Annunciation 2013

Scripture readings for today's Mass are here.

It might seem odd that our minds are turned to the Annunciation in the midst of getting our heads and hearts around the death and resurrection of Christ, until we remember that nine months from now we will be celebrating the birth of Christ.

Annunciation Image source

Previous post on the feast of The Annunciation here 
which has this poem by Denise Levertov which I've reposted below.


‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos
Hymn, Greece

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern,
a book; always the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, 
standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience.  No one mentions courage.
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.

God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, 
choice integral to humanness.
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?

Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,

More often
those moments when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.

Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.

Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail
only asked
a simple, 'How can this be?'

and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity;

to contain in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.

Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –
but who was God.

This was the minute no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.

A breath unbreathed,

   suspended, waiting.

She did not cry, "I cannot, I am not worthy,"
nor "I have not the strength."
She did not submit with gritted teeth,

raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,

consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,

and the iridescent wings.

courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.


Annunciation He Qi Source  

“The Annunciation story (Luke 1:26-38) is the crescendo point to scripture’s theme of total grace and gift. Did you ever notice that Mary does not say she’s “not worthy”? She only asks for clarification: “How can this happen? I am a virgin” (Luke 1:34).

 She never asks if, whether, or why! That is quite extraordinary and reveals her egolessness. Mary becomes the archetype of perfect receptivity. It takes the entire Bible to work up to one perfect vessel that knows how to say an unquestioning yes to an utterly free gift.” 

Text above from Richard Rohr Daily Meditations

Annunciation He Qi
There's no reference to Mary's age in the Bible, but the likely age, based on speculation on the cultural norms of her time, suggest she was somewhere between 13 and 15 years
The two paintings above by He Qi capture this youthful innocence and naivety well, but I'm not convinced that Mary's Yes would be as docile and unquestioning as Rohr indicates.

Luke says this :
"But she was greatly troubled at what was said
and pondered what sort of greeting this might be."

 In this reflection here from Women in Theology the author says she loves the poem less for its reflections on the immediate context than for the deep and hard truth of discipleship requiring from us something so much harder than insistence upon our lack of worth or worthiness. 

 The author, like Levertov in her poem, says she loves too, "that the central word here is consent, not submission."

For myself, I think Frederick Buechner's description below is a fine way into helping our understanding of the Annunciation.

  "Of all powers, love is the most powerful and the most powerless.
 It is the most powerful because it alone can conquer that final and most impregnable stronghold which is the human heart.  

                 It is the most powerless because it can do nothing except by consent."    

Henry Ossawa Tanner The Annunciation

Today I can only wonder in awe and incomprehension when I think on that scene over two thousand years ago. Many artists have been fascinated by it.

In this 2012 article "The Annunciation and You " from here, Jesuit, James Martin gives his insights into why these few verses in the first chapter of Luke (1: 26-38) exert such a hold on so many believers.

This poem below, by Emily Dickinson caught my attention. I doubt if it was written with the Annunciation in mind, but along with Tanner's painting, and the Gospel accounts of Mary's response to the angel, it is fascinating to imagine what Mary experienced and lived with at that unique and indelible moment in time, that marked the beginning of her acceptance of the human incarnation of God. I would add that the word imagination I have in mind here is that used in an Ignatian way.

Emily Dickinson (1830–86).  
Complete Poems.  1924.
Part Five: The Single Hound
The gleam of an heroic act
Such strange illumination
The Possible’s slow fuse
is lit
  By the Imagination

Annunciation (Photo credit: paukrus)

We don’t see it, but its effect is clear;
We don’t hear it, but its message is never silent;
                                                     Reaching through every system,
We don’t feel it, but its influence constantly moves us.

Flowing through every interaction,

Silently moving the world toward its God-designed purpose,

    More powerful than the strongest army,

yet infinitely gentle;
More significant than the most influential government,
yet without coercion or manipulation.
The kingdom of God is subversively at work,
and it is here…
taken from John van de Laar’s website – Sacredise
The truth of God is greater far
Than our poor human mind,
Than any doctrine, creed or sect,
All partial and confined.
His treasures hold uncounted wealth
That hearts have never heard.
Our boundless God has yet more light
To shine out from His Word.

Who dares to limit God
To what we understand,
To shrink God's sprawling mystery
And hold it in our hand?
Immensity of purest love!
An ocean unexplored!
Our boundless God has yet more light
To shine out from His Word.

O Lord, your Word is Jesus Christ,
Your truth in us begun,
But O the depths of all He is
And all that He has done!
Let faith and love each day increase
The hunger you have stirred:
May more and more of Christ our Light
Shine brightly from your Word.

Ken Bible and George Rawson (1807 – 1889)

Related articles from a variety of perspectives.

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