Tuesday, March 4, 2014

[midrash] temptations in the wilderness

[let's just all agree to headcanon Jesus as a trans girl, ok? I'll go first.]

[content notes: intentional food deprivation, suicidal ideation]

[inspired by bestie's version of the temptation story and her reflections on Jesus' baptism]

Temptations in the Wilderness
Matthew 3:13-4:11

Her cousin greets her with a grin and a peace sign, like he has a thousand times before.

Her stomach flutters -- less from the presence of so many bodies as from the knowledge of what's inside them -- the oppressive intent of repentance, the turning, turning, that's tugging her too. The crowd's fervor tugs at her, pulls her where she wouldn't go, or wouldn't go yet.

A press of hands all around, John's smiling refusal to baptize her, an argument they've had many times before, half-joking, about worthiness and precedence, elder cousin and younger kinswoman, greater and lesser, first and last, and then Jesus kneels and John kneel, and John dunks Jesus like they're kids again, rough hands on her shoulders.

Dripping wet, she emerges from the river, and the skies open.

This is what God looks like like, a reflection of her own soul, diving from heaven into the waters, fearless, landing on her sodden robes and becoming enveloping light, saying, "You are my beloved child. I'm so pleased with you."


She wades out of the water, teases John, says something under her breath about needing some time alone, and John nods and tells her, "Go into the wilderness. It's what I do," but God is already pulling her there, no longer visible or audible, but a tug on her heart like the strongest winds. Like riptide.

She spends a lot of time in prayer.

Some things she can see clearly -- a long, narrow road. Many secrets. Friends, close as her breath, and betrayal. And God's kingdom, all around --in the stillness of the wilderness, she remembers children, and lepers, widows, and sinners, each of them in their way perfectly reflecting God. And the grains of the earth and the birds of the air, and all the things that are given for human consumption, and all the work that people do, building and crafting and weaving, and it is all an image of God.

Then she'll walk for awhile, pulled by that invisible wind, and she sees nothing at all.

She hears John's voice, calling for repentance, and she thinks yes, yes, he's right. And remembers the fate of prophets, and would stop to weep, but she's tugged further along.


Pieces of it are already in her hand -- she can feel herself reaching out, touching stopped ears and broken limbs, can feel the place whence the power comes -- she could do it now, she's ready now, and her muscles are tense with anticipation.

She could stop storms in their paths, multiply bread and feed every starving child. She could do it now.

But it's not time yet, says the wind, blowing stronger, whipping her robes around her until they're the enemy, preventing her from taking another step.

And yet she stumbles further.

She thinks perhaps she knows how it should end, but all she can see there is darkness, and death, and she is nowhere near sure she's strong enough.


She sits and thinks about death and Rome and desire, and all the good she would do if there were only time, and if only people listened.

Whenever she's visited John, since she was child fresh out of Egypt until this last time at the Jordan, John has explained that people won't listen. John, with a voice that could fell trees and ignite nations. People won't listen, and so she will fail.

She walks further into the wilderness, away from failure and from success, into the heart of the mystery that whispers belovedchild and gives her glimpses of a world where grown-ups sit at God's feet like children, learning, playing.

The shape of her body is strange and growing stranger. Muscled, weak, tired, restless. She walks, she doesn't know how far, and the wind blows up around her. At night she lies down, but doesn't sleep. She listens, and the desert tells nothing.

She thinks maybe she can recognize this body as her own, for the first time.

God saw her in the Jordan, and God was pleased with what God saw.

If she saw God doveshaped and lovely, maybe God, too, saw her as she really is.

Her feet hurt, and then become calloused, and then she loses them altogether, has no sense of them belonging to her. Then her hands, and her voice, and her beard and her hair and her eyes and her ears. There is still something that's her (belovedchild) but it's shapeless and starving.

Feed me.

She longs for braided bread and fresh fish, but there is nothing but dust and stones.


If she ate a stone (like an infant, innocent) or two or three or three thousand, she would feel full. If she changed the rocks to bread, she would be full. She can feel the shape of it (in that part of her that isn't hand or foot or voice or even thought, but Power), silt and sediment becoming wheat and oil. It would be easy. It would be nothing.

And she would be full and forget what hunger means.

She must remember hunger, must remember starvation, hollow agony, and the feeling that she would do anything, anything, to stifle that pain for a moment. She would cheat, or steal. She might murder, and she wouldn't even know when the Sabbath was to care if she broke it.

Remember hunger.

But that will be later. Now, starving, she holds the hunger at bay and reaches into the tug of the desert winds, so wild now she has no choice but to follow, and the wind takes her up and far away from her life, and it seems to her that she is in Jerusalem, although she may just be on a cliff, overlooking desolation.

Either way, she is ready to jump.

It ends in death, why not end it now?

Of course it ends in death, and in Jerusalem, and at the Temple, where, unseen and unnoticed, a woman could preach Good News forever and be ignored. Why not begin it the way it must end?

And if you are God's child, then God wouldn't let you die.

A child hiding in the Temple, testing her parents, waiting to see if they'll come back.

If they really loved you.

If God means for you not to die, then God will rescue you.


(But God probably wants you to die.)


Death, and flight, and the sensation of falling, and the possibility of rising, and surrender to the forces of nature, wind and gravity, and the forces of darkness, oblivion and destruction -- if she just stops holding on --



There is no second vision, no intervention. God descended once and wrapped her in light, and if she holds her mind just so, she can remember beyond the physical senses (dove, warmth, whisper) what it felt like to know that she was God's.

Is God's.

She steps away from the cliff.

And walks higher.

(Whenever she looks down, for the rest of her life, she'll think about jumping

but she never will.)

She sits down, as if to rest, or teach, and the world goes gray, then clarifies into a vision, golden at the edges -- the farthest valleys that she can see from this pinnacle, where vineyards grow, and goatherds tend their flocks, and she can taste:

sweet wine, tangy cheese, salted fish, mother's bread (so, so, so hungry, still). There are friends at either side and a cup that overflows with joy, the fatted calf has been slain, and there is feasting without end. This is the taste of God, but pleasure is not God, and she makes herself swallow and taste the desert grit that fills her mouth.

"Repent! Repent and return to the God who brought you up out of Egypt, the God who sets before you the ways of life and death. Listen, sinners! There is still time to turn again to God. Hear what God demands of you -- that you do justice, and love mercy, and walk humbly with God. That you love your neighbor as yourself..." This is John's voice, but it is also her voice, and the voice of every prophet. It is the voice of Law, and also the voice of Love, and it sounds like God, but it is not God, so she closes her mouth and stops preaching, and listens to the uncanny winds.

She holds a child in her arms, and in the distance an ephemeral spouse does chores. This is her family, and every family -- it is Elizabeth and Zechariah and John, her parents and her siblings, Mary and Martha and Lazarus growing old together, building a life. She nurtures a child, and teaches it, feeds it and clothes it and when it grows old, it will care for her. This feels like God, but it is not God. She lets go of the child, and feels the ache and cold and strangeness of her body, sitting on a mountain, learning the posture of a teacher.

The Temple smells of livestock and blood sacrifice, and under that finest resins, and smoke without end. When they no longer bring animals, they bring praises and incense and oils wrought at great cost, and their labor and their joy, their sacrifice and their worship, are pleasing to God. This is the scent of God, but it is not God. The desert smells ancient, and cold.

She opens her eyes and sees a ladder dangling in front of her. She can see the throne that is hers, covered in glitter, draped silks so fine they are like water and covered in mirrored gems that reflect glory upon glory, the throne she dreamed of when she played at being a princess as a child. If she climbs the ladder and sits in that throne, then everyone to the furthest reaches of the valleys that surround her pinnacle will obey her softest command: "Share," or "Heal," or, "Love." The light that comes from that throne refracts into rainbows, -- and this looks like God. Wherever she looks, this looks like God.


This looks like the heavens opened up, and a voice calling her home, to the place where she belongs, where she will be clothed in finest robes and honored like an eldest daughter, where she will be God's princess child and where her siblings and children will gather, uncountably numerous, to feast with her and to worship her Parent. No one will be lonely, and no one will know what hunger means. Home.


A God who comes to her tenderly, who tastes of love and deepest sacrifice, who feels like her mother, and a little like herself, the God who named her, and who summoned her into the wilderness -- the God of love and family and pleasure and joy, who demands worship and evokes awe, the God who summons her home to Galilee, where it all begins.