This is the third week of Advent, and at Grace Commons we have a tradition of honoring Mary on this week. In the past we’ve used the theme of Courage and Action, contemplating how much courage it takes sometimes to move into action.
Mary, the mother of God, is such a great, courageous example for us. She steps into her destiny. That’s so courageous. She agrees to do something that won’t be easy or simple–but it’s right for her. She has the capacity to temporarily contain the uncontainable; to hold divinity within her body. And she chooses to do so!
This year we are using the more traditional weekly themes of Hope, Love, Joy (and next week, Peace.)
I’m thinking about the kind of steady, deep (different from cheery) joy that a person has when they are doing what they are meant to do–when they feel they are being useful in the world, and using their gifts well.
The Annunciation is the announcement of the angel telling Mary what is about to happen to her through her pregnancy. It seems it would be easier if God would announce as clearly what is to happen to each of us, but we are left to discern it, to seek out our vocations, our callings, our purposes, and our capacities.
Annunciation by Denise Levertov is one of my all-time favorite poems. You can read the full poem here. Here’s a part of it:
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
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.
“Aren’t there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives?” We have that moment when we’re confronted with the opportunity to be authentic, to believe in ourselves, to tell the truth, to take a risk for love or justice, to do something for the ones who are looking to us, relying on us to use our gifts and skills and be strong, beautiful, compassionate, steady, protective, creative.
Some moments of potential we walk into. Other times we let the gates of possibility close because of our dread, our weakness, our despair. In those moments, not only does God not smite us, but God also does not abandon us. There is always a path before us, always a next step to take, and always God is near us, God-with-us, hoping we will have the courage to let go of our own sense of unworthiness.
It’s easy to think of the Virgin Mary as demure, as quiet and obedient, submissive–it’s easy, because we’ve been trained to think that way, about Mary, about the ideal woman, or the ideal Christian. Submit, obey, demure, sacrifice, deny yourself.
But I think Mary’s example and the teaching she offers us is exactly the opposite of that. To fulfill her destiny, she had to step into herself, embody herself, and realize her own capacity. By joining herself with God, she had the capacity to carry God within her and bring God into the world.
She did not cry, “I cannot, I am not worthy,”
nor “I have not the strength.”
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
opened her utterly.
She was worthy. She was worthy to meet the task that was put before her. And so are you, and so am I.
Mary did not submit, but she gave consent. Think about the difference between those two words. To submit to coercion, or to consent to possibility. I love the idea that consent illumined her.
But to what was she consenting? What I love about this poem is that Mary consents to her own worthiness. She was worthy of being loved by God, “favored” the biblical text says. And I believe that God favors each and every one of us.
This is God’s omni-partiality (a word I got from Process Theologians); being partial to, or loving intensely and distinctly, every being. God waits for us to realize that God loves us. God waits for our consent to our own worthiness before we can be filled with luminosity.
But when we do consent to that worthiness, we are strengthened with courage. And, I would suggest, we open ourselves to the possibility of a deep and abiding joy.
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The image of the Spanish Our Lady of Guadalupe in Loboc, the Philippines, is from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:La_Guadalupana_Loboquena.jpg