How far is Bethlehem from here?
I sit awake tonight and wonder those kinds of things, things I probably should have already at least thought about or processed at some point, but have not for whatever reason. That is, not until a cough kept me up drinking tea and hunkering down under a blanket like a wise man or shepherd on a cold night near in Palestine. But even my archetypal, and now probably historically inaccurate, metaphor betrays me as one who has never really focused enough to wonder.
Just how far is it?
From anywhere, I mean. Geographically, I mean. Although, of course, that is followed by the next question; by the way, how far is it metaphysically?
At times like these I think about angels and prophets; dreams and visions; Mary and Joseph. I think about how they disappeared into the throng of my understanding; you know, that place where dates from history books and names like Sitting Bull go to be reconstructed into so much mnemonic knowledge without full comprehension. I know they existed, but understanding what they went through requires more than knowledge of facts. I read Mary's song, but do I see Mary singing it?
You know, a young woman who has been given not just a son, but the son of God (who, by the way, the entire Jewish community was anticipating) to raise as her own. And on not so wonderful terms--pregnancy out of wedlock (in a society that actually cared). Yet there is a point when someone sees her, not just as a scriptural reference or theologically debated conundrum, but as a real person who has been overshadowed by God. So she sings.
She sings. The baby cries. Or at least he must have. All that nonsense in the songs about "little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes"; I'm sorry, I just don't buy it. To buy it is to subscribe to a fictional notion of Bethlehem. I'm sure he cried, just like I'm sure the road to Bethlehem was hard (pregnant lady on a donkey--need I say more?), just like I'm sure the animals in the stable were not necessarily glowing with reverance and probably smelled bad to boot, just like I'm sure the baby had to be fed and changed, just like I'm sure the wise men probably stopped outside Joseph and Mary's place, (this is my rendition, of course) wondering at what they were doing. And they knocked at the door. The neighbors looked on. Joe and Mary (If I may call them that) had been having visitors for some time, some guests genuinely believing their story, some simply curious and nodding to each other knowingly(oh, you were overshadowed! Gotcha! *wink*). The young couple had finally gotten people to leave them alone, then these guys show up. It's the shepherds all over again.
They smile, gladly accept the gifts, invite the wise men to stay for dinner, have that awkward conversation that might occur between three (or however many) idealistic rich guys and a young couple who had a baby they claim is the son of God in a stable in a small palistinean town... how many miles from here?
Just how far is that place? I hope not too far from us all this December.