(Note: “Ol’ Zak: a Monologue” first appeared as poetry in the Spring Issue of The Whirlwind Review.)

Ol’ Zak: A Monologue

Luke 3: 7 – 18

 

I was over nine months

without a voice.

 

It was like a long overdue pregnancy.

 

Let me tell you, being without voice,

is like being blind, being condemned to darkness.

It is like wandering in darkness, in a great wilderness

where the light is dim and there is no one about

but yourself and the animals and the strange spirits

that seem so familiar, yet you know not what

dark canyon or cave they emerged from.

 

For months, I imagined myself a voiceless voice

crying in the wilderness, but nothing human heard me.

My mouth was open, but my tongue was like stone.

Nothing came out of me, and all around me,

in the vast wilderness was the absence of God.

 

In those days of silence,

I kept going over and over in my mind

how this happened to me, to us.

We were just good ordinary people, Liz and me,

minding our own business.

I was proud to be Zechariah, of the priestly order of Abijah.

Wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron.

Everyone knew us to be righteous before God.

No one could say that we did not live blamelessly

according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord.

Yet we were not blessed with children.  The years went by,

and it became evident that poor Lizzie was barren.

Who knows thy ways, O Lord?

 

One day, I was serving as priest before God.

My section was on duty.  I was chosen by lot,

according to the custom of the priesthood,

to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and to offer incense.

It was such a privilege. 

 

As I approached the altar of incense,

I remember thinking, how much I loved the cedar

and the gold inlay.  Light shone from the upper windows

of the House of the Lord, and smoke from the incense

rose into the beams of light.  I loved it.

 

I looked around at the ten golden lamp stands,

glinting gold everywhere, and listened to

the whole assembly of people praying outside,

a burble of voices at God’s door.

 

It was then, as I enjoyed a wonder of well-being,

that there, on the right side of the altar,

a personage–an angel–an angel of the Lord–

appeared. 

 

I was terrified.  I never thought

it could be like this, but I felt my hair rise,

even on my wrists, and I fell backward,

The angel spoke:

“Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer

has been heard.  Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son,

and you will name him John.

You will have joy and gladness,

and many will rejoice at his birth,

for he will be great in the sight of the Lord.

 

“He must never drink wine and strong drink;

even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit.

He will turn many of the people of Israel

to the Lord their God.  With the spirit and power of Elijah

he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children,

and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous,

to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”

 

You can imagine my reaction:  What prayer?

Have l been praying for this, at my age,

at my time of life, when I am so satisfied

with where I am, how I am, and I have

my life in order, the way I want it?

Has my heart betrayed me?

 

Finally, I overcame my amazement and fear,

and said to the angel:  ”How can this be so?

I am an old man, and Lizzie is no spring chicken either,

Why me?”

 

I must have upset the angel.  He said:

“I am Gabriel…because you do not believe my words,

which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute,

unable to speak, until the day these things occur.”

 

And that was that.  Mute.  Dumb.  For over nine months,

I was in my wilderness of voicelessness,

my eyes beseeching, my mouth open,

but my tongue like stone.  I had all the time in the world

to think about what I had seen and heard

in God’s house, to nurture what was coming to be

in myself.

 

Finally, it happened: the baby!

 

Oh, I was not like other fathers,

asleep in another tent,

or in the temple polishing

the implements for the next ritual.

I was there, outside the birthing room,

hearing Lizzie’s cries of pain,

shooed away by the midwives.

“Scat,” they said.  “This is a woman thing.

Give her room to breathe.” 

 

No, no, I wanted to say.

Not when an angel’s got your tongue.

Not when an angel’s got my tongue.

I tell you, it’s also a man thing.

 

Then, another voice came from the birthing room,

the voice of the baby, and soon one of the midwives

came out to say that it was a boy!  Imagine, a boy!

After all these years!  The angel was right!

Oh, how I wanted to shout:  Abraham, step aside!

Make room for Ol’ Zak here!  People will also remember

Zechariah when they think of late births!

 

But I had no voice.  I could not speak.

I believe I had this silly grin on my face.

I tried to get into people’s faces,

to show them how overjoyed I was,

but they were only interested in Elizabeth

and the baby.  All the neighbors came,

and the relatives, to see the baby,

and to say:  See, the Lord has shown great mercy

to Elizabeth.  Hallelujah!  Praise the Lord!

Our God can do anything, even make what has been

a barren wilderness bloom with new life.

Our sister Elizabeth is a woman among women!

 

For eight days, I had to endure the silence,

and the neighbors, and the relatives.

I prayed, “O God, help me.  I am yours.

I am yours.”  Finally, my fellow priests

came to circumcise my boy.

 

They took the baby

from Elizabeth.  They covered the table with linen,

and laid the baby on it.

 

Then, the chief priest said, “He is a wonderful boy,

this little Zechariah.”

 

But Elizabeth said, “No, he is to be called John.

Ask my husband.”

 

I tried to speak,

but nothing came out of my mouth.

I made a writing motion in the air.

Bring me a tablet, I motioned.  Bring me a tablet.

Finally, they understood.  And I wrote:

“His name is John.”  In all capitals, and like Moses

I held up the tablet for all to see.  And you should have seen

their faces–the priests, my relatives, and the neighbors–

all of them were amazed.  And I felt this wonderful explosion

in my throat, and my tongue was no longer stone, but flowed

like water, like fire, and my lips moved,

and I could speak once again!  I could speak again!

After all those months of silence,

you’d think I could say more than I did–more than “Hallelujah!

Praise God!  Blessed be his holy name!”  But oh,

try to stop my voice now!

 

Then the spirit of the Lord, holy fire, came upon me,

and I became a prophet.  I said:

“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,

for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.

He has raised up a mighty savior for us

in the house of his servant David,

as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,

that we would be saved from our enemies

and from the hand of all who hate us.

Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,

and has remembered his holy covenant,

the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,

to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,

might serve him without fear,

in holiness and righteous

before him all our days.”

 

Then I picked up my boy, thinking “Nothing is impossible for God–

not the barrenness of an older woman, not the reluctance of an old man–new life is possible everywhere–and held him in my arms, my little John,

so all could see, and I said:

“And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;

for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,

to give knowledge of salvation to his people

by the forgiveness of their sins.

By the tender mercy of our God,

the dawn from on high will break upon us,

to give light to those who sit in darkness

[as I sat in the darkness of my own voicelessness]

and in the shadows of death,

to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

 

This is my son John, who will be known

as John the baptizer.  Heed his words.

Shalom and amen.

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