Okay, it’s not nice to call people old – especially “really old.” I don’t know how old they were, but they were no spring chickens. The bible calls them “well advanced in years” (how’s that for a euphemism?); the husband calls himself an old man. And the reason for the emphasis on their old age is to make it clear that they could no longer have children. For that matter, they had not been able to have children even when they were younger. Their names were Zechariah and Elizabeth, and their story is told in the first chapter of the gospel of Luke.
Call this a rabbit trail commentary. I will be majoring on the minors (but hey, I’m not preaching here or exegeting the text – just musing with you in cyberspace), but the story made me think about the “stuff” of our intimate relationships.
The story in a nutshell is this: old couple as stated; Zechariah still serves as a priest and his round for serving at the temple has come; he is about his tasks when he encounters the angel Gabriel who tells him that he and his wife will have a son; Zechariah is incredulous (“How shall I know this?” He should have known it was possible for God, as everyone knew of Abraham and Sarah); he asks for a confirming sign; Gabriel tells Zechariah he will not be able to talk until the son is born and named; and so when he comes out from offering the incense, he cannot talk; after finishing his round of duties, he goes back home (he still can’t talk); and then his wife conceives.
The part that gets me is the interesting notion that he went home unable to communicate by talking, and yet despite that, Elizabeth conceives. What?! Really?! And so, I was wondering how that worked in their relationship, and thus this rabbit trail commentary.
Some of you know what it is like to try to have children and to not be able. The entire relationship can start centering on trying to “solve the problem.” What was once a joyful matter of spouses giving themselves to each other in that intimate marital dance is now all about getting together at the right time and in the right position and about all the “science” of the process. And one day you realize you’re not really dancing anymore. You are driven by mechanics and reason rather than love and relationship. I wonder what that does to the essence of the husband-wife relationship?
Did priestly Zechariah talk too much about Elizabeth’s barrenness? Did he start to pull away from her because she couldn’t conceive? Did he stop dancing with her? Did they quietly (or not so quietly) blame each other? Did they talk the whole thing to death? Did talking become the only real connection between them in their relationship (everything else was too painful)?
So Zechariah comes home and can’t talk. Perhaps that was the most exciting development in years as far as Elizabeth was concerned. Who knows. I’m sure he wanted to tell his wife about the angel’s message, but he couldn’t speak. Did he just write it out? However it was communicated, the topic was pressing on the old bruise. Did it stir hope? Longings? A new spark of warmth between them, or just more pain?
Regardless of how that essential message was passed to Elizabeth, certainly Zechariah had to rediscover different ways of communicating with his wife over those nine or more months. He couldn’t speak at her from across the room; perhaps he had to tap her on the shoulder. No more long conversations or diatribes. Just the necessary things put in writing. But maybe he had to learn to show love and support and appreciation for his wife in some ways long since abandoned. And then they both began to remember how to dance….
Sometimes amazing things happen when you shut up and just dance.