There have been many paintings, sculptures, and even music inspired by this tender moment when the angel Gabriel came to Mary and announced the news that she would bear the Son of God. You may have your own favorite Annunciation art piece. I, personally, have always liked this particular image ever since I first saw it.
This sketch was made by the famous Dutch artist Rembrandt van Rijn around 1635. Even though it is only a sketch, the details here are very impressive. You can clearly see Mary’s expression and body language. Her face looks as if she is fainting. She is falling from her chair as Gabriel tries to prop her up. This is not the Mary that we see in most paintings, with a face so serene and even tough, as if she had always known that God would give her such an incredible task. This Mary is very human. It is a Mary I can relate to. If an angel comes to my room in the middle of the night and tells me a big news from God, I probably would have fainted too.
But we know the story does not stop there. She asked questions. She learned more from Gabriel about her task. She was promised the Holy Spirit and the power of the Most High to help her fulfill her mission. She eventually agreed to do God’s will, but it must not have been an easy decision to make.
I was reminded of another art piece about Annunciation. This time, it is a poem by Denise Levertov, a poet known for religious themes in her poetry after her conversion to Christianity at 61 years old and Catholicism 13 years later.
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 Spirt did not enter her without consent. God waited.
She was free to accept or to refuse, choice integral to humanness…
This was the moment no one speaks of, when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed, Spirit, 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.
Consent, courage unparalleled, opened her utterly.
(Click for a full text of this poem. It can also be found in Denise Levertov’s book “A Door in The Hive”. For Spanish translation only: The original language of this poem is English. Therefore, this translation may have some limitations in capturing the spirit and aesthetics of the poem in full.)
Mary’s courageous consent, courageous because she could not have known fully what it would entail, opened her utterly and opened the whole world to receive the Incarnation, the Word made flesh. Saying yes to God can often be scary. We may not know in detail what would follow. Yet we can learn from Mary’s experience, that saying yes to God will birth something greater than we could ever imagine.
Peace, Fr. Sam
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