And the flames leap higher in the darkening sky; a vivid wall of fire sheds its light on faces hushed as if a child were being born, a manger ready in the rudest inn. Everywhere straw and the droppings of chickens, broken plaster, dust of collapse. In the camps, children die of cholera, hungry dogs drag garbage through back alleys running like a sore.
Here, the stench of bodies trapped in bricks and mortar will remain a little while. In the plaza they wrap their noses, silent as the captives find a quick release—a sudden rush of wind, a rain of embers when each soul flies up.
A mantra stills their scoured tongues. Expectant, calm, and speechless underneath white winter stars, they eye the pyre simple as a crèche, this crowning what a birth might be, no midwife but their prayers that mount, gray gulls above the stretching limbs of trees.
In the crate of ornaments not to be touched, rested in cotton my mother’s golden walnuts: glass, thinner than egg shells, easily shattered. She hung them from the boughs herself.
Real nuts, we ate on Advent evenings, sitting round the burning wreath, cracking hazelnuts and almonds, peeling tangerines. My father split the walnuts single-handed, then let us root out gnarled halves and pieces. Each nut, a mystery beneath its sealed shell.
I hate mysteries, my son proclaims one day. And yet, he sits all season snapping nuts, gathering pecans from the back lawn, separating the green and black or gnawed.
The tools—a toothed and silver hinge, a screw and lever, assorted picks—he places on the table. Some of the harvested will be rotten, some unripe. The best emerge from cocoons as rich as butter, most in shards and others whole. All of these will be put to use in pies and bread.
He works quietly, entirely focused on the task. On the oilcloth, a pile of husks easily swept away, and the delight of knowledge, gleaming brown and full of grace as a new pair of shoes.
When we think of the blood of Christ, we think of the unnumbered insults; the five wounds; the blood beading from the thorn incisors encircling his head
But what if, instead, we thought of the blue and red twining vessels of the umbilicus, what if we pictured the roseate and warm web of nutrients we call placenta?
Why not envision the body of Mary her autonomic brain as it was building, creating a network of feeding and growing: caring and corpuscle, healing and hemoglobin, making a mammal’s four-chambered heart, fed by the rich cake we call placenta, shaping salvation’s vascular system?
Christ’s heart took shape in Mary’s body. His blood first coursed her valves and veins. It was made with her womb’s weaving, overcast by heaven’s venture, manifest through serving love, cell by alizarin cell.