WET STRAW AND STARLIGHT (Joseph's experience of the nativity)
By Jo Anzalone 11-25-2006
"No." It was the word that greeted him everywhere he turned. "No, not here." "No, no room." Grown men, lying in the health of their manhood Would not give place for her, She in the pangs of labor rising with the night.
Then following the rutted path into the cupping hills, He saw the dotting campfires, winking in the wind, Earthly lights reflecting the canopy above, A human thing, made by human hands, A series of tiny glows beneath the spread of galaxies.
Even the grottoed caves were full this night... disinterested eyes of men followed as he walked, stumbling on the unseen rocks that lay upon the pathless path leading him away from town, leading him to the ruins at the very end.
A hole, no more than that, a den among the crumbles of some shed, an excavation in the sloping hill where once foundations held a wall. Only rubble now, coarse trunks of trees supporting what served as its roof. He paused, sighing, the burn of rope stinging 'cross his palm, the burn of failure stinging 'cross his heart.
"Wait," he says to the quiet woman, drooping on the little beast, and, dropping leading rope, he enters all alone the place determined from before the creation of the world to receive the coming of its King on this clear and frigid night near Bethlehem.
Taking free the sack he's carried 'cross his shoulders all this way, he pulls his flint and tinder, lighting a small lamp, finding only one large ox chewing hay far in the rear. It will do. It has to do. There is simply nothing else. And so, gently, he leads her in.
Trembling with cold, she goes near the ox, laying hands on its warming neck. He stands a moment, looking at the vault above, ancient cobwebs glimmering in his lamp's light, stretching from rock to rubbled rock, spanning all the cracks and holes.
Now downward his eyes turn to where the floor is covered with cast-off trash, with excrement of animals. How CAN this be the appointed place? How can such a One as Mary carries come here to find His gate?
She sits now on a broken seat made from two big rocks, watching with her silent, large brown eyes, as he bends to gather hay from just beside the ox. She needs a bed, a place to lie, his thoughts race, bumping together in the dark.
He stands, both hands filled with the hay, looking at the pale starlight on her face, then at the filth that covers the dirt floor. His heart lurches, squeezed with pain, and he sets the hay in a heaping pile.
With a bunch of little twigs for his tool, he scratches at the dirt, in bending awkwardness pushing excrement far off to the side. How could he lay the straw upon such a base as that? How could He be born atop the world's filth?
The straw, regathered, is damp in his strong hands, the rain of yesterday falling on it through the cracking roof. In a blackened corner, used to shepherd fires, he takes his twigs and lights them with his lamp, then squats, holding out fistfuls of straw.
He will not have her lying on the damp. Thigh muscles strain and ache, but still he squats, fistful after fistful, turning, drying by the little blaze till he is satisfied and piles it up for her, a little bed, all that he is able to provide.
A shadowed shape passes by the door, some other looking for a place to spend the night. He will not have eyes peering in, not as she does what she must, not as He in blood and tears makes his way into the world.
Shivering, he removes his mantle, finding means to hang its woolen brownness over the holed door, sealing them inside with its thin protection, billowing slightly as the wintered breeze comes and goes, within without the cave.
Huddling now beneath her mantle on the straw, her brown eyes watch his slumping back, knowing his manhood is offended that he cannot offer more than this, that he was not able to lay her in some better place.
"Joseph," she says the word softly as he turns, wanting him to see the love-light in her eyes, wanting him to know it is enough that he is here with her in this moment and all she needs surrounds her on this night.
As quietly as possible he breaks the little sticks, feeding them slowly to the tiny fire, the feeling long-gone from his frozen toes. Closing tired eyes, he hears the chewing sounds of his burro bedded now close beside the ox.
In the little flickering light, she watches him, his hands pressed tightly to his face, lost now in deep prayer, her hands on her mounded self, feeling now the heaving, tightening of her inner being, as He makes His way into the human world.
Then it is done, as is the way of such as this, that way that women know when even those more ordinary leave the round, warm safety of the womb and by the tearing of the flesh enter into worlds, fresh and new.
Joseph, kneeling beside her, received into his workman's hands the Maker of everything that was ever Made. No aunt, no mother, no elder there that night to fulfill the womanly task usual then at birth. Only he...he with his large hands scarred from work.
He looked, utterly dumfounded at what he held, the tiny, wriggling form of God now in the flesh. His hands burned with his own unworthiness that he, of all men in the world, should be the first to hold the form of God.
Overwhelmed, he held Him, arms stretched out, not knowing what to do, what DOES one do when newborn God is squirming in one's hands, a thing in all creation's time that no one else would ever know like this.
But the tiny form, still warm from Mary's belly, rapidly began to chill in the winter night, the little feet cold now against his hand. And, so, he tucks Him inside his tunic, close against his chest, against his beating heart,
And folds his arms across the newborn form of God. It is then he knows that his heart is flowing... his own heart has turned into liquid bands of light and stretched itself from out his chest and circled round the little being cuddling close.
Lifting up his bearded chin, the morning star shines through a hole, puddling on his face, turning the cobwebs into diamonds strung, each rubbled rock into some silvered throne. And he sees with his spirit's opened eyes, the royal canopy of the grotto's spanning vault.
Then he knows that everything was right...
wet straw, the webs, the ox, and broken roof,
all of it, every single part, was right...
for the Kingdom comes where and when it wills,
turning cobwebs into silver in the night.
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