The Angel Appearing to Zacharias, William Blake, 1799-1800
By luck of the lot it seems, I am here.
Carrying with me the burning desires of a nation, and my own unspoken longings.
Singled out and sent in, through the golden doors and into a holiness I’ve never before experienced.
The signs of His presence greet me – lamplight, bread, a golden altar, set upon the backdrop of a curtain whose nearness sets my hands trembling.
Powdered incense – are we not all dust? – is what I have to offer. Sprinkle the mixture of stacte, onycha, galbanum, frankincense, till the fragrant smoke rises and clouds the sacred space.
Is that the curtain breathing?
I stand in the stillness. One moment more, and my duty is done. I have always done my duty. Yet, still, there is this barrenness . . .
A flash of light to the right. My fingers grip the empty golden spoon. A form appears, the shape of glory and terror. Has my luck run out?
No – this is good news. News beyond my old age hopes, beyond the murmured prayers of the court outside. A birth! A turning. A readiness for One greater yet to come. A fulfillment, filling all the empty spaces.
But how can I be sure? How can I know this is not just the mist of some aromatic dream?
The next time he speaks I am dumbfounded. He says his name – Gabriel – and tells me I will be silent until my lips speak of what my eyes can see – my own boy, John.
All I can do is bow to my sentence. Time slips away and the angel disappears. I stumble, humbled, into the piercing sunlight, and into a dozen questions. Perhaps it is a grace I am unable to give the answers just yet. Premature.
I will let them grow within me, taking form like the child in my wife’s womb. I will stroke her grey hair with wonder, smile wordlessly, and wait.
Wait. His words are a fire in my bones – John, joy, gladness. Yahweh has shown favour. I will let them glow till they burst out wild on the day of deliverance.
Stacte, onycha, galbanum, frankincense. A dust flung to holy offering. Perhaps I am imagining things, but the scent still lingers.
S. D. G.