Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Advent Reflections: A Mother's Courage

Last year during Advent, I attended a lecture that explored Mary and the Annunciation. During the presentation, the speaker shared a poem with us that has ever since remained with me because of the beautiful language it uses to express what it must have been like for Mary in that life-altering moment that would change the fate of the human race. The words also invite us to look within and ponder what great things are being asked of us, and whether we, like Mary, are open to the challenge. Would we trust in God and show our courage? Or would we complain, bargain, find reasons why we just can't do what's asked of us? The answer, for all of us who are honest with ourselves, will be different. But we know Mary's answer. And it is to that example that we are all called to strive.

Here, then, without further commentary, is Denise Levertov's "Annunciation."

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
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,
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 moment no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse. 

A breath unbreathed,

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.

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