Sunday, June 20, 2021

The Angelus

The Angelus A short story by Mary M. Isaacs


 

“In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful, In the Lord I will rejoice,

Look to God, do not be afraid.

Lift up your voices the Lord is near,

Lift up your voices, the Lord is near.”


 

The woman looked at her husband pleadingly as he prepared to go out the door for the day’s work. “Couldn’t we just keep saying it only in the morning and at day’s end, as we have been?”

“Alison, we’ve talked about this. It’s time. We can’t hide in fear any longer. You know we are to speak boldly.”

“But they will hurt you, maybe take you away. Maybe I’ll never see you again. Maybe they will come for me.”

Daniel came back from the door and put his canteen on the table. He took his wife into his arms. “You know what to do. Go to your cousin Joseph’s house after lunch. They will keep you safe until we see what happens. There’s plenty of room there for you—we have no children to protect. Yet.” And he smiled at her.

She clung to him. “If they take you away, there never WILL be any children.”

His smile broadened and he put his hand gently on her belly. “We have this one.”

She pulled back and stared at him. “How could you know that? I’m not even sure myself!”

“God told me,” he said simply, as he looked at her.

“But,” she stammered, “isn’t that more reason for you to be careful, then? For you not to do this? How can I raise a child without you?”

“How can we raise a child without God?” he countered sternly. His wife had no reply but leaned her forehead on his chest as she held him tightly. “You know I have to do this, Alison. I hope I will not be alone, but even if no one else speaks out, that won’t matter. I must.”

“I love you so,” her words came out muffled as she pressed closer to him. “God watch over you and keep you safe--every hour, every minute.”

“Alison,” he whispered. “Dear heart…” and he kissed the top of her head. “Get everything ready to take to Joseph’s. I want to know that you will be safe.”

She pulled back and looked up at his face, searchingly. He leaned over and kissed her. “I will see you at dinner. Deo volente,” he added.

The woman reached up to touch his cheek. “I will get everything ready for dinner before I go. I will make something special for you, Daniel!” and she tried to smile at him. “It will be a surprise,” then she turned away abruptly, in order not to see him leave. After she heard the door close behind him, however, she put her hands over her face and allowed the tears to fall.

…………

Daniel worked steadily that morning, his mind only half on what he was doing. It was largely unskilled labor but did require some concentration on his part. Nevertheless, in the back of his mind he was keeping track of the time left before everyone stopped for lunch.

All the workers ate together in a large dining hall, watched by the ever-present guards. The midday meal was provided by the state and was filling, if uninspiring. The menu was designed merely to keep all the men healthy and fit, not to entertain them. The workers sat at long tables, which had been set with full plates. Everyone was expected to eat what was served to them; afterwards, they all returned to their duties.

Today was no exception to the usual procedure. The men filed into the dining hall, sat at their assigned seats for that week, and began to eat. Daniel barely glanced at his food; he had something else on his mind.

………

Alison finished her preparations for dinner, keeping one eye on the clock. She had managed to remain calm all morning as she cleaned the house, prepared for dinner, and packed a small bag to take to her cousin’s house. But now it was almost noon…. She stopped everything she was doing while watching the minute hand move forward slowly. Fear and apprehension flooded through her as the hour approached.

Finally it was twelve o’clock. She stood still for a moment, trembling, and then closed her eyes. Folding her hands together tightly, she took a deep breath and began to speak, saying both verse and response because she was alone. As word followed word, suddenly all fears were gone. Her voice stopped shaking and a sense of peace filled her soul.

“The Angel of the Lord declared to Mary/And she conceived of the Holy Ghost/Hail, Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…”

…………………….

Daniel had stood up from the table to begin his reciting. He continued through the loud murmuring of voices all around him.

…blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.”

As Daniel’s steady voice gradually fell on their ears, the men at his table stopped eating and looked up at him. Recognition flashed in the eyes of a few.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

Across from him, one man put down his fork and stood up in respectful silence. Others at the table looked from him to the speaker, bewildered.

“Behold the handmaiden of the of the Lord/Be it done unto me according to thy word.”

Another man stood up quietly, with bowed head. The noise at nearby tables diminished as more men looked to see what was happening. Silence rippled away from the first table, moving through the room like a wave across water.

“Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee…” and a second voice joined Daniel’s, from two tables away. “Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus.”

As a growing hush filled the room, the guards looked around and at each other, uncertainty on their faces. The guard at Daniel’s table left the room quickly. Daniel noted that, even as he continued speaking. He quelled the fear that went through him and went on reciting the prayer.

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

By this time, several voices had joined in, and additional men were standing quietly. “And the Word was made flesh. And dwelt among us.”

……

At almost the same moment, Alison whispered the response: “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus…”

……………..

“Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.”

Some of the guards remained frozen in their places, but a few began moving toward the several speakers.

“Pray for us, O Holy Mother of God, that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ. Let us pray…”

Suddenly, the brazen sound of an alarm ripped through the room. All the guards stopped what they were doing and ran for the doors. Daniel continued the prayer. “Pour forth, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy grace into our hearts…”

By this time, men all around the room were on their feet, and several voices continued the prayer through to its conclusion: “…that we, to whom the Incarnation of Christ, Thy Son, was made known by the message of an angel, may by His Passion and Cross be brought to the glory of His Resurrection. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.” The room was rapidly emptied of guards as the alarm continued to blare out. None of the men at the tables paid any attention to it.

When the prayer came to an end, Daniel raised his voice slightly: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost. As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” In his mind, he thought he could hear Alison’s voice, echoing the “Amen”.

There was utter silence after the last word was spoken. Then, almost simultaneously, the men sat back down and resumed eating their meal and starting quiet conversations, as if nothing unusual had taken place. Daniel sat, too, while exchanging a look with the man across the table, who had been the first to stand with him.

“Amen,” said the other man, with the shadow of a smile; then he looked back down to his plate and continued eating.

Daniel felt a little dizzy, but also exalted—until he saw their table guard re-enter the room and walk determinedly toward him. All the men around him fell silent, still eating slowly as their eyes watched the guard come near. He stopped beside Daniel and looked at him with an expressionless face. There was a short silence.

“I set off the alarm,” he said finally.

Daniel looked at him in surprise. “Why?” was all he could say.

The guard shrugged slightly. “You weren’t finished with your prayer, and they were going to stop you.” He paused. “I won’t be able to set it off every day, though.”

“I know,” Daniel said.

“So what are you going to do?”

“Get arrested eventually, I imagine.”

“Is it that important?” the guard asked, puzzled.

Daniel answered, “Yes, it is. That important.”

The guard continued to look at him speculatively. “Well, I’ll see what I can do.” He made a sketchy half-salute, then turned and started to walk away.

Daniel called after him quietly, “God bless you.”

The guard stopped and looked back over his shoulder. “Thank you,” he said, and then returned to his place, as the other guards started straggling back into the room, talking loudly amongst themselves.

………….

Daniel walked home at the end of the workday, not looking forward to going into a dark and empty house. A few of the men had thanked him privately during the afternoon, which heartened him, but actually having taken this step made him think about it differently. Was continuing to do this really worth endangering Alison and their child? What would they do without him? How could she cope alone if he was arrested and taken away? Doubts crept into his thoughts.

He reached his house and opened the door but stopped abruptly when he saw Alison setting the table. She put down the plate she had been holding and ran to him, calling his name. Dropping his empty canteen on the floor, he received her into a strong embrace. They held each other in silence until Daniel released her slightly and said, “Alison…I’m glad you’re here. But why didn’t you go to your cousin’s house?”

She looked up at him intently. “Something unusual happened at noon today, didn’t it, Daniel? What was it?”

He smiled at her. “I’m not completely sure, but…I think God sent an angel.”

She nodded in agreement. “I knew there must have been something because all my fears ended right then. Completely. That’s why I never went to Joseph’s house. I knew you’d be coming home today.” She tipped her head, her face asking the question. “So, what about tomorrow?”

He looked at her closely and could see that she had spoken the truth: there was no trace of fear or worry in her expression. There was only a settled peace. Her trust challenged his doubts.

“I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I wasn’t the only one who prayed”--she whispered “amen” at that--“and I don’t know what God has in mind. But what do you say--shall I do it again tomorrow?”

“Could you keep silent now, after today?” she asked.

He paused for a moment. “No,” he said simply.

Alison smiled and reached up to cradle his face, then pulled his head down to kiss him. “I love you, Daniel.”



“In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful, in the Lord I will rejoice,

Look to God, do not be afraid.

Lift up your voices, the Lord is near,

Lift up your voices, the Lord is near.”

 _________________________________________________________

“In the Lord I’ll Be Ever Thankful”, by the Taize Community.


Mary M. Isaacs, copyright 2021, from a forthcoming book.

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