Then suddenly, like an axe laid violently at the roots, a voice splits the silence of eternity and some holy thing plummets straight down towards the one who stands alone amid the flowing waters,
whose life is as purposive as running rivers, shunning the heights and seeking out the lowest place, rushing down so far and so fast that our hands can hardly reach him, not without leaning dangerously near the edge, just as startled strangers once stooped to touch him in the cradle and afterwards to feel his cold unyielding body in the ground,
all his flesh exposed to those cleansing Jordan waters as he stands in silence, as low as any river's end, so that the baptist has to bend his frail starved body like a bow to discharge the quick sharp blessing, reaching down to touch the head of him whose sandals none is worthy to undo, as though this one had need of human blessing or approval when he himself is the silent benediction resting on all creatures, or as though he could win glory from any of the sons of men when he is the holy brightness pulsating at the hidden heart of things, the still point about which all the worlds revolve,
so that even the holy angels, bright in heaven's raiment and terrible beneath their wings of fire, lean hungrily towards his gentle silence, zealous for the devastating undreamt-of majesty of his unexceptional and still unwounded flesh, poised beside him like runners before the race and clutching their robes as towels, having waited longingly through all ages for one chance to pay him menial honour, as though the highest hope of dreadful cherubim and seraphim were to wipe cold bathwater from human flesh (for eternity's immortal monsters covet meekness, lowliness, and anonymous service just as the mortal children of Cain crave power, fame, and recognition),
this fleshly being who transcends us only by standing infinitely lower than us, almost inaccessible in the extremity of his poverty and abnegation,
and who might remain forever hidden from a world that worships power had not the tremendous voice like thunder announced his rank as first-born of creation, and the birdlike lightning energies cascaded down upon him without measure, cleansing him whose touch makes all things clean,
while the baptist's mad wild eye looks on in terror and the angels turn their faces meekly down, folding their burning wings and bending with shimmering towels to dry his body in preparation for his second baptism, that funereal pyre in which the dove will descend as cataracts of flame,
and what has fallen to earth will leap again heavenwards like tongues of fire.