About wonderfulexchange

Kimberly Bohan is a priest in the Diocese of Lincoln, less surprised by angels than by being so far south.

do you remember?

They sat embroidering the stars.  Mary stitched the proud satisfaction of the Eastern Star while Sophia scattered light across the cloak in memory of the one who had taught her to leap.

It embarrassed Mary, sometimes, being clad in the stars. But it was an act of remembrance that brought hope and courage to those who had seen enough of darkness.

Sophia watched as Mary’s hand slipped and the needle pierced her finger. All over the cloak the blood hid beneath the starlight.

‘Do you remember that night?’ Sophia asked her.
Mary looked bewildered, then realised that Sophia meant birth, not death.
‘Do you?’ Mary asked pointedly.

It was always a matter of confusion for her: just what did Sophia remember? What had that little child known, as he burst into the world to fulfill every Godly dream?

Sophia thought about it. As Christ: yes. She remembered. She remembered what it was like for God to create a space for all creation — to create a space between Word and Wisdom so that she could enter wordless to the womb. She could still feel the power of it — God holding back and holding back so that the boy could grow freely until he realised that in the fullness of his humanity, he was the Word of God.

But the birth, the stable? Through Jesus’ eyes: no. Later, when they visited Joseph’s family, Joseph told the story: “It was there, son: in the stable.  We were so tired and so afraid. But the animals kept us warm and once the angels came we forgot our fears.”  Jesus remembered the stable: the old ox who snuffled at his ear, and the donkey who nibbled his cloak.  He remembered too the shimmering of the place — the sawdust glimmering gold in the sunlight, as Zadkiel forgot to hide himself, and Jesus saw him for the first time.

“I remember some of it.” Sophia said at last. “I remember what I learned — what you and Joseph taught me.”

“And I remember what I learned — what you taught me,” the Old Man said gruffly, as he entered the room to bring an end to their sewing. “Come with me now. Jophiel has a new Gloria. He’s very excited about it. He seems to think he’s voiced the scent of roses.”

Mary felt God gathering as Sophia laughed. She took up the stars, and they went together to hear the angels sing.

unlikely friends

Joseph paced across the floor, stirring the sawdust and getting ever more irate.  He stopped and tried again to carve the toy, but the knife slipped and his hand bled as he threw the wood to the floor.

“I just don’t understand. Why can’t you come with us?”

Gabriel stood calmly in the door, his wings folded into the small space. He waited for Joseph’s fury to pass, then went to his side.

“Do you remember the first time we met?” Gabriel asked.
“Well I’m not likely to forget, am I?”
“You were pretty angry then too.”
“With every right! Mary — pregnant. And she could give no explanation but that an angel came. That God had chosen her. On and on she went: ‘He was lovely, Joseph. So gentle, Joseph. My world filled with light, and his wing brushed my face, and I knew what I must do.’ Gentle, my foot. You came in here blazing. More furious than I was.”

Gabriel shrugged. “I needed to get your attention. I seem to remember it took three minutes for you to listen — for you to stop throwing things at me.”

Joseph began to protest — but then he could picture a block of wood shattering into shavings as it hit the angel’s wing. He laughed at the memory of it. Joseph laughed until he cried.

Gabriel brought out things in him that others didn’t see.

After a few minutes, he calmed down.
“All right. I grant: I was in a bad mood that day.”

Gabriel smiled. “You were. But that’s the point. We can stand here like this because you are not afraid of me. I have been able to come to you, to be with you during Mary’s pregnancy because you know who I am, and you are not afraid.”

“No. It was good to finally meet someone more angry than I was. More sure he was right, too.” Gabriel bowed in acknowledgement.

“So, why can’t you come?”
“Because most people don’t warm to angels who blaze in fury. My presence will not make your journey easier.”
“Couldn’t you come as you do to Mary?” Joseph said, cajolingly, “all gentleness and light?”

Now it was Gabriel’s turn to laugh. “For Mary, yes. For Sophia, if need be. But when you are on the road to Bethlehem and people push you and gossip about you, deride Mary and block the door– can you imagine me being gentle then?” Gabriel’s wings shuddered.

Joseph nodded. He could see that Gabriel might not be a helpful travelling companion on this particular journey

“So, we have to go alone?”
“Yes. You have to go alone. I know it doesn’t seem to make sense, but it has to happen this way. Your risk must echo God’s own.”

“But you say an other angel will appear — when he comes?”
“Yes — the child will never be alone.”

Joseph looked relieved and picked up the almost-finished toy.
“So, Mary gets a gentle angel, Jesus gets a faithful one, and I get you?”
“Yes, that’s right.  You get me.”

Gabriel and Joseph eyed each other, and then took hands.
They knew they deserved each other, really, and were glad to meet their match.

Maker of Dreams

In the mysterious season of Advent,
when time turns on its tail,
today’s post precedes yesterday’s
in story, if not in fact.

The tree grew in his mind: a tall straight stem from Jesse, with branches that curled up and out, offering blossom and leaf and fruit. And there, on every branch, the people of Israel were at rest. Solomon leaned back and admired the straight lines of the temple. Ruth and Boaz dangled their feet from a limb and sorted a lapful of grain. David played the harp as the birds sung in unending praise. And there — at the very top– Zechariah saw his own dear Elizabeth, laughing with Mary and tending the buds of the tree.

Zechariah startled, and woke himself with a snort. Strange dream. No sense in it. What was Jesse doing, lying on the ground? But somehow it felt right, the beauty and wonder and joy.

Zechariah rolled over and pulled the blanket up as Ramiel went back to work.

The angel sat in the corner watching the old man. Mustn’t start too soon. Let sleep reclaim him. Ramiel sketched a leaf that tumbled to the ground and fell onto a wide straight road. Zechariah settled down as the road rose before him. Ramiel sketched faster and soon there was a riot of people, dancing towards the temple in anticipation and joy. Ah, Zechariah liked this dream. This made sense to him. And sure enough, as he pushed his way to the front of the crowd, he could see his son – his long awaited child. Zachariah dreamed not of the child who would soon be born, but of a grown man: called from birth to prepare the way of the Lord.

Ramiel drew very carefully now. Zechariah’s hopes were full of the images of the temple — so Ramiel let it be. He drew the gleaming white walls in the distance. He allowed Zechariah to dress his son in finely woven robes. Ramiel adorned the dreamt-of-John with the cloak of righteousness. He filled the path they walked on with amber and gold.

Zechariah watched as the people gathered around his son. Ramiel sketched in a leper, a servant girl, and a sage just to see if Zechariah would notice. Zechariah stirred uneasily, but soon refocused on the majesty of his son. Ramiel flipped his pencil and brushed away some of John’s beauty.

Gabriel stood over Ramiel, watching the drawings unfold. “Finally! You let that little fantasy run on long enough.”

Ramiel looked at him briefly. “Don’t worry — the road will fork up ahead. But he’s had a hard time since you silenced him. He deserves a few minutes of fatherly pride. Besides: Jophiel thinks that if we let him dream, he may give us a song.”

Gabriel looked wary. He hated it when Ramiel and Jophiel got together — there was just too much attention to beauty, and an occasional disregard for truth.

Zechariah went on dreaming. He saw the crowd gather around John as he promised fogiveness and Christ to come. Zechariah sighed in deep satisfaction. Ramiel spotted his cue. He picked up a new lead — softer and darker. He sketched quickly: a landscape of darkness; a covering of cloud. His hand danced back to John’s cloak and he tore a bit off while Zechariah wasn’t looking. He lengthened John’s hair and muddied the crowd. Zechariah walked on, entranced with the thought of his blessed son.

Ramiel sketched out the wilderness, the river, the hard places of human life — and then he went back, and set his hand to the road. The road that led straight to the temple — the road of Zechariah’s dreams. Ramiel looked carefully at it, and admired its beauty. He too wished for glory — wished that the way to God was paved with gold.

He turned to Gabriel and saw the pain in his face. Gabriel more than anyone knew the risk God was taking — the grief that lie ahead.

Ramiel took his sharpest lead and made the road turn. The crowds moved into darkness, into a wilderness of sin. Zechariah felt the shift, and was bewildered: surely this isn’t right. This is not where we are supposed to go.

“That’s enough.” Gabriel said. “Stop there if you want your song.”
Ramiel smiled at Gabriel’s sudden generosity. The truth is, Gabriel preferred glory too.

Ramiel reached for a brush and dipped it in crimson and gold. He scattered light across the wilderness and let the dawn break. Zechariah caught a glimpse of radiance, then woke to Elizabeth’s cry.

Soon, his son would be born.

“Well done.” Gabriel said to Ramiel. “You should get your song. But John won’t be like that, and Zechariah isn’t ready. Have you planned the next dream?”

Ramiel bent down and lifted a scroll from the floor. As it fell open, Gabriel saw locust after shiny locust in spotty-winged splendour.

“Oh yes. I have planned the dream.”
Gabriel bowed and withdrew as Ramiel began to draw the bees.

Ready now?

‘Come look at this,’ Gabriel called to God.

Sophia had just reached up to push a branch aside, and was leaning far, far into the tree to get a better look into the garden.  She was filled with energy and frustration: it was time, and she wanted to get this done.

They watched as the branch snapped and Sophia crashed to the ground.
“Silence is not her forte, is it?”  Gabriel laughed.
“Oh, she likes it well enough — so long as it’s hers to break.”

As Sophia got up and dusted herself off, she saw them there, watching her.
She sent the most scathing of looks.

Sophia was not used to feeling helpless, and she didn’t like it at all.
God drew alongside her — apart and as one.
“How long have you been watching her?”
“Since the light fell on the dew. One moment she’s laughing and dancing.  Next, she’s as still as a bird.”

As they spoke, Mary was tracing the veins of a leaf, thinking of all that she and Joseph had planned.

“That’s what I told the angels to watch for: humour and wonder —  to help cope with you.”
Sophia scowled, but she accepted the truth of it. Wonder was her preferred dwelling; but humour would get them through.

“There are things I will have to learn,” she said.
“Yes — and I will learn too.”
The thought of it left her speechless — of all they were going to do.

God laughed at her sudden silence. She paused and then followed his thought.

“Gabriel, how long did you say it will it take her — before she can teach me to talk?”
Gabriel loved to tease her: the Incarnate, word-less Word.

God stepped forward, and drew her into glory.
They stood as they had in the beginning, drawing breath to make the world new.

“Ready now?” God asked her.
She nodded, and curled into creation.
“Gabriel — you know what to do.”



Thank you for sharing Advent with us.
We’ll be back in 2012.
If you would like to join us for Lent,
we will be blogging at Beauty from Chaos.

Thus says God, who created the heavens,
who fashioned the earth and all that dwells in it;
who gives breath to the people upon it
and spirit to those who walk in it,

‘I am the Lord, and I have called you in righteousness,
I have taken you by the hand and kept you.
I have given you as a covenant to the people,
a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring captives from the dungeon,
from the prison, those who sit in darkness.’

Isaiah 42.5-8

behold the glory

‘Thank God’ he cried.
And this time the angels weren’t alarmed at all.  They simply took up formation around the crib and sang a new song.

For a moment, God looked confused, and then he laughed.

‘A lullaby, Jophiel?’

Jophiel bowed and unfurled a wing, before returning to the tenor line.

‘You are right, of course.  This is how to praise me now.’
God listened closely, adjusting to this new perspective.

Joseph stirred a fresh bale of hay, and smiled as the smell of grass caught him.  Mary watched the baby sleeping, her eyes full of wonder:
Look what a word could do.

Overhead, a single star shone brightly.  Radiant, and just a bit smug.
Time, now, to summon the Magi.  Light burst to the four corners of the earth.