Letters from Galilee 03

Letter 3

Dear Sara

You know that piece of leather that Father keeps at his bedside, one of those we were never allowed to touch? The one from the writings of Isaiah.

Can you find it, and without making too much fuss, can you please ask Cousin Saul what he thinks it means? Don’t let on that it’s me asking, just make as though you are interested in the prophecies. Say that Joel is thinking of studying further and you would like to be aware of what our history holds, or something like that.

Father will be pleased to think that at least one of his children is taking a proper interest in the People, and it will make him look kindly on Joel too.

Thanks Sis. I’ll tell you what it’s all about later. Or ask Mother. If she thinks you’re old enough to know about such things maybe she will fill you in.


Dear Mother,

Have I ever had hallucinations?

Today the innkeeper’s wife sent me off to a neighbour for lunch. I had met this family briefly – the wife is one of her husband’s many relatives. A comfortable couple, nice home, three daughters. (Don’t prick your ears up, the oldest is betrothed and the other two are twins of 10 years old.)

When I got to the house, the door was open, so I knocked, then went on in. I could hear voices, and followed the sound down the hallway. I could see an archway ahead, and through that the kitchen, open and clean, lit by the large window directly ahead of me.

For a moment I was blinded by the contrast and saw only silhouettes. A slight figure on the far side of the room, a larger figure closer to me.

I stopped and blinked, then as my eyes settled the scene became clear. I have gone over it a hundred times as I try to make sense of what happened next, and every detail is as vivid now as it was then.

Mary, the eldest daughter of the house, was outlined against the window and looking in my direction. She did not see me, her attention was on the man facing her. They were separated by the big kitchen table where the midday meal was in preparation. Shiny red peppers, stripped white onions, green leaves glistening with tiny droplets of water and deep purple aubergines, tumbled together at one end splashing their colours across the old wood.

There was a faint smell of flour in the air and Mary’s apron was lightly dusted with white. Her sleeves were rolled up, her hands suspended above a shaped loaf poised ready for the oven.

At first I thought her companion was her father, or maybe her husband-to-be, a pleasant young man I have met in the evening discussions. As my vision focused I realised this was neither parent nor betrothed. Yet he stood easily, relaxed and quite at home.

I know you would frown on Sara receiving a man in the house if she was alone, but I thought that maybe because this is such a small town, no one worries. Anyway, it was not my affair – at least then it wasn’t.

From where I stood I could see them both in stark outline. They were angled slightly away from me and intent on their exchange. I did not want to interrupt (you would have been pleased with my manners!) Neither of them noticed me and I thought it would be best to leave quietly and come back later. What I heard next put that, and any idea of good manners, right out of my mind.

The man spoke. His voice was pleasant, mid-tone, unhurried, with no determinable accent. He said: I am an angel, sent from God.

Mother, those were His exact words: I am an angel, sent from God.

He said this as though it were an everyday introduction. No thunderclaps, no dramatic tones to the voice. Just those seven words.

I leaned back to stay out of sight, while at the same time I was leaning forward to try and see more of what he looked like. He appeared about my height, normal build, dark haired, simply dressed in a cream-colored linen tunic.

And he said he was an angel.

But that is not all. The two of them then had the strangest conversation I have ever heard. He calmly proceeded to tell her that she had found favour with God, was blessed among women, and was going to conceive a child.

She in return told him – a perfect stranger remember – that she had never ‘known a man’, so how could she fall pregnant. His response was that nothing is impossible with God. She, with remarkable poise and calm, simply accepted it, and the visitor/ angel left. I don’t know where he went or how. One moment he was there, the next he was gone. I left too, quietly and conventionally.

Mother, I am a graduate in comparative analysis. I am a reasonably experienced reporter. I deal in facts. What I am describing is factually impossible, but it happened. Right in front of me. I did not imagine it. I know I didn’t.

I don’t know what is going on here, and I am unsure of what my moral responsibility is. Do I keep quiet? Can I talk to her parents? I hardly know them. I looked at Mary and I could see Sara. As a mother, would you want a stranger telling you something like this?

PS: don’t worry – I ate later with Joseph and Nathan, a couple of the young men I am getting to know.

All my love
Your somewhat bothered son

Dear Joel

Just to let you know, you have developed a sudden interest in the history of our people and in the prophets. So if you get a warm look from my father, you can thank me. If you get a long detailed exposition from my Cousin Saul about the intricacies of fulfilled prophecies, and the promised coming King, you can thank me too. (Ha Ha!)

Still your friend

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