The Woman Who Would Carry God

Many women loved Jesus. Some followed Him around and cooked for Him, just to be near Him. At least one didn’t cook for Him, on purpose, just to be near Him.

But one woman loved Him enough to carry Him around. Literally, to carry Him around.

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When He rose from the dead, Mary Magdalene, the gospel of John tells us, remained outside the trampled tomb. The disciples had believed her about the vacated gravesite but once they saw for themselves, they went back home.

Mary’s grief, though, couldn’t be contained. She stood outside the door – did her tears spatter its threshold? She stared at the two angels, headboard and footboard, with their questions; but couldn’t meet the eyes of the man who’d silently approached behind her.

He asked questions, too; but she had some of her own. Urgency: Where did they take Him?

And an offer: I’ll go get Him, she said. (Using the same word to describe what the paralytic did with his superfluous mat – he picked it up and carried it. The same word of the actions of angels for a flailing, falling God – they’d carry Him in their hands.)

I’ll go get Him, Mary said, I’ll figure out a way to carry Him to wherever His body can be treated with the respect due His suffering.

No wonder Jesus looked at her, nearly speechless: He said only her name.

Mary. The woman who was willing to carry God.

Her actions set up, or perhaps perpetuated, what became a job description for women of the early days of the Church, the so-called “bone gatherers” who sought out the bodies, and fragments of bodies, of their martyred brothers and sisters.

Thus it is that we see Priscilla, in the opening pages of A Conspiracy of Breath, performing the function of a bone gatherer:

Praefatio

I carry the wrapped child in front of me, in the crook of my aching arm, his head above his curled feet, as if he were alive. As if he had ever been born, or named, or drew breath, or saw his dying mother’s eyes. As if she had ever seen his.

This is night work, and the mule beside me stumbles in the uneven, now unseen streets that only reveal shadow and character in the light of a doorway, here and there. All around our feet are what people throw away after a spectacle—torn banners, scraps of food, dropped, lost mementos.

Behind me on the creaking wagon are the remains, what I gather after the spectacle: torn things, fallen, saved, remembered.

When I first began this job, I could do it in the daylight. It was a curiosity to those who saw me, a woman who wore the robes of aristocracy and did the work of a ghoul. Most of those who knew me would not meet my eyes, or if they did, it was with a mixture of disgust and wonder. And later, some of them, with triumph, from behind secure windows, around impassable gates.

The first time I gained permission to bring the bodies back from the killing places, Cordelia began to strategize how to borrow a cart and donkey. Many of our friends still lived and had animals then, and she still had a bit of her father’s money left.

“We’ll need a big wagon,” she calculated, counting without knowing it on her crooked knuckles, imagining that the aftereffects of imperial entertainment would necessitate strong beasts of burden, perhaps several trips with several wagons.

She wasn’t thinking straight, I should have seen that. There is little left when wild lions are finished with a human being.

I lined the wagon with pieces of old goat-hair tents. People bring me the ripped flaps, snagged beckets, unsalvageable vestibules. When my needle cannot resurrect them, they leave the raveling remnants with me.

At first, I thought my supply was endless and I threw the blood-crusted pieces away. Now I wash them before dawn and let them dry for the next load. My shop, miles away, is where there are no sewers, so my gutters are red ropes each sunrise. My neighbors blink in the sunshine, step over, cross to the other side of the street.

It will take me most of a night-watch to bring the wagon from the circus maximus to the catacombs. I hold my other hand out in front. It is only because I once lived in this neighborhood that I can navigate in darkness so profound I feel blind. The darkness is a covering for me, I must remember that, a veil that keeps me hidden.

For further reading:

Where are the Voices of the Acts 2 Women?

Is the Holy Spirit Always a Gentleman?

On Trances and Ecstasies:  Thanks for Nothing, Bernini

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