Monologue for the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple 2023
Let me introduce myself. My name is Shimon. I suppose I was named after Jacob’s and Leah’s son of long ago. To the Roman authorities I’m Simeon.
I’m an old man. My enthusiasms have withered, all passion spent. My knees and back give me trouble. My guts are in an uproar. My sight fails, my hearing too. I have to get up once or twice a night for a piss and I often don’t get back to sleep. My friends and relatives are dying around me. And after a life of striving, hoping I was doing the best for my family and those I serve, I’m tired, even exhausted.
I moved into town a few years ago and live near the Temple. I go there most days for a bit of peace and quiet and to think. I try to listen to what the Lord says to me, but it’s not easy with all the noisy nonsense in my head.
Anyhoo, a couple of days ago a funny thing happened to me in the Temple. I was in my usual spot when a family came in. a mother, husband at least 10 years older, and the young babby. I imagined they were here because the child was being offered to the Lord as the first born son, and so it was. Turns out they were from up north, the back of beyond—Galilee I think.
Something drew me to them. After a few pleasantries with me cooing over the babe, the mother—Maryam was her name—gave him to me to hold.
The most extraordinary feeling came over me, hard to describe but here goes. Awe, wonder, warmth, pleasure, a feeling that the child would grow up to speak truth and so cause trouble. He would not have an easy time, for truth is never welcome to dictators like the Romans and jobsworths. He would show us the way to the Lord.
I suppose the overwhelming feeling was one of relief—relief that here at last would be someone who brought the past and present together, like in the narrow bit of an hourglass, to power the future. It so affected me that I actually said out loud “Now I have seen the way. I need nothing else. I can ditch the stuff that used to be so precious. I can relax and stop worrying. I can live the rest of my life in trust.” No need then to fret about nocturnal micturition and other troubles of old age—at least they mean I’m not dead yet.
The moment passed. The family went on its way and I was left in a rather strange trance.
The whole episode set me thinking. What if the way to the Lord—let’s call it salvation—was not just about who the baby was—and I still have no idea—but was also about the fact that it was a baby, a child, that was showing it? What if the qualities of being a child were themselves necessary for the journey?
So the next day after a fitful night I made a list of things that might be relevant. Here’s my list.
- Dependence on others, readiness to accept help.
- Straightforward. Trusting. Direct. Unhampered by so-called politeness and good manners.
- Honesty, lack of guile.
- Pushing at boundaries. Taking risks. So many of my friends are imprisoned in their own choices they’ve forgotten how to look over walls.
- Full of energy.
- Using imagination to have as much fun as possible. I remember how a wooden box could be just about anything I wanted it to be.
The openness and open-mindedness of children reminded me of an image of salvation once given to me by a Rabbi: no boundaries, freedom to move, freedom from the past that comes from living in the moment—being fully aware of what exactly is going on in and around me, with open eyes and mind: observing but not judging.
I thought how the “freshness” of the child I once was had been squeezed out by having to deal with the trials and tribulations of jobs, family, and bureaucracy, together with things that come from pride, wilfulness, selfishness, thoughtlessness, self-deception, pretence, puffed-upness—in a word, ego.
I need to get in touch with that child. I see with stark clarity how the child is father of the man both personally and in the strange way that the baby in the Temple showed me.
I, Shimon, an old man, carried the child, but the child governs this old man.