Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The Kindness of the Innkeeper's Wife

God bless us, every one!

The only character I ever played in a school Nativity play was the innkeeper's wife.  I haven't read the Holy Father's new book on the Infancy of Christ, so I don't know if he mentions the innkeeper and his wife among those persons and animals who are absent from the Birth narratives in the Gospels. 

On account of the crowds that had arrived in Bethlehem for the census, there was no room for Mary and Joseph at the inn; and so they had to make the best of things in a stable.  It is interesting to let one's imagination roam over this scene.  Let us, in particular, consider the innkeeper's wife.  There must surely have been such a person, a capable woman, knowledgeable in the ways of the world as well as in the business of childbirth.  As soon as she saw Mary, she would have assessed her condition in an instant.  Clearly this poor young woman was not fit to go a step further.  But "there was no room."  Perhaps literally so; or perhaps in the very practical sense of there being no possibility of privacy for the dramatic business of childbirth.

The idea of a stable is pretty grim.  How big was the stable?  Was it divided into stalls?  Some of the guests might have arrived on horseback, in which case many of the stalls would have been occupied by their horses, with their associated sounds and smells.  Did other animals share the stable, in particular the ox and the ass, those beloved creatures of our Crib scenes?  This imagined stable is getting to be quite a lot bigger than the one we are used to from the traditional illustrations.

Let us, for the sake of this exercise, imagine one of the stalls, swept and made ready in haste by the good innkeeper's wife: a little private space, its floor covered with new straw, its manger lined with fresh hay.  I can see her escaping from her domestic duties at intervals, to see how things were progressing, and to check that the couple were warm and had enough to eat and drink.

And then, the moment she had been looking forward to.  Was she present at the birth?  The instincts of an experienced mother would naturally be on the alert and ready to help with the arrival of a young woman's firstborn, especially when the young mother was so far from the comforts of home and family.

In the midst of that busy time, with so many guests to attend to, I'd like to think that this good woman experienced the delight and joy of the occasion, and a sense of modest satisfaction that she had done her best in difficult circumstances.

I wonder what she thought when a group of shepherds turned up at the door in the early hours, with a very strange story, asking to see the baby?

1 comment:

Ttony said...

Beautifully put!

Happy Christmas!