Shack

“And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda,” Luke 1:39

Her feet were bloody. So, she walked slowly. For most of her trek, the clouds, too, crawled inch-by-inch over the rugged mountain country. The whole way, they were deep blue, threatening rain. On her journey, she passed joggers, sweaty with serious dedication but oblivious to her passing. No one knew her and no one cared to know her. Her feet were cut and her back ached. She was tired and pregnant in the hill country.

Yes, it was true an angel visited her. His wings were drifted snow and his eyes aflame when he told her that the awesome terror of God would overshadow her and she would bear a son even in her virginity. But, he also told her that her cousin Elizabeth was pregnant. “Old Elizabeth?” Mary asked, astounded. After all, her cousin spent most of their family celebrations presiding over a hot stove with her arthritic, spotted hands stirring pots. Yes, the angel assured her, even in her age, Elizabeth would bear a son because with God nothing shall be impossible. And then he disappeared out into the cold February night of clear stars to only the sound of barking dogs and her shocked, shallow breathing.

She was from a small town. And in small towns, they always talk in living rooms and beauty parlors and church vestibules in hushed voices about pregnancies out of wedlock. Of course, no one believed her when she told the story about the message from heaven. Why would they? It was far easier to believe that she’d been fooling around. Worse, it was far easier to believe she’d been raped by a soldier. But, “what a shame,” the women would say to each other as she passed, “What a shame to waste such a life,” and so they added her to prayer chains, the rumor spreading further. Even if nothing was said, they’d silently judge her as she passed. She could feel it. She caught hell in their eyes.

So, she had to get out. She had to leave. She had to take this promised child away, away from those who sat in judgment of her without understanding and who murdered her with words. If Elizabeth’s womb was miraculously fertile in her old age, maybe she would understand, maybe Elizabeth would know. Maybe the pregnant-too-old and the pregnant-too-young would understand each other in the hill country.

When she finally arrived, she would remember the scene for the rest of her life, walking up the craggy path where grass and mold grew between the stones to the simple house—no more than a shack, really. For a few moments, those heavy lugubrious clouds moved out of the way and cast patches of gold light in front of her. It was that humid, summer heat, so she stopped, wiped the sweat off her brow, pulled at her shirt and thrust her hands on the back of her hips to steady herself. Her feet were still bleeding. She sighed deeply.

From inside, near the stove, Elizabeth heard the sighed greeting of a pregnant soul, a body wracked with the promises of God. Aged and with protruding belly, Elizabeth slammed the screen door and shouted from from the porch, “Ave Maria! Blessed are thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb!” And Elizabeth’s greeting echoed throughout the hill country and down into the streams that ran through the hollers. The trees themselves shuddered at these words and the grass—the grass stood a little taller. All of nature leaned in at this greeting.

Elizabeth continued: “I knew it was you. I knew it was you and I seen you coming. And my baby leapt—oh, how he leapt!—when you sighed!” Elizabeth hurried, running as you’d imagine a pregnant old woman would. And when the young girl felt those gnarled, leathered hands clasp around her back and smelled lavender in Elizabeth’s hair and felt their pregnant bellies touch under that summer canopy in the hill country, the power of God overwhelmed her and she burst into tears.

She spoke out in words unknown, but remembered. In words hidden for a time, but always seen. Words that she had only half-heard for most her life, until they came out of her mouth: “MAGNIFICAT ANIMA MEA DOMINUM.” They didn’t have to be known, for they were knowledge. They didn’t have to be wise words, for they were wisdom. These were powerful words, the type of words she’d never utter again in her life, even when standing at the foot of the cross. But truth flowed from her lips.

And they wept in each other’s arms: no longer from the hills or a small town; no longer too-old or too-young; no longer too poor; no longer judged, categorized and dissected by hateful eyes; no longer empty, weak or forgotten; no longer even pregnant (although children were still in their wombs); they were no longer even women. They wept and saw each other as they knew they had always been: they were nothing but the image of God greeting itself.

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