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The Marion Diaries

Reflections by Michael Hollingshead

 Psalms 34: 1-4; Titus 2: 11-14; Luke 1: 26-56

 I could feel the warm afternoon wind blowing a few moments before; right through the window where I was standing, stacking some bowls.

A moment later it blew again, only this time it was cool and refreshing, and even smelled sweet like hyssop, or juniper, or jasmine.

But the oddest thing was that it didn’t come through the window. It took me a second to realize this, and I turned around to face the spot where I thought the breeze had come from. From inside the house!

And I was startled out of my head to see a man standing there. Out of nowhere. And down went the bowls!

“Don’t be afraid,” he said calmly enough. Easier said than done under any circumstance, but for some reason his words made it so. I wasn’t afraid. Not then, anyway.


That was 3 months ago, now, and the moments of feeling excited and charmed and special, and poetic, even, have passed. They seem to have worn off more than a little. Today is a different story.

Now that I’ve missed three months I have spent all 3 hiding it from my mother and my sisters, going through all the usual motions as though I’m regular, like them, and hiding my laundry because it’s clean. Today is a different story.

I wanted to wait until I was sure before telling anyone, and now there’s no doubt about it. And no way I can get out of it.

Visited by an angel. The man looked as much like anyone I’ve ever seen. But he couldn’t have just appeared like that, then, right? And yet, that’s just it: He was nothing like the seraphim that the elders talk about when they read about them from the Scroll in the synagogue.


So, now what? This is terrible. It was so much easier when it was just me and Joey taking walks behind his father’s garden. Strolling under the olive tree, and nothing but blissful smiles at each other the whole time.

He won’t be smiling, now! I’ll be dead. Neither Dad nor Joey’s father is a stern man, but even they won’t understand this

Understand what? I don’t understand it. One minute I get this visit and I’m ecstatic, and the next few months fly by like a breeze, and now it’s time to tell someone. And I can’t bring myself to do it…


If he was Gabriel, why didn’t he show up in-between-time to at least tell me when or how to let someone in on the big secret?

Ohhhhh….goodness….. (sigh) One minute I can hear myself telling my mother and seeing her eyes sparkle with excitement. A first grandchild!

The next minute I can see her trying to figure out how to tell my father before my belly starts getting too big and he sees for himself.

Could he actually bring himself to stone his own daughter? And what about Joey? Will he throw the first stone, just to show them all he obeys the Law and will join in ridding the village of impurity?

Every time I imagine his heated, angry gaze, with a rock in his hand, I get so depressed I could hurl myself over a cliff to spare myself the agony. It just breaks my heart. I couldn’t bear hurting him with this, and I couldn’t bear facing the hate that might pour out of him, either. Watching him take aim at me with a rock.


I went to my prayers this morning. Like every morning. ‘Praying every day that the angel might come back. ‘Hoping that by praying enough it might actually get his attention and bring him back.

My praying a lot of words doesn’t seem to have the desired effect.

I can’t even pray it out loud. Someone will hear me. So it just echoes off the walls of my empty heart. In secret. Oh, dear God, what the heck am I supposed to do…?


Well. That’s that.

We took a walk in the garden last night and Joey stopped for a moment in the moonlight, put his hands on my shoulders and looked me in the eye.

It wasn’t his usual way of putting his rough carpenter’s hands gently around my shoulder while we walked. He was earnest.

“I know,” he told me. Oh. My. God.

I found myself trying not to look away. What did he know? How could he know? I wondered if he could feel me trying to keep from shaking under his grip. I tried not to swallow my sense of guilt that I hadn’t told him everything. I tried not to swallow at all.


“I’ve known for about three months, now, that something’s wrong.”

He waited. He kept expecting me to say something. I couldn’t. If only he was all sweet like he’d been before. I could have told him everything.

He wasn’t. He kept on…

“You haven’t said a thing about what’s bothering you, but I know it’s big. For a while I fished your mom and dad to see if they noticed it too, or to see if they were the ones having second thoughts about us getting married or something. I got nothing.

 “I can’t take it anymore, Mary – I know that something’s bothering you and you won’t say what it is. But you’ve been trying very hard to hide the fact that something’s different between us.”

He took a breath.


“What is it?”

He stared so hard right at me that I felt like all the things he could possibly accuse me of were actually true.

And what if it turns out I don’t want him because he only grudgingly agrees to marry me? What then…? ‘Away to my cousin’s for a year so I can have the baby in secret and give him up for adoption to Lizzie and Zach?


None of that matters right now, though.

With all the will I could muster; with a momentary forced whim; I just blurted it out: The angel. The baby. Everything. And just as matter-of-fact as his questions.

The end. Period.


But when I was finished, his hands were still in the same place, mid-air, while my shoulders slipped from under him, and I fell to the ground. Sitting down hard. And staring into space.

He never said a word. (pause) He just walked away. (pause) Great. Now what?


I kept wanting him to come back so I could explain a little more, (if that were even possible – explain what? What I don’t understand myself?) But now that I felt at least a little relieved that he knew, I wanted to say more.

When I got home I drank some water. And sat down. Waiting…


I waited for days for him to show up again, only this time to talk with my father. Then I realized he’d probably see him in the village.

Then all I had to do now was wait for Dad to come home and break up the noisy drone of women’s work by bursting in angry.

He’ll kill me… I know it… They’ll both kill me…


But Joey never shows… I can’t sleep. That night, or for the next four. And still he doesn’t come.

In-between I’ve seen him. I even saw Dad coming toward him one day at the well, and my heart went right to my throat.

They exchanged pleasantries, apparently, and that’s all, ‘cause they went their separate ways. And then nothing.

“KILL me, already, for crying out loud – you already have anyway, since you don’t believe me! If you don’t kill me and you marry me out of pity, this baby is never going to feel wanted! No wonder he’s going to grow up to be a lonely prophet somewhere!”


Seven days.

“I asked the rabbi about my dream,” Joey told me a week later. “I also asked God why he’d send the angel Gabriel to you in-person, and only a dream to me.”

Men. ‘Always about who’s first. He is much sweeter to me again, though. ‘Funny. We haven’t really talked about it all that much.

He’s almost stoic about the fact-of-the-matter. I wonder if he really believes the story any better than I do. Or does he just believe his dream because it’s his dream?

I do believe it, though. Still. Even as hard as it is. I just don’t know what to make of it. But it feels like this huge mystery that’s too big for anyone to carry to term.

It’s about as big as I imagine my belly getting when the baby comes.

Lord, Mom was HUGE when Catherine was born! It’s like that.

That’s how big it all feels these days. To me, anyway…


But at least I can relax a little. Joey asked Dad if we could move the wedding up, and Dad even smiled as though he knew that old joke about the second kid taking 9 months to arrive, while the first one could come at any time to a pair of newlyweds.

Ohhhh….God. Still, much better than before!


Before I get too far along I’d like to go see Lizzie and Zach. She’s got a great way of seeing things, sometimes, and maybe she can help me sort all of this out.

I really can’t be a good wife to Joey, or a good mother to this baby if I’m still not certain about the visitor – or the message.

Zach, the old priest; and she his companion. So, I know that Lizzie really knows about these things. She’s always had a softer way about all the holy stuff that the men make so important.

That’s not quite right, either, really. She does see it as important, too. But with a different kind of seriousness and reverence. With joy, I’m thinking. I could use some joy around this apparition, believe me.

I mentioned the idea of going there to Joey, again, and at first he told me to just go see the rabbi to sort it out.

Another man. Another man with all of God’s rules to interpret my experience. My visitor. And a message to me.

I don’t think so. After hearing me out he’d have me killed faster than Joey or Dad.


Joey finally agreed. “Alright, I guess. Go see Lizzie if you think it’ll make you feel better,” he told me. He wasn’t quite dismissive, but he wasn’t enthusiastic, either. I don’t think he gets it.

I am excited, though. I can’t wait to see Lizzie. She gets me. And I her. She might even understand what all of this means. She’s so good; too bad she never had kids of her own. I can’t wait to see her face when she sees me all married and preggo – and all at once!

Ohhhh….thank God. Finally. The worst is over…..


Topics: Fiction and Poetry, Jesus Studies, Preaching/Teaching, and Worship & Liturgy. Seasons & Special Events: Advent and Christmas. Texts: Luke, Psalms, and Titus. Resource Types: Readings and Sermons.

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