St. Botolph’s Parish, Meeting of Our Lord in the Temple (deferred), 5 February 2017
A sign that is spoken against (Luke 2.34).
‘Get a whiff of this’, the officer on duty clamps a meaty palm into an olive-drab armpit and thrusts it out. Inhaling, his buddy exclaims: ‘Man oh man, whatcha call that?’ ‘Narcissus’, the officer brags. ‘Hot shit, huh?’ ‘Nar … ss … siss?’ his buddy falters. ‘Lopez, you are one dumb asshole’. Adjusting his brassy bald eagle badge, fixing his stars-and-stripes tie pin, border agent Myers explains: ‘It’s a Greek myth, dumb-ass. Narcissus was this gorgeous guy who looked in a pond and fell in love with his own reflection’. ‘What’s it gotta do with deodorant?’ Lopez asks. ‘Aw, sorta smells like daffodils. Only stronger. Keeps you safe’. Next in the queue steps up. ‘Number 1966’, Myers barks. A slim, olive-tinted figure, in the tightest Benetton jeans and a green headscarf. Bright, black pupils look worried and wet. ‘Hey, baby’, Myers unconsciously thrusts a finger into the crease in a US passport. ‘What do we have here?’ he reads. ‘Where were you born?’ ‘Iraq. I’m a naturalised citizen’, she replies. ‘Over there!’ On signal, two blue-skirted officers with cropped blonde hair escort her away. ‘Number 1967’, Myers calls. A frail old man bends low, in a long flowing robe of black. ‘Where’re you from?’ the agent scrutinises the scarred brown face and grey beard. ‘Syria!’ he reads a passport. ‘But I am Christian’, the man feels an object inside his robe. Thrust into a back room, a dull moan. Clatter of a priest’s Cross, falling to the floor.
‘Enemy alien, if I ever saw one’, Myers notes. ‘But …’ Lopez clasps his crucifix. ‘ISIS can wear a Cross, too’, the agent smirks. ‘We’ve gotta keep our country safe and secure’.
Secure and self-assured, the next in the border queue steps forward. ‘Number …’ A look. Agent Myers hesitates. ‘Number 19 … 6 … 8’. This foreign bad dude sports no Benetton, no green giveaway Muslim scarf, no imam’s Cross. A Hindu-Hippy dark blue robe stained almost black, over his blood-red brown tunic and an olive body broken by soldiers’ blows. Like the priest, his brow bears the sharp, red scars of torture. Judging from his beard, he can be no older than around thirty-three. ‘Passport’, Myers demands. As if unexpectedly anxious. The migrant hands him his papers. ‘This ain’t no green card’, Myers puzzles. ‘What’s this funny script, Arabic?’ ‘Aramaic’, Lopez comments. ‘I learned a few words in Bible class’. ‘What’s it say, dummy?’ asks the agent. ‘It says: malkut. It means Kingdom’. ‘You a king, or something?’ the agent baits the migrant. ‘You have said it’, he replies, in a tone gentle as a turtledove yet wise as a serpent. ‘You sassin’ me, boy?’ Myers menaces. ‘Don’t you know that I can detain you indefinitely? No 6059B, no I-94. No permit whatsoever. Don’t think of contacting your friends, or family, or lawyer. See that li’l gal in the scarf? Seems she has a baby. She’ll never see that baby til I say so. Homeland Security and me!’ ‘You can do nothing to me’, says the Migrant calmly. ‘I can testify against you’, the proud patriot browbeats him. ‘I can send your ass packin’, back where you came from’. ‘You would not be the first’, replies the Migrant, slowly walking away.
A trail of blood from wounds on his back, his brow. Where his footsteps were, no trace.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. Berlin, 1932. Thirty per cent of the country, out of work. A grey sleeve signs an Enabling Act. A Chancellor supplants the Parliament. New York, 2001. Two planes crash into gold-rich towers – and from the splintered shards, bursting bombs, and spray of bullets over sixteen years … in the blood of three thousand victims, a blue sleeve signs an Executive Order. ‘I thank God Almighty’, patriot Myers prays with himself, ‘that my Country ain’t like other countries. Extortioners, drug dealers, rapists. Adulterers, terrorists – or that li’l gal in a headscarf with a bastard American brat’. Encircled by oceans, he feels quite safe on his mental island called a nation state.
Look down into that blue expanse. What will you see? A malignant narcissist, addicted to his own mirror image? Revived fears and fantasies of a rogue state? Or what the Migrant himself sees? Every refugee. Every outcast. Every Sign that is spoken against.
Under the shadow of Temple columns, she places her baby in an elderly stranger’s arms. Frail Symeon bends low in his long flowing robes of black, as though the burden were too heavy. In tear-encrusted, half-blind eyes, a fiery joy. ‘My time is come at last, my Master, according to the promise. Now let me die. My eyes have looked on the face of him, who redeems us from that long night of ignorance and fear. He who pours out his light on the nations, until no nation is left. Only the Israel of God’. Under a white Galilean headscarf, black pupils well up wet. A cold sweat of anxiety sprinkles the slim, olive brow of the girl. ‘Beware’, old Symeon looks deep into her eyes. ‘This Child will be the fall of an old order and the rising of a new. He will share the agony of a baby unborn, murdered in the womb; a migrant’s child, kept from its mother’s arms; a refugee tortured in the old country, or in the new. All his poor, turned back at the border. Many, many borders he will try to cross. All in vain. Until no fox’s hole is left, nor bird’s nest. No country to call his own. The sign of the eternal Migrant, spoken against. That sword of grief will pierce your soul, too. But in the wound that you share, all outcasts will find refuge’. An old widow named Anna, haunting the Temple, smiles as the girl from Nazareth walks away. In her arms, her light-bearing Child.
He forges a new Israel not from his own reflection but from the ocean of humanity’s tears.
Beloved in Christ: encircled by the vast, blue ocean, mental islanders build a nation state where blood and borders coincide. Labels to lull the questioning spirit, slogans to silence the critical brain, a narcissist looks into the pond and falls in love … with his own lie. The Pharisee’s vaunted virtue, the patriot’s pride. Thanking God that he is not like other men. Safe, secure, and separate. Behind the forty-foot wall of his people’s republic.
A kingdom is no people’s republic. It is no nation state. It is the realm of the King.
Royal footsteps leave no trace, where he shakes off the dust from his feet. A testimony to those who follow against those who would not welcome him. As his bluish-black robe and blood-red tunic disappear into the terminal, Deputy Agent Lopez follows. ‘Who are you?’ he asks him reverently. ‘A migrant’, states the Migrant, ‘who shares the wounds of many. Fear not’, he fingers the crucifix around the agent’s neck. ‘I shall come again’.