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Thoroughly Alive

We must hunger after the beautiful and the good...

 

A Peek

Today I bring you... a peek into the new book! The basic gist of the thing is that I wanted to tell the stories of women who were heroines in the Bible. But I also wanted to give the truth "scope" as one writer character so neatly put it. Sometimes I think we idealize women like Mary or Esther to the point of impossible sainthood, when they were really just workaday women with hopes and hurts and long-hidden dreams. The miracle was that they offered the whole of their hearts to the living God, and he is always waiting for just that to begin a grand old story in any girl's life. So, tell me what you think (the editing is ongoing!) and enjoy the first bit...

Her name was Mary.

Martha's sister some called her, but she didn't mind so much. At least not now. For many years the name was a thorn that grew near her heart and pricked each time she heard it. Mary was of the dreamer's race, a hushed woman whose inner vim gleamed only in her eyes. Words came slow to her lips, but gentleness swift to her hands. The children knew Mary, and came always away from Martha's hushed sister with brighter faces. At those times, she spun through the house with "her head in the clouds," as Martha was known to say. Yet few stopped long enough to see the soul that looked out of her face. None saw the hungers and pent up loves that pooled so silently in her eyes.

Martha was the one that everyone saw. Martha, whose whirlwind drew all she encountered into her ever-quickening spin. Martha - the bright and opinionated, Martha, the friendly and amusing. Martha whose plans spun a web of minutes that captured Mary's days. Mary never refused the help or time Martha assumed was offered. But sometimes when she walked in twilight to the well, heard those words, "Martha's sister,” as if she, Mary, had no name, no soul to be known and loved, she felt like a ghost. As time marched on, she wondered if any would ever know her heart.

Until the sunny market day when one pair of eyes set themselves upon her and she was seen. Not simply looked upon, but known. There was no other word for that one man's gaze upon her, the gentle insistence of his eyes, as they held her own and found the secrets she hid within them. He had seen her even amidst a crowd, singled her out with his care, and the love she bore him was absolute.

Down to the market the sisters had gone on that sharp spring morning, Martha's step like a soldier’s march, her cloak in commanding swirl. Merchants cringed at sight of Martha; her skill in the art of the bargain was legendary, and she forayed into the fray of vegetables, fruit, and raised voices with relish. Mary walked always a little behind with the basket. The sun rose hot and swift that day, and when they reached the final stall on their rounds, Mary sighed. The war of the flowers, as she secretly named it, was nigh. Martha insisted that no handful of field lilies ought to cost more than copper, while the flower-woman, Ruth, insisted they were worth at least three. Wits and words were flung to astonishing lengths in this weekly fight, so Mary set the basket down and stretched the stiffness out of her back.

She glanced up the street; the narrow, dirt alley whirred with market-day color. At the farthest end, she glimpsed the cool, blue corners near the synagogue. Damp, and strangely sweet the air down there; she glanced again with longing eyes. Martha was deep in the heat of her battle now. Mary backed a step away and took one step, another; she would be back before Martha knew she was gone.

She walked slowly at first, running her fingers along the cool silks and scratchy weaves in admiration, her eyes hungry and glad for the hues of mounded fruits and bunched flowers. Alone now, she remembered to glance up, her timid eyes catching the eager gaze of the merchants with their quick, broad smiles. One old woman caught her shy smile and pressed a flower into her hand. Mary could not help a small grin as she ambled on.

Finally, she reached the shadows. Their hush fell over her flushed face and robed her in their cool as she leaned against the stones of the synagogue. How good to be still, enveloped in calm. Gradually, she heard the buzz on the other side of the stones and her curiosity drove her to creep up near the entrance and set her ear to the shadows inside. She loved to listen to the Rabbi discuss the Torah with his disciples, loved the mystery that lingered in the words of the prophets. These were the words of the God who had made her. At those times she felt that perhaps he saw her, even if no one else did.

But today, the clamor inside chased away the usual hush. A feverish tone heightened the voices of the young men, while conversations buzzed low in countless whispers among the men huddled in small groups outside the synagogue door. And through it all thrummed a single voice, low, rich, sometimes calm, sometimes eager. The whispers burst out anew after every word. She did not recognize the voice and hovered nearer, hoping to catch few words.

"No, no, you have it wrong," she heard the voice exclaim, "the law is not God. God is love, and he has so loved his people that he has sent his son to do what the law cannot; save you from your sin. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of Love."

The sharp breath escaped her before she could stop it. God as the love for which all people longed? The thought of it stirred her lonely heart, stirred the quiet depths of yearning she hid in her silence and she could not turn away. The group was breaking up for the midday meal, the young men and rabbis pouring out of the shadows into the light of noon. Mary pulled back and drew her shawl close as they passed her. But she would not move or return to her proper place with Martha and the village women until she had seen the owner of that voice. The voice that said God was love... she flinched as her brother came out the door and saw her.

Lazarus stared for an instant, his lean, young face confused. He frowned; it wasn't proper for Mary to lurk around doors like that. Why did his gentle sister linger among the men? His eyes shot puzzled, if gentle, irritation at his usually docile sister. As men poured out of the synagogue, he nodded toward the market, where Martha's sturdy figure was plainly visible. Mary shook her head and averted her eyes as the last of the crowd came out. Lazarus stepped forward, but then, there he was.

She knew him immediately. Only that face, firm, yet lined with compassion, only those eyes, brown and friendly, could have owned the gentle voice. She stared, unaware of the others, unable to move. He was talking with a young man whose eyes blazed with argument, but he said a final word, put a hand of peace of the man’s shoulder and turned. In that instant he found her eyes as if he had been expecting to see only her, and they were filled with something that puzzled and gladdened her heart: welcome.

"Ah Rabbi," said Lazarus, plainly miffed at Mary's boldness and feeling pressed to explain her presence, "this is my sister,"

"Mary."

The teacher spoke her name in harmony with Lazarus, but she only heard the rabbi's voice. For he saw her. He knew her. Not just her name, but all of her. In the split second instant of his glance she knew that he saw everything: the un-given love she hoarded within her, the ache she felt at being forgotten. He saw the deep hush of her need, and yet saw too the strength, the beauty that dwelt in her quiet. He saw the music that danced in her thought, and the love she bore the children. He saw and knew and somehow, healed. For an instant, the whirl of the sun was halted. And when it began again, she was known and would never be forgotten again.

"Master," she said, forgetting her quiet, the single word laden with her joy. "I have always wanted to meet you."

"Then come," he said, to the half-scandalized eyes of the men around him, "follow me. After all, we are going to your home." She had. Ignoring the eyes of her brother and the men that clamored round him. She pushed back Martha's glare as she rushed up, astonished, her cloak in a billow behind her, lilies clutched to her heart in triumph. Up the streets, up all the old ways of her life, she followed this man, her master into the cool of her own home. He shared their meal and sat at the table, talking the whole afternoon and into the night. She listened. And knew. And loved beyond what she had ever thought she could.

And now she was Mary. Sweet yes, and still quiet. Still Martha's sister. But a changed Mary nonetheless who walked the evening street with an easy gait that caught the smiles of the last market women and glances of the young merchants as they packed their wares and headed home. She was loved, known, the heart of her held and it changed the very way she looked upon the world about her. A month had passed since that day in the market when she had met the rabbi Jesus...

To be continued...