(I dedicate this to all those women who found the Sacred and Divine despite the confinements of the times they lived in…Women like St. Claire, St. Teresa and Hildegard of Bingen)
She stands within the empty cell; the only movement save her beating heart are the dust particles that float in the shaft of sunlight coming from the one high and tiny window. No sound; no long intake of breath, no gentle swallow of saliva or shifting of the robes that drape her body, can be heard. To look in upon this cell, to secretly and magically see through the stone walls, is as gazing upon a painting; mostly gloomy, colourless, but nonetheless inviting curiosity regarding the activity that must be occurring beyond the reach of the eye.
She stands long, the will of her body holding her upright beneath the rough grey material that cloaks it. She has retreated to a darker corner of her chamber, her brow nearly resting where the walls meet. The air grows stale and the small room hot as a powerful sun heats the ancient rocks of the cell. You or I might nearly faint, confined within such a place, lacking water to cool our parched throat or muggy body.
Yet she stands; cloaked in heavy fabric, her hair hidden beneath a tightly wrapped scarf, so that she is devoid of character, made plain and unassuming, made invisible to a gaudy world.
Her countenance; hidden by a swath of cloth that reaches from her crown to her shoulders, like drapery framing a window parted only enough to reveal a sliver of the landscape beyond, paints no expression – lashes resting on tender and pale skin, lips non-committal and dull – a face with no expression, holding no clue to the universe unfolding behind it.
She is unaware of her own existence in this dark and silent place, unaware of aching legs or hungry belly as she is pulled effortlessly into an ever expanding void where the blackness around her is pierced with innumerable sparks of light – light that cannot or will not reach her but promises the eventuality of illumination.
She becomes aware of her own presence when she is visited with the knowledge of the inescapable aloneness that surrounds her. She knows this companion well and it no longer frightens her for she has welcomed it thoroughly and it has become familiar. The awareness of her presence awakens her to the countless lights around her and she feels the pull of one among the million and she eagerly submits to it.
Oh how it reaches for her this small and flickering light and how her companion rejoices each time it flashes a promising ray toward her. There is the rising of anticipation within her quiet soul that is cautious and restrained. And so she journey’s for perhaps eternity, but here time is nothing, neither is space, and she knows these to be the creations of small minds, measurements of the arrogant. For at once she is embraced utterly in the warmth and brilliance of the distant star, no place around her hints of the darkness she journeyed through and the illumination is not shocking.
The light enfolds her but does not stop there; it pierces her skin through every pore. It reaches in long strands of gold and silver to ignite each cell within her. The space between each cell like the darkness she journeyed through to get here. In this activity she has no earthly body for she expands beyond the confines of skin and bone until she is as vast as the universe around her, until she is one with both the light and the dark and there is no separation she can conceive of. Desire overtakes her but has no object, is simply pure and unbridled, and she is free.
This light is most glorious and within it there are sounds unlike her ears could ever hear. Each molecule of light like a tiny instrument that when joined with the whole creates a symphony of sound, music so sweet she cannot but cry. As the tear falls down her cheek then descends past her neck to her breast she finds herself once again contained in her body, as she stands naked in the light. All calmness descends over her and she is glad for this boundary, this body that welcomes her back. It is in her naked sedation, unashamed and untethered, that she sees the shadow of her God come toward her.
He comes from the light as though all light converged to make up his magnificent form – he comes as light though his dark skin is most human. Wounds upon his hands and feet shed ribbons of blood, blood he could shed forever; blood of unhealed wounds gladly bore. His brown eyes are as gateways to a never-ending wilderness of peace, to fall into the darkness of his eyes would be to know the perfection of his grace. He casts these upon her and she catches her breath as she is seized by shame at her nakedness. But his eyes hold only love and wonder as though she is a long searched for and finally found treasure. He gazes past her skin and she is exposed in an entirely different way. She exhales as though for the first time. He knows her sins and short-comings, he knows her fears and doubts, and the weight of his mercy overcomes her and she falls to her knees. How can she deserve this? How can she receive such grace? Her mortality, even in this holy place, cannot contain such benevolence and she cries out her unworthiness.
Yet she cannot hide for there is nowhere he cannot follow and his eyes never falter in their gaze. He comes to her and gathers her most gently into his arms.
Oh joy without end and for no purpose! Oh joy so pure and new; joy devoid of small ideas of worthlessness, but boundless in its capacity to heal! In joy she knows she never needed forgiveness, in joy she comes to know her own perfection, in joy she leaves all earth and flesh behind her and knows no separation between the Divine and her Soul.
He is whispering to her but no one word can be distinguished for all words and voices are riding on his breath and like a warm breeze caress her softly. Breath of love, air of peace, winds of heaven rage over her.
How can this be tolerated, this terrible love that knows no end, that determinedly persists until its subject receives it? Who can withstand such an assault as God can reign when the object of his desire is found? But she must and she does, she submits and dissolves to all else. She submits and blessedly ceases to exist in any manner not familiar with his love.
And within the tiny cell she now lays prostrate; her cheek resting on the rough stone floor. No light comes from the window now as night has descended and the cell has grown cold. No food or water has passed her lips these long hours and to the observer she would appear to have fainted – her thin body succumbing at last to its earthly needs. But this is not the case, she herself is unaware of making the transition to the floor, no will of her own commanded the bending of her knees or the descent of her body. Yet here she lay, still and pale, a tear from her eye the only indication of life beyond the form.
It is the coldness she first is aware of as it seeps past her heavy robes and bites at her skin. Oh how she fights the coming of consciousness that cruelly pulls her back to the world. But there it is…and once it takes hold she cannot stop its invasion, for the human body will have its desires known and will always reach for appeasement.
Next comes the aching of muscles long held rigid and stiff to bear the body in its posture. The awakening of muscles and joints that cry out for tender stretching brings her more fully to herself and she is being pulled back through eternity, back to a most powerful destination, the dominion of her mortal being.
Finally it is the waters of her body that nudge her to full conciseness so that she opens her eyes and in the darkness cries out in grief at being forced from her Divine Lover. Her soul yearns to return, be it through the pain of death, but her body refuses to obey.
“My God, my Love, take not your grace from me.” She whispers most urgently into the cover of night; these words less a prayer then an entreaty of need – sustenance for her soul to live.
She must rise, she knows this and grievously she does, her legs shaking, her belly on fire with hunger, her face wet with tears, the union with her Lord becoming memory; one that brings the rapture of the bond and the agony of parting and the excruciating desire to return.
So it is, a day and night; her destiny perfectly revealed, a betrothal forged in a simple cathedral where light and dark collide, where cacophony and harmony become the chorus of the matrimonial hymn.
And hidden in a fold of her garment a speck of colour dots the vastness of grey like a buoy upon a fearsome sea, the blood of a wound that shall never close but will save the life of the drowning.