Welcome back! Below is the next entry for Full of Grace, where Mary learns of her destiny. You can read the introduction here. And it is available for purchase if you prefer to read it all in one lump, as I haven’t decided yet if I am going to delete the previous postings. Note: the book has Hebrew words sprinkled in it. You can find a listing of them and their definitions here. The next post will be March 15. Enjoy.
“Thank you, Adonai, for making me according to your will.”
Mary listens as her mother, Anna, begins the Morning Prayer. She knows the words by heart because they had been taught to her when she was younger. These words offered her comfort in a G-d who made her a woman and gave her great binah. He had also given her a loving family and a hope for a future with a caring man. Despite their struggles as a people with the Roman goyem, she was grateful for her life and everything in it.
“Mary,” Anna says, calling her attention back to the present. “Finish.”
Mary straightens up and utters the words she had prayed for years: “I am available to you, Adonai, that I might be the mother of your Mashiac.”
“So be it,” Anna concludes.
“So be it,” Mary, Oprah and Kyla repeat.
They rise and begin their day. There are chores to be done and the morning meal to prepare before her father, Heli, and brother, Nathan, return from the Morning Blessing at the synagogue.
“Run to the well and get more water,” Anna asks of her, as she brings out the flour.
Mary obliges and grabs her shawl. She covers her hair and picks up the large, ceramic pot beside the door. Though the day has barely begun, the sun is already out in full force. Mary blinks and starts towards the well. It was a fifteen-minute walk there, past the homes and neighbors she had known her whole life. She strolls past a goat farm and into the field, where the well is located. It was dug in her grandparent’s generation and still flowed with water. She stops at the stony exterior of the well and sets her pot down. Her thoughts on the task-at-hand, Mary proceeds to fill it up with water, knowing it will not be enough to last the entire day. She will have to return.
“Hail, Mary, full of grace. You are blessed among all women.”
Mary stops, not just at the mention of her name, but at the sound of the voice: it is distinctly male, rich, deep and beautiful. She turns around and finds herself standing before a man, a very tall man. She cranes her neck to look up at him. His hair is the color of the sun and his skin as iridescent as jewels. He is dressed in a white robe and smiling at her. Unsettled by his appearance and the fact that he, a stranger, called her by her name, Mary backs up against the well. What kind of greeting is this, Mary wonders. Was he trying to flatter her? What did he want?
“Fear not, Mary: for you have found favor with Adonai,” the man reassures her.
She looks into his face. His features are…indescribable; he is neither Roman nor Jew. So, what then did that make him, especially with his talk of G-d?
“You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest: and the L-rd Adonai will give him the throne of his father David. And he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom, there will be no end.”
The words come out in a rush, filling Mary’s head with images of deliverance and prophecy. Then the magnitude of the stranger’s words dawn on her. She would be the mother of the Mashiac! Her heart beats wildly at the thought and she dares a smile. She had been chosen as the vessel of G-d’s salvation! Wasn’t that what she prayed for every morning? This was wondrous news, except…
“How can this be? I am still a virgin.”
He smiles at her, sending a wave of comfort and assurance over her.
“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you and the holy child born of you will be called the Son of Adonai,” he says. There is a joyful mirth in his voice as he speaks. “For the things which are impossible with men are possible with Adonai. Remember your relative, Elizabeth, who was called barren? She is now six months pregnant, though she is past the age of childbearing.”
Her heart testifies to the truth of the man’s words and she glares up at him in building excitement. It had been sometime since Mary last saw Elizabeth, but her struggle to bear children was well known. Now she was finally going to be a mother! Such good news for her family and her people!
But the man is quiet now, a pensive look on his face; he seems to wait on her. Then she understands why: though he had told her what would be, he was also asking her permission. It was her body the Mashiac would be born through—he needed her consent. G-d had never done anything that violated their freewill.
What of Joseph, though? What did this mean for him? Certainly if G-d was calling her, he was calling him as well. He wouldn’t hesitate to give his consent. After all, they all prayed for the Mashiac; it would be his honor as much as hers.
There is only one thing to say, then. Mary turns her gaze downward in a moment of reverence and says, “I am the L-rd’s servant. May it happen to me as you have said.”
Mary waits for a response but hears nothing. She looks up and sees she is alone.
* * *
Anna kneads the dough, listening to the chatter of her younger daughters as they play on the floor beside her. There was once a day when she thought she would remain barren, like her sister, but G-d had blessed her and now she was surrounded by family. She places the bread in a basket and tosses a warm cloth over it, so it can rise. Then she washes her hands in the bowl on the table and turns to her children.
“Can we eat now?” asks Kyra, the younger of the two.
Anna chuckles. The child rarely thought of anything but food.
“Come, let’s wash up,” she responds, taking her hand.
The door opens. Expecting Mary, Anna is surprised to see Heli and Nathan instead.
“Good morning, my love,” Heli says. He takes her by the waist and kisses her. Anna blushes, as the girls giggle and Nathan groans. “That’s what I wanted to hear,” he adds, smiling at his children’s responses. Releasing Anna to wash his hands, he looks around and asks, “Where’s Mary?”
“I don’t know. I sent her for water, but she hasn’t returned,” Anna replies, now concerned. Sentries who marched through Nazareth were known to stop and question the locals at times.
“We haven’t had any trouble with the Romans lately, but I’ll go look for her,” her husband says, trying to assuage her uncertainties, though it’s apparent he feels the same. He dries his hands and starts towards the door, as Mary enters, the water pot in her hands.
Relieved, Anna asks, “Where were you, child?”
Mary sets the pot down and responds, “At the well, as you asked.”
“Well, don’t take so long next time,” Anna advises, ushering her family to the table. Everyone follows her lead, except Mary, who remains standing near the door. She seems to want to say something.
“What is it?” Anna asks.
“There was a man at the well,” her daughter ventures.
“What man?” Heli interrupts. Anna hears the edge in his voice and knows he is ready to fight for the honor of his daughter.
“He was a malakh. He said the Mashiac was coming and I would be his mother.”
Silence falls over them. Anna glares at her daughter, unsure of what to think. Mary was never given to stories or wild imaginations, neither was she gullible, so what was this?
“A malakh?” Heli asks.
“He was very tall and brilliant, like the sun.” Mary lifts her hand high above her head to illustrate her words.
“He said he was a malakh?”
“Well, no, but he couldn’t have been anything else.”
“And he said that you would be the mother of the Mashiac,” Heli continues. “What about Joseph? Will he be the father?”
Mary shakes her head.
“The child will be from Adonai.”
All are silent again, even the little ones. Anna looks at Nathan, Oprah and Kyra, who are waiting at the table for the situation to be resolved; they seem to sense something isn’t right.
Anna closes the gap between them, Heli behind her.
“How will this be? How can you become pregnant without having relations with a man?” Her voice is considerably lower.
The mirth in Mary’s eyes disappears.
“He said the Holy Spirit will come on me and fill my womb with the son of Adonai,” Mary responds, meekly.
“That is blasphemy, Mary,” Heli advises, the edge back in his voice. He looks around, as though someone might hear them. “You are smart enough to know you ought not speak that way.”
“But you taught us to pray,” Mary pleads, turning to Anna, “’I am available to you, Adonai…’”
Anna wants to believe Mary. After all, this was her sensible, obedient child with a practical head on her shoulders. She had never been one for fantastic stories, so why was she telling them now? Did she not understand the implications of what she was embracing? Pregnant by the Holy Spirit? What would Joseph say? Or worse, his mother? If the woman found out, who would stop her from running to the priest? Mary would be stoned for adultery! Is that what G-d was asking of her? Of them? Anna would be guilty of disbelief if Mary was right, but He had been silent for so long, there was no way she could accept he had chosen her daughter, of all the maidens in Galilee, to bear the Mashiac?
“He even said Aunt Elizabeth is with child,” Mary adds quietly.
Anna had her answer. Laughing, she responds, “Elizabeth is past her child-bearing years. She could no more have a child than your abba could. And if she was pregnant, then she would have sent word, so we could rejoice with her and you know we haven’t heard from her. Really Mary, you can’t be this naïve, trusting the words of a complete stranger. You’re no longer a child, you’re fourteen. You need to act like the woman you’re expected to be. Now stop this nonsense and tell no one about it.”
With that, Anna ends the conversation and goes back to ushering her family to the table. Only the younger children follow, though. Heli remains standing, his eyes on Mary, whose face is downcast. The excitement is gone from her demeanor and, as much as it hurts Anna, she knows it is for the best.