Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: Birth (infancy) (08/20/09)
TITLE: A Life for a Lamb
By Carol Slider
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“He is dead.”
Everything stops. Grief and guilt tear at me, as they have so many times before, so that no words, no actions are adequate. But my husband comes to me and embraces me. His arms are strong and comforting and I rest in them until I can ask,
“How? A newborn, his life just begun...”
“Some vicious beast tore him in the night. What it was, I cannot name.”
“Take me to him. Show me.”
My husband draws back from me, appalled and fearful.
“Not now. You do not need to see. Rest, prepare...”
“Prepare for what? Life? What is life, but the beginning of death?”
He shakes his head, as if he has no answer, and goes out. I follow him, even as the new life in my belly leaps and twists, perhaps sensing my distress. I place a hand on my swollen stomach and whisper a word of comfort to the small one who knows nothing yet of sin and sorrow.
Yesterday, one of our ewes birthed a lamb, milk-white and spotless. The fragile, perfect thing nuzzled my hand, and it seemed to me a symbol of my own hopes. But perhaps this world is too scarred and violent to bear perfection.
When I reach the enclosure that the sheep inhabit, I almost draw back. The intertwined vines and twigs of the outer wall have been ripped apart brutally, and I imagine the merciless teeth and claws that rent them. But the scene inside is worse: a bloodied scrap of white wool is all that remains, and the bereaved mother sheep stands over it. She bleats over and over in despair, perhaps not understanding where her lamb has gone. Or perhaps she does understand. All of us who live in this wilderness learn about death too soon... too soon...
I have been like the mother sheep, bleating and keening over the inanimate thing that was once my son.
My husband and I kneel before the dead lamb and weep, our hands knit together, our tears unwiped. We have sacrificed lambs—a horrible and necessary sin offering to the Lord. But this is different—senseless, terrible, unnecessary.
When our grief is spent, my husband tells me to go, and this time I follow his command–not for him, not for myself, but for the life in my womb. I know what will come next: my husband must break up the hard earth and cover the scraps of bloody fur. After death comes decay—this we also have learned.
I lie on our mat of woven rushes and shut my eyes, trying not to remember the ewe’s despairing lament for her lost lamb.
Oh, my son... my sons...
The pains begin in the night. I touch my husband’s arm, and he wakes, instantly alert and ready. We do not speak as I labor, clenching my teeth at the agony that is sin’s consequence. But it is easier this time than before—or perhaps more familiar. My husband soothes me with his presence and his gentle hands; and when the moment comes, he gives a cry of joy.
“Is it...?” I gasp.
“Yes,” he answers. “We have a son.”
He bathes the child while I lie still, feeling the euphoria that always comes after the moment of birth. But this joy is deeper than any I have known since the hour when I listened to an evil voice.
We have been promised that all will be redeemed, that death and suffering will end, that the day will come when no more lambs need die. Is this the fulfillment, then? Will redemption come through this child, the child that God has given for my son who was slain?
My husband places the child in my arms. I bend low, kiss the smooth, soft forehead beneath a tuft of dark hair, and whisper his name:
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