April Bumgardner

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FICTION

Anna of the Temple

Instructions for living a life:
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it.

–Mary Oliver

Slightly bent, she drew her shawls loosely about her thin body. Otherwise, there was little else to belie her eighty-four years. Eighty-four years she had been on the earth, yet her eyes still sparkled. Her step was still lively. Yes, admittedly, her routine was set and her life likely appeared small, but the verve with which she arose each morning, scrubbed her face, and covered the kilometer to the temple was palpable and infectious. She greeted the same people each day on the way to the market, to deliveries, and on errands, and, of course, those who orbited the temple.

Eighty-four years. It was a long time to live, a long time to wait. But then, her people knew how to wait. Not always virtuously or patiently. Sometimes it was with bitterness or anger or accusation, but, oh, they could wait.

They had waited four hundred years in Egyptian slavery, their backs against hard stone or a leathery whip, their feet or knees deep in mud, their babies buried unceremoniously in watery graves or in impossibly arid spaces. They could wait. They had waited deep in exile as empire after empire owned them, brutalized them, kept them in darkness. They had waited.

But these days have felt different. It was inexplicable, really. A stirring within her. There were those who had taken to calling her a prophet. She could see things, certainly. Yet she marveled that others thought them so obscured. The glory of the Lord seemed so near, even in busy Jerusalem, even with the Romans storming about. There was beauty in the temple, in the lives of the people. She saw them. As she passed through the courtyard, she knew who was coming to pray, to argue with a friend, to leave a tithe, to circumcise a newborn.

Eighty-four years.

She had married so young. Even younger than her cousin Rebecca, who was now eight years in Sheol. The seven years with Abijah were barely now in her memory. Had that young girl really been her? She remembered Abijah had carried a distinct smell, one that had comforted her at the loss of her stillborn child, but its exact scent had faded. Seven years of marriage. The Jewish number of completion, perfection. Is that why he had been taken from her? She knew how to wait. Seven times twelve is eighty-four. Twelve are the sons of Jacob. Even in her marriage and her current age, she is a daughter of Israel.

The old man Simeon, bless him, was waiting for the consolation of Israel. The prophet Anna, she thought, would wait for the completion, the perfection, of Israel.

Yes, she could wait. But even more, she could hope.

Her waiting had not left her bereft. She had her work while she waited. Her work was the prayers for her people; she tended and cared for the temple. She brought the bread to share, and sometimes, on those happiest of days, she was able to meet a new family, caress and hold a newborn. The hope of Israel lay in a new generation.

How did she know this?

It was like any other stirring in her heart. Some of them formed her prayers, and they all compelled her to watch, to keep watch.

Like Moses, who could turn his head in the desert, who from such a distance could feel more than see, that there was a bush burning which was different.

Moses had been a prophet.

And so was she, Anna of the temple.

Moses knew how to wait. Nor was his waiting passive. He had his work, his wife, his flocks. Even in the midst of his work, tending his flocks, he knew how to look. Moses turned aside.

There was a bush, burning.

And there was a voice.

***

“Anna. Oh, Anna.”

Who was calling to her?

Something was peculiar in the desert. In the temple.

Here comes another new family. So young. Swaddled infant, a boy surely. Here comes another stirring within her. Such a great stirring. She was compelled to touch this family, to greet them, to turn aside and see what this great sight might be on an ordinary day of waiting in the temple.

She was Mary.

He was Joseph.

And this. This one was Immanuel. Oh! Can it be? With such a common name. This was Jesus. But with such a laden meaning! Could it be—the salvation of the Lord?!

In the desert, Moses sees the bush is burning.

Her own heart is aflame.

Such a voice. What might it have sounded like? Booming and resonant? Crackling and unclear? “This is holy ground.”

Such a baby. What might his future be? Resplendent? Ambitious? Or obscured? Impoverished? “This is holy firstborn.”

Moses hides his face. She cannot look away.

The shekinah of the Lord.

The shekinah of the Lord!

How did she know?

She beheld the Lord.

In the temple, Anna held God.


April Bumgardner is a homeschooler and the author of Immanuel: When God Was One of Us and, more recently, the editor of Emboldened by Christ: Women Writers on Discipleship and Spiritual Formation. With a master’s in Slavic Studies, April loves languages and the intersection of faith and literature. She lives in central Indiana.


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Artwork: Illustration from Historia de el Nuevo Testmento (1722), Flickr.com. Public Domain.

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