Mary’s temptation – Space and a face for us

Your companion gauged the entrance to the Inn to be on the north side, so in his approach from the west he turned left to come around.

You both stoop, he has your arm, as you pass under the header. You take two steps up a scuffed-black stone step and find yourselves on the landing. Inside you are among a sweaty crowd, tired and ripe with agitation. Such commotion. Some are already moving out past you to sit and crowd the doorway; to be near enough to the centre; to be counted, not missed by the program, given an imperial nod and a mark.

You might have huddled with the rest, waited for a cancellation, but you found yourself relieved to be walking away from there across the grounds to the barns. There would be room here. And if not here, there was room in the field beyond. On the hills with the conies and voles and sheep, there was room. Your welcome long rumoured among the galaxies now assured, you sensed, among the stars.


Your child was not meant for the Inn. Instead you would give birth in a space were light was low but free. What would a room number recorded in Luke have meant in any case? Except perhaps, the death of gospel.

Your baby’s birth created room beyond and away from the census takers and the calculators and the crowd. His birth, on the outside—where everything is included—was the signal that the end of our fascination with who’s in and who’s out was at hand; a sign of eschatological love.

Your child would not be counted among the faceless mass but would be as one born here in this place to these people. His home would not be en bloc, for in the noise and movements of the crowd there is no longer room for people. His place instead, was among breathing flesh and warm sinew, among all, those caught, and those for whom there is no room.

His cry would not be recorded in a ledger but marked in your heart, and in the heart of your partner.

The temptation was there. The great assembly, the mass movements, the obsessive fascination with scale—you could have made it on the inside, added to the grand history of numbers, given yourself to the sacred tradition of being counted, used the mechanics to rise to the top, be in turn used by army and empire. Yet you stayed clear. It may have been by fortune or instinct. But by this you gave us room, gave us a way to have faces.


  1. As Billy Collins said, the trouble with poetry is that it encourages the writing of more poetry. So does your blog. Merry Christmas.

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