Making Contact

He runs with the others, looks like the others, smells like the others. But he knows that he’s not like them. His past hangs too heavy, like smog in his mind, a spectre forever haunting the corridors of his being. He feels empty, hollowed out by his mistakes and misdemeanours. He doesn’t know why he’s running really. Doesn’t know why he isn’t already dead. When those figures in the night showed up he knew it was all over, knew they had come for him, and yet somehow he survived, probably lost in the crowd of gawping faces. Hidden by the glow of those messengers. So he runs now, and the town appears round them, the houses looming over them, the streets empty. The night silent except for that crying. And so they shuffle in, the men unable to quell their blunt muttering as they spill the beans about angels and the promise of peace on earth. He doubts it’s a peace he’ll ever know. And the blundering, dung-spattered lot reach out with stained, gnarled fingers and make gentle contact with the tiny pristine hands of this living miracle. The crying ceases for a while, the child fascinated by so many grinning toothy faces, his eyes wide with wonder, but not as wide as theirs. He had intended to stay back, hold his distance, keep away from contaminating this new perfect life with his corruption and greed. But somehow the crowd clears, and there he is, at the front, looking down on this tiny bundle of life, so small in this ragged carpet of hay. He knows all about hay. And feels oddly at home. Yet still he expects the child to throw its jaws wide and wail at the sight of him. What else would it do? And is he imagining it? Or is this baby looking at him differently, a knowing look of studied rejection in his eyes. For all its naïve innocence this child must surely know what he’s done. And then it happens, the child’s untrained hand reaching for him, fingers flickering and busy as they head for his won hand. And before he knows what he’s a doing he’s reaching out and making contact with his own soiled hand. And there is no wailing or rejection in the air, only a stillness, and the realisation that God is here and somehow… yes somehow… he feels better. He feels clean. As if the child really does know what he’s done, and who he is, and yet is full of warm and vulnerable acceptance. And for the first time in a long time, this shepherd smiles.

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