Sample Chapters: Awe+Wonder

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THE OLIVE PICKER

SHE WAS HOT; she was tired. Everybody had stopped because of the heat of the day, and it was time for food. She raised her head upwards and the light of the sun winked through the trees, its mottled shadows spreading over her skin. One step higher, one further extension of her right arm, and she would reach a plump cluster of green olives.

She stepped, she stretched, she clasped and pulled, then sudden triumph. Some fell to the ground on the fabric laid out to catch the fruit, those in her hand she placed in the bag she wore on her back. As she clambered down the ancient tree, she felt the weight of her plump harvest.

Fifteen minutes ago, many other women, now gone to rest and eat, had stood on the ground, reaching up into the abundance. Others shook the branches to release the fruit. But she had always loved to climb, ever since she was a little girl, and her father taught her how to do it safely. The women would look and shake their heads at her daring, all the while chattering warning, alongside their smiles and laughter at her antics.

She loved the sound of insects vibrating around her; the welcome shade from the intense heat; the occasional brush of wind on her cheek; the smell of the harvest; the yelp of a dog, the bell of the goat. The knowledge of parents who loved her, waiting for her to lunch with them, made her heart sing.

‘Thank You, God,’ she said in her heart, for Mary was a carefree teenager who loved her life. A life that would soon be turned upside down when she married. A frown crossed her face. She felt excited, but nervous. At least he hailed from the same area.

She looked at her hands and laughed. Dirt lay ingrained in her fingerprints, under her fingernails. ‘Farmer’s hands,’ she thought. Good hands, useful hands.

‘Shalom.’

She turned on her heel to face the sound. It had made her jump. A man she had never seen before stood some distance from her under an adjacent tree. He started tipping the fallen olives he had collected from the cover into a container. He smiled at her. He finished his pouring, walked towards her and stopped at an appropriate distance, to face her.

She was aware of stillness. The thin air, the motionless leaves of the tree, no incessant insect sound, rather a habitation of peace, as if time itself had paused its breath.

‘Be still my trembling body,’ she thought as she inspected him. He wasn’t a farmworker like her. His clothes were… spotless. His face had more than a smile… it… shone.

Shalom, beautiful lady. God is alongside you.’

Her right hand involuntarily moved and presented him with an outstretched palm. ‘No further,’ she thought as she stepped back, her mind puzzling over his strange words.

‘Don’t be fearful, Mary…’

‘He knows my name?’ her head screeched. ‘What is this?’

‘God delights in you.’

The man knelt to the ground and smiled, his gaze never leaving her face. His eyes, so searching, so kind.

‘You’re going to give birth to a baby, a son; you must call Him Jesus.’

Her palm lowered. He stopped. Those words. She had heard those words before. Manoah, of course, his wife in the field, she was barren, and an angel visited her and told her she was going to give birth. Her son would be a special servant to God. She became the mother of Samson. But she was married! Her palm moved and rubbed at the frown on her forehead.

‘He will be great…and called God’s Son.’ His voice was soft, compelling. ‘His reign will be glorious and His kingdom shall never end.’

As he finished, he had risen to his feet. Somehow he had become taller, wider, fuller. Astonished, she watched him fill space.

His voice so full of weight, of authority. The words seemed to enter her very being and her body vibrated at their sound, tingling from the top of her head to the tips of her toes. She knew, without doubt, God was meeting with her, telling her something so important she must listen with every fibre of her being.

She knew, when people met with an angel, extraordinary things happened. The Spirit of God had made Zechariah, her cousin Elizabeth’s husband, fall to the ground unconscious in the temple, and he woke mute. Nobody understood why. Could it be possible God wanted her to do something for Him?

‘He said I will have a baby,’ she mused.

‘Er… Um… How can this be?’ she asked. ‘I have never slept with a man.’

‘It will be by the Holy Spirit, Mary. Through God’s power you will conceive. Therefore, He will be called the Son of God.’

What!

‘What is he talking about?’ Mary felt a rising panic. She didn’t understand.

‘Your cousin Elizabeth is already pregnant; although she is in her old age, she is now in her sixth month. God’s word is always true.’

Elizabeth pregnant. How was that possible? She was too old. Everybody said so!

‘If this is God,’ she thought, ‘then there is nothing I can do or want to do to stop it. No! All my life I have loved and followed Him, and I never want to follow anyone else.’

Slowly she removed the bag of olives from her back and dropped it. She brushed both her hands across her face and over her hair, as if removing buzzing flies, emptying her head of questions. Her eyes met those of the man and never wavered.

‘I am the Lord’s servant,’ she answered. ‘Let it be so.’

One moment he was there, the next he had gone.

She didn’t move. She stood pondering his words for a long time.

Eventually she returned home, long after family and friends had eaten. She ignored all questions.

‘Has anyone heard if Cousin Elizabeth is pregnant?’ she asked. Laughter – the consensus was she was well past that possibility.

‘Why?’ they asked ‘I need to see her.’

 

Whatever our beliefs, the story of Mary and the angel in the Bible is extraordinary. A simple encounter between a young teenager and a spiritual being that encapsulates the notion of both the transcendence and the immanence of God prophesying that God will begin His human life as an egg in a young woman’s uterus.

The co-existence of deeply intimate relationship alongside the beyond-understanding power of God.

Meeting the supernatural appears to induce fear. The phrase ‘Do not be afraid/fear not’ is used 365 times in the Bible. If a transcendent God expressed Himself to us personally, we mere mortals would do well to open our ears, shut our mouths and clothe ourselves with humility in the face of such wonder.

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  • Ann Clifford

    Ann loves God, life, laughs, and people, particularly her husband and married children. Her friends and her church are very...

  • Awe+Wonder

    Ann Clifford

    Allowing yourself an encounter with this book makes space for uninhibited, magical journeying. Immerse yourself in its multi-faceted spirituality. Allow yourself time – to hover, to breathe, and let its contents kiss your space with the unexpected...