They reach from some place neither cold nor dark, these hands, into the space around her, ready to receive the whole world. Into her womb, maybe. I am the world tonight, seated on the stone bench in front of her, but not the whole world. The air here is so cold that my hands are buried within my pockets, my back curving forward to fold my warm torso over them.
Her expression is smooth like olive oil, but the softness of her features is firm in the gray stone that names her here in an inward corner of the church. It will name her in every moment of every day until time, war, iconoclasts, or wicked children come and break the naming. I am here to meet with her, but the hardness of the stone is a hindrance. The strange errand I am contemplating is already happening on its own, though. This is because you can only think of a name as long as you are thinking about its namishness. If you think any deeper than that, the name disappears, and you find yourself thinking of the thing itself. And so it is that the cold gray stone name has disappeared, and I am speaking now with the oldest woman in my Church.
“Hail, Mary,” I say like the angel, “full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” I pause to recall the words and then continue, “Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
Now and at the hour of our death. Dust, I remember. I am dust. I am here because there is poverty in my life and also great riches. Time will show if enough gratitude grows in my soul to give thanks for both.
“I don’t know what you’re able to do,” is my robust Anglican Mariology. “But could you pray for me?” It’s a request I’ve made of many saints whose saint day still lies before them, who still breathe this world’s air into their warm bodies. It’s a request I made recently of an old man saint sitting across from me, drinking tea. So, naturally, it’s the request I make tonight of this old woman saint who is still alive in the only sense that really matters. So I ask, “could you pray for me,” and I go on to tell her how.
Why am I doing this? I feel the answer to this question better than I know it. And though there are several reasons, and none of them quite fit into words, the main reason is that she is a woman. Here is a poverty and a richness: I am here because I seek the prayers of a woman who is able to love me, and there is such a woman here.
Another reason: I am here for new eyes and new ears. Nothing exposes my own foolishness to me like speaking it before the wise. So I have brought here the things I think I want, to prove them in the flame of her humility.
After some time, I have finished speaking, and my eyes drift down to her small feet. Before I’m aware of the change, I am seeing the gray stone again. I stand, hands still in pockets, and walk back toward my home. I pass by a young woman seated in the shadows of a parking lot, and I hope she is not afraid of me, a man walking these dark, empty streets on a cold night.