How Mary Got Pregnant, Interruptus
(from WIP Not for Sunday School)
Bartholomew to Peter:
“You go,” said Bartholomew. “You’re the chief among us.”
“No,” said Peter, and turned to John, the youngest: “You’re young, and chaste. It can’t be misconstrued. You ask her.”
They were in Chritir, Bartholomew and three other disciples traveling with Mary, mother of Jesus. And if John was the youngest, Bartholomew was still the more innocent, who had been given to asking the broadest and most childlike questions of the master himself, like:
—Lord, if thirty thousand people in the world die in a day, as I heard at the temple, how many of those get into heaven?
—Three, said Jesus. Only three.
—Only three? How many are born into the world each day?
—Of those that die and leave the world, only one over and above them is born.
And then, in keeping with Bartholomew’s innocence, Jesus gave them a peace sign and disappeared.
So now, in Chritir, with Peter and John and Andrew, and Mary over at the open oven, Bartholomew is whispering to his brothers, “Let’s ask her. How did she conceive? How could she carry in her womb so much?”
But Mary was Mary, and even Peter hesitated. Bartholomew: “Go on, you’re the chief.”
Peter, boring his not-to-be-denied glare into John, said: “No, not I. You, John, you are the youth here, chaste and blameless. You ask her.”
John demurred, and Andrew had some thoughts, and Peter pressed, and Bartholomew gave up on them and slipped away, put on his best smile and went to help Mary move the pot from the fire. “Mary,” he said. “Tabernacle of our lord. Pure, unblemished . . .”
“Bartholomew . . .” she said, kindly.
He whispered: “They have sent me over here. We…all the apostles, we want to ask you how you conceived the inconceivable, or how you carried him, who cannot be carried, or how you bore so much in your womb.”
“Don’t ask me that,” she said. “If I told you that, fire would come from my mouth and consume us all.”
But the others came over, and all four pressed her, and since she was Mary, mother of God, she did not want to deny them. “Alright,” she said. “Let us stand in prayer.” And they gathered behind her, all standing, and she turned around and said to Peter: “Peter, head apostle, why are you behind me? Did not our Lord say, ‘The head of a man is Christ, but the head of a woman is the man?’ Please, Peter, chief apostle, stand in front for this prayer and lead us.”
But they all said to her, No, Mary. It was in you that the Lord established his tabernacle, and He was pleased enough to be contained by you. Therefore, who could have greater right to lead us in prayer?”
But Mary said, “‘The sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night,’ my sons. Are you not the shining stars, as the psalm says? ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.’ You are the hills, and you must pray.”
“Nay,” they said. “As the mother of the heavenly king, you must pray.”
“In your likeness,” she said, “God formed the sparrows and sent them to the four corners of the world.”
“Mary,” said Peter. “He whom the seventh heaven scarcely contains, was pleased to be contained in you.”
Then Mary stood forward and raised her hands to heaven and began: “O God, king of time, not to be seen nor heard, yet by word alone created the vault of heaven, gave form to chaos, closed what was separate and separated light from dark, gave earth its place and nourished that place with rain, and rained down care forever, you, whom the seven heavens could barely contain but were content to be contained in me, with no pain, you, perfect word of our Father, through whom all is, we glorify thy name and beg allowance to speak before your disciples.”
“Amen,” they all mumbled, and Mary said, “Let’s sit. You, Peter, sit at my right here and place your hands above and under my arm. Andrew, you do the same at my left shoulder. John, chaste John, press down on my breast, and you, Bartholomew, place your knees on my shoulders and bear down, so I am pinned when I begin to speak.”
They moved into this position, unseemly as it might appear, and pressed down with all their weight. It was an untoward scene. It looked like men huddled over a game of bones.
And Mary said: “In the temple, when I was fed by the hand of an angel, one day there came an angel without bread or cup in his hand, and the ceiling split open and the earth shook and I fell to my face, for I could not bear to look on him. But he lifted me up and I looked toward heaven wherefrom a cloud of dew sprinkled on me, soaking me head to foot, and this angel then wiped me with his robe and said, ‘Hail, favored one, chosen vessel,’ and then struck the right side of his garment whence came forth a large loaf of bread, which he placed on the altar and took a piece and ate, and then gave me a piece. Then he struck his left side and I saw a cup of wine, and he drank from it and then gave it to me, and though we were drinking and eating, the loaf and the cup remained full, and he said, ‘Three more years, Mary, and I will send my word and you shall conceive. A son. And through him, the world will be saved,’ and then he disappeared and the temple became itself again.”
And that was three years before the event, yet even as Mary spoke, flames began to flicker from her mouth, and spread through the room as smoke will fill a space, and outside: the world in its space began to take fire. An orange Jesus appeared, saying, ‘Say no more, Mary, or today my whole creation will end,’ and the disciples quaked in fear, lest God should be angry for their inquisitiveness.
Moral: The name of God, the face of God, certainly the detailed origins of the baby God, must never be fully revealed. Adonoi.
Rendered from The Gospel of Bartholomew, assigned by scholars to the third century, A.D. The various texts are preserved in varying degrees of completeness in Greek, Latin, and Old Church Slavonic. There are also fragments in Coptic.
About the writer:
Kent Dixon is a prize-winning writer with three Pushcart nominations and three Ohio Arts Council awards to his credit. His fiction and poetry have appeared in TriQuarterly, The Iowa Review, Shenandoah, Antioch Review, Gettysburg Review, Georgia Review and others. His nonfiction has appeared in The American Prospect, Florida Review, Kansas Quarterly, Energy Review, and others. He is recently retired from teaching Literature and Creative Writing at Wittenberg University. His graphic novel The Epic of Gilgamesh, co-authored with his son Kevin Dixon, is available now from Seven Stories Press. He lives with his wife Mimi in Springfield, Ohio.
Image: “Beyond the Plains of Eternity” by Jolanda Richter. Oil on canvas, 100 x 160 cm. By permission.