History logo

Hearths

A glass blower in 33 AD, Jerusalem, Israel

By Meagan DionPublished 8 months ago • Updated 8 months ago • 12 min read
Runner-Up in Past Life Challenge
9
Roman glass perfume bottle, 1st century CE, The MET open API

I have had a massive shift in my theology and philosophy, parting from a very conservative background. My degree is in Missions, but much like Van Gogh, I found that what I really want to do is art. Or in my case, blow glass. At the same time, I do still hold to the most fundamental tenets of the Christian faith, thus the life of Christ is still dear to me. I immediately thought of this era for my "past life" because it was a beautiful time for both glass and my faith. This setting, era and occupation would be the apex of my deepest passions.

**********************************************************************

Springtime in Jerusalem is ushered in by the pleasant aroma of blossoming fruit trees and climbing Wisteria. As I walk the dusty path to my shop, I am engulfed in the refreshing and comforting embrace of their fragrance. Turning the latch before entering, I consider how lucky I am to be living in Israel. I concede that Rome was nice, and I did have many privileges as a Vestal priestess, but I definitely made the right choice. Now I have my own land, my own business and my own family. The pension is nice too.

The fire in my furnace is roaring. The heat is suffocating and nearly unbearable, but I welcome it. Bracing myself, I ignore the complaints of my singed skin and move closer to the overwhelming heat. I dip my long metal pipe into the molten sand, soda, and lime. While continuously turning the rod, I gather the glass at the end to form a small ball. It's here, while staring at the glow of the flames everyday that I reflect on my time tending the hearth of Vesta.

My father gave me to the priesthood at the age of seven. I was too small to understand the meaning of celibacy, so of course I agreed to remain celibate for thirty years in order to gain the rights and freedom I would enjoy. The only thing I was a slave to was the fire.

Day after day I entered the temple of Vesta and tended to her sacred hearth, in turn with five other priestesses, in order to keep Rome prosperous and safe. As long as I didn't break my oath, I was safe and an honored member of society.

Smirking to myself, I consider this humorous turn of events; that I would go from tending the fires in Vesta's furnace, after thirty years, to tending the fires in my own. I guess in a way I'm still a slave to fire. Only, if my furnace dies out, Rome won't fall.

Pulling the pipe out, I turn as I walk cautiously towards the marver.

The molten blob elongates as I roll the rod back and forth along the cold slab. Continuing to turn the pipe, I walk carefully to the bench, turn around and sit, holding the pipe in front of me. Being sure the pipe is secure on the bench, I reach down for the wood block and form the glass back into a ball.

As I go to gather again, a woman walks in. Her appearance suggests she's a Hebrew but her garments are brightly colored and in beautiful condition. So, wealthy Hebrew. Perhaps I will make a good sum from this commission.

"Hello, how can I help you today?"

As the woman approaches tentatively, I observe something strange for a woman dressed in such pristine clothing. It's a very familiar aroma, spikenard.

"I was wondering if maybe you could make an alabastron for me." Her voice wavers while she wrings her hands.

"Sure, any design? I am a skilled craftsman. I can do a blue tint."

Wiping sweat from my forehead, I pull the pipe back out and go to the marver. As I turn back toward her I notice her mouth is twisted up in an attempt to keep sorrow at bay. Tears brim her eyes, held back only because she is looking up. Clearly this woman is a vessel spilling over with pain.

She meets my gaze and the tears drop to the dirt floor. She casts her eyes to her feet and clears her throat.

"Um, gosh," she says it quietly but I swear I can hear her say, "what would you give a King?"

Her odd behavior catches me, and for a moment I stop turning the rod.

"Miss?" I nudge her to answer.

"Mary..."

My glass turns red instead of a bright yellow, indicating that it is getting too cold. I go back to turning the rod and then walk to the furnace to heat it.

"Alright then, Mary... are you alright?"

"I'm sorry, I'm just... well I'm sort of...grieving."

"You are? You're not dressed like it. There's not a single tear on your beautiful outfit." I walk to the marver.

"Well," she wryly chuckles, "it hasn't... happened yet." She locks her eyes with mine.

Okay, a wealthy, Hebrew, weirdo.

I shake it off. "Yes, so the alabastron?"

"I guess it doesn't really matter, I'm just going to use it tomorrow night anyway."

What?

"Alright, I'll make something for you of my own design then. Will you be here to pick it up midday?"

She glances down the road distracted. "Yeah, yeah... that should be good."

Redirecting her attention to me briefly, she flashes a small weak smile and then leaves.

What in the world was that?

I try to ignore the weird encounter and continue fashioning the pitcher I was working on before the interruption. It's not until the end of the process, when I pull the handle up and bend it back to the base, that another woman enters.

Unlike the other lady, she is grinning ear to ear.

"Good morning!"

"Hello, how can I help you today?"

"Oh, I am having a feast tomorrow. I need twelve cups, twelve plates and twelve bowls."

I raise my brow.

"That's a pretty large order. You good for the money?"

"Yes, I'm Martha. I live in Bethany." She says this like I should know.

Ah, yes, I have actually heard her name mentioned in the streets. She belongs to a wealthy family and is a frequenter of the market. She's been seen numerous times holding up a pomegranate to the sun while she scrutinizes its ripeness and vibrancy. She negotiates the right price for exactly a pound of cardamom and chooses her coffee beans solely by their aroma.

"Alright, I have one other commission ahead of you. I can have this order done about the ninth hour."

Martha beams at me and bounces off.

I begin on the alabastron. After several iterations of gathering glass, I raise the pipe to my lips, and slowly but steadily blow oxygen into the molten glass to inflate it. Taking my orb of glass over to the bench, I grab a tool to separate the mouth of the jar while still turning the rod. Next I pinch around the neck to taper the top for a cork to go into.

I can't help but contemplate the purpose of this alabastron. I knew Mary was going to put the spikenard in the vessel. I'm keenly aware of the implication, since spikenard is most often used to prepare dead bodies for burial. Strangest of all was her clothing. I don't know a lot about the Hebrew people, but everyone knows they tear their clothes when mourning. Maybe that means this person hadn't died yet, but it certainly seems like she knows someone is going to die...and soon.

This notion sends a tingle down my spine.

I am consumed by a mental fog as I complete Martha's order. Questions prick my focus. Who is going to die? How does she know? Did Mary kill someone? Is someone going to be executed? I am falling in a spiraling wonderland of oblivion as I finish each piece of Martha's order. Before I know it, I am packaging Martha's dishware for pick up.

The sun is lowering. There's a golden hue warming the already very hot glass shop. I am cleaning up as Martha enters.

"Alright, here for my pieces," she beams.

She hands me a bag of money and I go to gather her items. Just then Mary ambles in. Her countenance is still drawn, her shoulders slumped.

Martha jumps with a start, "Oh! Mary, there you are. Did you get everything you need for tomorrow?"

Shocked, I am compelled to ask, "you two know each other?"

"Yes, we're sisters," Martha replies impatiently, and then continues their personal conversation.

"Seriously, Mary I'm telling you, you need to stop being so glum. Everything is going to be fine. We need to focus on tomorrow. Stop worrying about this."

"I'm here for the alabastron," Mary ignores her sister, addresses only me and then hands me the money.

I nod and retrieve her vessel.

They depart bickering into the sunset.

**********************************************************************

It's been twenty-four hours, and I can't get the mysterious experience out of my head. Whoever Mary was talking about, she would be seeing tonight. I know they live in Bethany, and they are well-off enough that I can probably just ask around for their residence. Without another thought, I begin on foot to Bethany. I need to know who I helped her embalm.

Dusk is upon me. I tread the beaten path to Bethany over the Mount of Olives, thinking about one thing, the alabastron. The more I think about it, the more I associate it with a body. Who is it? Did I only imagine her mentioning a king? Before I know it, my legs have broken into a run.

Inside Bethany, I find a local in the market and inquire about Mary and Martha. The ancient, haggard lady points me in the right direction with her long boney finger.

"Thank you," I say as I wave in departure.

"He's there too."

I do a double take, bewildered by the coincidence. Why would this woman mention another person, let alone imply I know who "He" is? How does she know I am searching for someone else at all? I pretend like I know what she's talking about, nod and continue on my way.

Their residence is in my view. I can see it just over the green hill ahead. There's a warm glow from the lanterns inside beaming from the windows. As I approach I can hear many voices. I bend low under a window and when I think I'm safe, slowly raise myself up to peek inside.

There I see a low table, with several men reclining on the floor around it. Their shoes are discarded by the entrance. One man is obviously the center of the attention. There's talking, laughing, and so much food.

Their table is full of my dishware gleaming in the light. Nice clarity, if I do say so myself. I watch as Martha waits on everyone. The man in the middle, some seem to address as 'Teacher'; has kind eyes and begs Martha to sit and visit. It's such a jovial scene, I wonder how Mary could possibly need spikenard for tonight.

Then laughter turns to whispers as Mary enters, weeping, fragile, and barely standing. Martha roles her eyes, but the teacher looks at Mary with the deepest compassion I have ever seen. Mary approaches feebly carrying the alabastron. She crumbles to her knees. Tears are splashing to the floor. Her chest is heaving from the toll the sorrow is having on her. I can't understand or imagine the anguish she feels.

Mary pulls the cork from the alabastron and pours the oil onto His feet. Then she proceeds to wipe the oil with her hair. I'm astonished, is she anointing a living person for burial?

The concept of being buried alive is not lost on me. As a vestal, the threat of it haunted my days. It was the chief form of punishment for breaking our oath.

Suddenly, my dismay is echoed in the room by one of the twelve men with them. His disgust is due to the waste of such a valuable perfume. He demands to know why she has wasted it and not done something better with it, like give it to the poor, for example.

The kind teacher reaches out to Mary, places his hand on her shoulder while gently addressing the irate companion. He explains that the poor will always be with them, but He will only be with them a little longer.

Why, I wonder. Does He know He's going to die too?

I’m fascinated but exhausted. I sneak away and then travel back to Jerusalem, all the while contemplating what I have experienced. Mary had such devotion to this man. Devotion is something I didn't witness tending to the hearth of Vesta. Commitment yes, fear yes, but genuine love and passion, no. Mary's beliefs are so driven by this relationship, one that's centered in kindness and gentleness, it makes me want to know more. I need to know more.

**********************************************************************

A little over a week has passed. As I'm forming a vase, Mary bursts in. She is incandescently happy, something seemingly new for Mary. She runs to me and declares that her friend died yesterday.

This girl, I can't keep up, she's sad he's alive, she's happy he died. What is it with her?

As she continues, her joy becomes clear. She explains.

"When I went to use the remaining spikenard at His tomb, he wasn't there!"

Now this has my attention.

Mary and I sit all day talking about her friend. I watch the light of her soul ignite like a fire in a hearth. Soon, a flicker of a flame ignites in my heart too. It occurs to me, hearths and hearts are similar. They are both ignited by what feeds them.

Fiction
9

About the Creator

Meagan Dion

My life is a little crazy. Four kids, homeschool, write, create and coffee. Coffee is a verb. Do you coffee? I aspire to blow glass and finish / publish my novel. I would like to have an impact. Also, coffee.

Reader insights

Outstanding

Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!

Top insights

  1. Compelling and original writing

    Creative use of language & vocab

  2. Easy to read and follow

    Well-structured & engaging content

  3. Excellent storytelling

    Original narrative & well developed characters

  1. Expert insights and opinions

    Arguments were carefully researched and presented

  2. Eye opening

    Niche topic & fresh perspectives

  3. Heartfelt and relatable

    The story invoked strong personal emotions

  4. Masterful proofreading

    Zero grammar & spelling mistakes

  5. On-point and relevant

    Writing reflected the title & theme

Add your insights

Comments (7)

Sign in to comment
  • Mother Combs4 months ago

    🖤🌻

  • Babs Iverson7 months ago

    Brilliant & beautiful!!! Loved it!!! Congratulations on runner up!!!❤️❤️💕

  • I can not tell you how much I liked this. I am most impressed with the fresh perspectives you gave to stories I have known my whole life. Ending with the comparison of hearths and hearts was fabulous

  • Lilly Cooper8 months ago

    Coffee is life ☕️ I coffee constantly! I love the way you took a story that so frequently focuses on the spiritual aspect and, while being true to that, gave it a human feel that even someone who is not well versed in Christianity would find themselves drawn into. Very well written.

  • Beautifully written. Your attention to detail is amazing. So much symbolism and meaning in your words. Excellent job Meagan!!!

  • Ashley Lima8 months ago

    This is amazing. I loved the line "Clearly this woman is a vessel spilling over with pain." The vessels being made by fire being compared to humans being vessels themselves in some way hit me hard, especially with the care and appreciation that the narrator has for her work. Ending with "It occurs to me, hearths and hearts are similar. They are both ignited by what feeds them." was also an incredibly powerful use of language. Interesting choice of time period here. I appreciated your personal message at the beginning to give us readers some context. Very beautiful entry. I sincerely hope to see it place :)

  • Such a beautiful, heartfelt weaving of the gospel narrative into this Gentile world. This is really good, Meagan.

Find us on social media

Miscellaneous links

  • Explore
  • Contact
  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms of Use
  • Support

© 2024 Creatd, Inc. All Rights Reserved.