Wednesday, January 12, 2011


“May I talk to you?”

She spoke quietly, her eyes mindful of a small embarrassment, her frail hand upon his elbow.

“Hannah.  Yes.  Come with me.”

He returned her softly spoken tone in kind.  He put a strong, old arm around her shoulder and led her to a quiet corner of the busy temple.

“What is it?”

No one took notice of her, but her self-consciousness lingered.

“Well, it’s… It’s been a difficult couple of months for Noah and me.”  Her nervousness gave her a plaintive smile.

“I know.” he said.  

Noah, her adult son, waited a short distance away.  He appeared to be counting something no one else could see.  He was nearly thirty years old, but his mind had remained somewhere in his tenth year.  Hannah was seldom seen without him in tow, holding his hand, caring for each detail of his necessarily ordered life.  She had steadfastly dedicated herself to his care, and, though most people assumed she was a widow, she had never married Noah’s father.  He’d left her crying before he’d even known he was a father.  Her penance was love, and she was glad of it.

“You know I love this community, I love to be here with Noah.  I always try to give what I can.”

“I know.” he said again.  He knew well the path this talk was taking.

“I want to give my offering, but I… I can’t afford any of the doves they’re selling.” Her voice quavered as she smiled again.  “It’s important to me, and I...”

“I know, Hannah.”  His voice was even, and warm.  “It’s alright.  I can get a turtle dove for you.  Don’t worry about it.”

“Thank-you.”  Her face flickered between smiles and persistent tears.  “Thank-you so much.”

He watched her join her son, watched her take Noah’s hand, and watched her kiss him on the cheek.  She tiptoed and put her forehead against his.

“I love you, Noah.”

“I love you, Mom!”

And the two walked on.

This was not the first time he had provided for Hannah, neither was this the first Hannah.  For years now, he had seen people like Hannah struggle to get by, to live day after day, year after year, faithful to their families, their church, their God, all the while living in poverty, under a system that crushed hope.  

He had earned a reputation as a friend of the poor, a teacher and a man of God quite unlike any other.  His knowledge of the scripture was unparalleled, having translated much of it from Hebrew.  Yet, for all his knowledge, he radiated humility and grace like a gently burning candle.  People were drawn to the inviting quiet of that flame.

Tonight, he sat on his bed and ran his fingers through his grey hair and sighed.  Pages from the writings of Isaiah lay next to him.  His fascination with the prophet had persisted for many years, and he had nearly memorized the entire book.  He knew it, quite literally, by heart.  That heart was drawn to Isaiah’s words like a song.  Isaiah spoke of the oppressed and the forgotten, of promise and redemption, of hope and freedom.  He closed his eyes and the words of the prophet came quietly to his mind.

Comfort, give comfort to my people.  Speak tenderly to Jerusalem.

He saw Hannah gently kissing Noah’s cheek.

“Come, Lord.” he whispered.  “Save us.  Comfort your people.  We need a Saviour.”

He saw Hannah walking next to her son, her hand upon his shoulder.

He sniffed, wiped the corners of his eyes, and ran his hand across his beard.  He became aware of the profound silence around him.  He noticed the sound of the flickering flame struggling against the candle’s wax.  Another phrase from Isaiah crept into his mind.

The virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and shall call him Immanuel.

He recalled how many days it had taken him to translate that line, so deceiving in its simplicity, and wondered again if he’d gotten the words just right.

You did.  You will see him while you live on this earth.  I promise this.

The voice did not come from anywhere but inside him, but it was so undeniably other that he instinctively looked around, searching for its source.  There was no one in the room, but he was not alone.  A shade of green, barely perceptible but apparent nonetheless, lingered like a rainbow’s mist, and everything seemed to be faintly glowing.  He could hear his heart beating within him, and the words seemed to repeat with each soft thud in his chest.  

I promise this.

The flame regained its strength.  The glow disappeared.  Quietly, he wept.


His favourite act of his priestly duties were the baby dedications.  When he held a child, he looked into his eyes, searching for something.  Often it seemed a voice had whispered into his ear, and he smiled as if a secret had been revealed.


Sustar said...

Thank God for the quiet, old men who still believe.

Fellow Traveler said...

EXCELLENT allusion to _Gilead_ here Aaron. I love the analogy to Simeon.