on the surface of his mind.  Light.  He’s so very light.

Around them the temple was alive with the daily work of religion. Priests scurried up and down the hallways, their robe hems kicking up dust as they swished along the floor. Rabbis crowded in groups and debated points of theology with each other. Turtledoves and pigeons burbled in their cages, awaiting sale to families too poor to bring their own sacrifices, as this child’s family clearly was.

The child’s eyes roved between the world and his new friend, equal parts stirred by the activity and indifferent to it. He was healthy, pink with life, and his hands waved through the air with an idle curiosity, as if equally content to touch either something or nothing. The old man brought a hand behind the child’s head, his fingers curling as if to pray.   He tickled the child’s face with his beard whiskers, and they both smiled.

The baby snuffled and sneezed, drawing its tiny fists to its chest in a momentary spasm. The old man laughed in spite of himself, and he felt at once the goodness of it, how right it felt for this moment of reverence and awe to be punctured by a simple burst of joy.

This was the old man’s place, this temple. It was a part of his life, and yet also another life entirely. He knew so much of it by memory. He had found the best grooves in the floor to sit in comfort and pray, lost and found his way and gotten lost again in its winding hallways, had overheard every tiresome religious debate until he could argue both sides himself.  He knew each priest by name- the ones that respected him, the ones that despised him, even the ones that thought he was crazy.

He remembered the old words that had come to him, the promise that he would live to see this child- how it had flickered inside of him like a dying fire, had glowed for so much of his life that he no longer knew himself without it.  How he had kept it burning night after night like a watchman until today, when the words came to him again, took his hand like an old friend, and walked him to the temple.

He looked away from the child and turned to the child’s mother. She smiled and pressed her smooth hands together in a nervous embrace. He saw the light of new motherhood radiating from her eyes and recognized their bond. Here, among all people in all the world, only they had experienced hope to such depth. Only they had carried it inside of them, felt it kick and squirm within them, spent sleepless nights imagining the shape of it, each day longer than the next until they could barely wait to meet it face-to-face.

And now this promise, this hope, was in his arms. He could feel the child’s weight now, sagging into the old man’s spindle arms with satisfying pressure, and he rocked the child gently.  The lightness was giving way to heaviness, like the child was being born yet again amid the folds of the old man’s garment, settling once and for all into this world, as if until this moment half of him had been somewhere else.

As the child grew heavier the old man felt himself getting lighter.  He looked once more at the child’s mother and moved to hand the child back.  A bittersweet joy descended on him.  After this the fire would go out.  The words would take his hand, again lead him as old friends do, but only once more.  Already he heard whispers from nowhere, like breath over embers.  You’re so light.

(Luke 1)

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