Friday, November 19, 2010

A Trip to the Hill Country

Mariam has been climbing up the steep mountain path all day. She started her trip with her brother early in the morning from Nazareth, her hometown, much earlier than the rooster crowed.
Mariam was going to see her aunt, Elizabeth, who lived in the hill country of Judea, which was two days journey on foot. Elizabeth’s husband was a priest in the temple at Jerusalem. A year ago Mariam had gone to see Elizabeth with her parents. But this time her parents were busy making arrangements for the forthcoming wedding of Mariam. For a young woman to make such a trip alone was risky, so she sought the company of her brother.
It was not easy for Mariam to get the permission of her parents to make this trip. When they asked her why she wanted to make such a long trip while her wedding was so near, she evaded a direct answer. She simply said she wanted to get the blessing of her aunt before the wedding. She sounded adamant, and her parents didn’t have a choice but to let her go. All they could do was to pray for her and hope that she would return safely.

Mariam was going to be married to Joseph. The betrothal, the initial ceremony of wedding, was over. She circled Joseph reciting blessings, and rings were exchanged with the declaration, “Behold, you are consecrated to me by this ring according to the Law of Moses and Israel”. The betrothal was about a couple of months ago, and she had to wait for a few more months for the main ceremony of the wedding. The two parts of the wedding were usually held at least a year apart.

Always there were travelers on this path going back and forth. Jerusalem, the center of their economic, religious, and political life, was in Judea, and Galileans frequently travelled south to Judea for various purposes. Mariam and her brother managed to join a group of travelers. Most of them were farmers taking their produce on their donkeys. It was always safe to be with a group; for certain spots on the way were notorious as the hideout of thieves. Whenever the group halted, they got a chance to give some rest to their worn-out feet, to take a sip of water, and to eat a bite of bread. Mariam had a bag on her back with some dry bread and some water.

By the end of the day, they found an open space to rest for the night. The other people in the group were nearby. She raised her eyes to heaven and thanked God for keeping her safe so far in the journey. She was sure that God would take care of her in the rest of her trip. She recited a familiar psalm in her mind:

I raise my eyes toward the mountains. From where will my help come?
My help comes from the LORD, the maker of heaven and earth.

She was sure that God would take care of her during her sleep. She continued to recite the psalm in a low voice.

God will not allow your foot to slip; your guardian does not sleep.
Truly, the guardian of Israel never slumbers nor sleeps.

She was also sure that God would take care of her throughout her journey. She continued to recite the psalm, and her brother joined her.

The LORD will guard you from all evil, and will always guard your life.
The LORD will guard your coming and going both now and forever.

As she meditated the psalm, her mind stayed focused, and it rose to a higher meditative level. She had learned to meditate from her parents even when she was a child. She enjoyed keeping her mind still on God.

One thing I ask from the LORD,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the LORD
and to seek him in his temple.
Along with the psalmist, she sought only one thing—the beauty of the Lord.

She began and ended her days reciting psalms. Every Sabbath day she went to the local synagogue with her parents and siblings. That was an opportunity to learn the scriptures and to meditate along with her community. The psalms she recited and learned by heart in the synagogue helped her in times of need. Almost every year she went on a pilgrimage to the temple at Jerusalem with her family.

Growing up the midst of her people, she shared the joys and pains of her community. The one biggest pain of her community was that they were denied freedom in their own land. They were in slavery. The sight of Roman soldiers made them feel as if God had abandoned them. It remained a mystery that God allowed them to remain in slavery. If God really cared for them, how could they be slaves to the Romans? She often asked this question to herself, and in the absence of any convincing answer, she consoled herself that God might be testing them.

Even recently the rabbi in the synagogue talked about how much they suffered from Romans, which made her pray intensely for freedom. The only hope was for God to intervene, as who else could save them from the Romans? They hoped against hope that God would soon raise a king to the throne of David, who would liberate the nation from the Romans. A king in the throne of David! That has been the dream of the nation for centuries. Will that dream ever come true? The rabbi earnestly pleaded them to pray day and night for a successor to King David.

Mariam’s vision happened a few days later. It was an afternoon, and she was relaxing inside her home after helping her mother with cooking and other household chores. An angel of God appeared to her. The angel introduced himself as Gabriel, the chief messenger of the Almighty. The angel told her that she was going to give birth to a baby who would become the king, the one who would liberate the nation from the Romans. The angel even suggested the name of the baby-- Yeshu, which means “Jehovah is savior”.

It is true that Mariam had earnestly wished for a king, but she hadn’t expected that she would be the primary means through which this would happen. It raised a multitude of questions in her mind. If a baby is born to her, a poor village peasant girl, how will this child ever rise to the throne of David? Moreover, being unmarried, she has not known a man. Is it going to happen before or after marriage? In answer to all her questions, the angel responded calmly that God would take care of everything. Wasn’t David himself a mere shepherd boy before God raised him to be the shepherd of the nation? In order to prove to Mariam that nothing was impossible to God, the angel referred to an example of God’s power—Elizabeth, her aunt, has conceived a child in her old age.

Elizabeth’s pregnancy was news to Mariam. If God could give Elizabeth a baby in her old age, God can certainly raise Mariam’s baby to the throne of David. If God would take care of everything, all that she would have to do is to surrender herself to the will of God. She said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word!"

Slowly the vision faded away, and when Mariam was aware of her surroundings, she was not sure if she could believe the vision. Was it true? Or, was it just a dream? She said to herself that it might have been a dream. Who would believe that her baby was going to be the divine king? If she told this to others, they would surely laugh at her. So she kept it to herself. She didn’t dare to share this vision with anybody, even with her own parents.

As days passed, a thought started growing in her—what if it was a true vision from God! That is when it struck her. There is an easy way to find out if the vision was true or not. The angel mentioned the miracle that happened to Elizabeth. If she is pregnant with a baby, then surely the vision has to be true. That is how Mariam decided to make this trip to the Hill country to visit Elizabeth. She wanted to find out for herself if her vision was true.

Mariam slept comfortably under the stars. The next morning, she woke up and continued her journey with her brother. She didn’t know what lay ahead in her life. It was certainly going to be an adventure trip. But she was excited to take each step because she knew that it was a journey with God.


Samm said...

Hi, John! I love your story of Mariam and her journey of revelation. Your writing style and story development, starting on the road to Jerusalem with
references back to her childhood, her betrothal to Joseph, and her vision of Gabriel, is very clever, with her visit to Elizabeth following from the same
journey. Well done!

G. Puthenkurish said...

A well written story by John Kunnath, but I have a different take on the theme. I strongly believe (you don’t have to) Joseph had an affair with Mary before marriage and she became pregnant. And, to survive the wrath of the society the family made up the story. In any ancient community, (even modern community) no one ever had tolerated or accepted a child through illicit relationship or out of wedlock. We read about the humiliation and the expulsion the family had gone through after Mary’s alleged conceiving of the child.

I don’t have any problem with the person Christ (I am least bothered about his birth) and his teaching. He was one of the best person lived on earth, inspiring, empowering, and showing different ways to sail through the challenges of life. He also showed the people to tap into the pure potential of each individual and experience healing and miracles. Unfortunately, our so called ‘Brood of vipers , ‘tie up heavy, cumbersome loads and put them on other people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.’, (Matthew 5) cannot perform any miracle but dwells on this kind of stories and distract people.

Jesus the greatest person born out of a woman stated that whoever does the will of his father in heaven is his mother.” Matthew 12:50. Even for Christ the birth was insignificant. Rather than getting stuck in the stories of the birth of Christ, we should be trying to practice some of his teaching while we are alive. Probably, we may not get another chance and may loose both; the haven on earth or heaven after death. Heaven on earth is for sure but I don’t know about the heaven after death. (I believe the present determines the future)

Mr. John Kunnath, I like the style and technique you are using to tell the story, especially, by adding psalms in the appropriate place to inspire oneself.

G. Puthenkurishe

Susan Eapen said...

Yes, a well written story indeed. However, as Oommen George said, I too have a different version of what happened to Mary. Mary was chosen to be the Mother of
the Messaiah and we are told that she did not doubt the word of the Angel. So I believe she went to Elizabeth in her loneliness. Not for confirmation, but for
courage and comfort.

She had had an experience that was not common and she could not discuss it with others. She could not even be sure that she would be believed. She may even be killed, yet she was willing to accept the will of God. She went to Elizabeth in the hope that she could share her inner secret with her. She did not have to speak, but Elizabeth knew by Divine Revelation that the Mother of God had come
to her. Mary got the comfort and the reassurance she needed the moment she met Elizabeth. This teaches me of God's tender concern for His loyal servants and ho
He plans in advance to provide them with all the necessary strength to carry out the mission that is entrusted to them.

We are told that we can understand with our senses less than 1 % of what is around us. Stories of children being conceived in pots and of Pushpka Vimana of
Ravan were myths. But all these came to be thousands of years after the myths were created. So St Mary's bearing Christ without the normal physical requirements is nothing to be wondered at.

If one strips the world of wonders and faith and of things beyond intellectual comprehension, then the world would be a poor place. If something is known, we need not call that knowledge as faith.

Jesus was not just a great man and teacher. He was /is God in human form. I do not know the Theology of it or the technicalities. But one thing I know, the
Resurrected Christ lives in me and you. Gandhiji was a great man . I really
admire Swami Chinmayananda. But neither Gandhi nor Chinmayanada lives in me.
Perhaps we share the same spirit-all of us. But they never remind me gently and lovingly of my acts of unkindness. They never give me the assurance that I am
always in their presence and shield me from anxiety. Jesus does. They never offer me love. They never console me when my son goes far into China seeking a
job. Jesus does. He tells me to trust His ways and the paths He has chosen for us. Neither Mahatma Gandhi nor Swami Chinmayananda can do that.

Well, to me Jesus is God's demonstration of His Love as He wants us to understand. However, this does not mean the Jesus I know gives me the
comprehensive knowledge of God, God is transcendent and I am happy about that.

I can let God be God and work His mysterious and wonderful ways.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

We cannot hope to understand. Neither can we see all the colours of the spectrum or hear all the wavelengths of sound. These restrictions are for our own good as
our physical limitations cannot bear beyond a certain range. In the same way, there are restrictions in our understanding also. If I can accept one, and not
worry about not seeing all colours or hearing all wavelengths in sound or being only in one place at a time, I can accept God as He is and accept the truth of
the Virgin giving birth to Christ as a physical baby.

Susan Eapen

Susan Eapen said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gpacharlie said...

Thank you for the wonderful trip back to the hills of Judaea. I enjoyed camping under the stars in the high desert with 'Mariam' . To G. Put.......You have a subjective certainty. I believe that the original story in the Bible has much more objective certainty.
CW -.Seattle, WA USA

Gpacharlie said...

Thank you for the wonderful trip back to the hills of Judaea. I enjoyed camping under the stars in the high desert with 'Mariam' . To G. Put.......You have a subjective certainty. I believe that the original story in the Bible has much more objective certainty.
CW -.Seattle, WA USA