We sing Mary’s song in the gloaming. We chant at vespers or evensong, the slipping shift between day and night, when those with companions are snug or busy and grateful for the coming quiet, and those of us without find the chapel hollow and begin to fear the coming dark.
Beside us sit all the loves we’ve lost, by our own devices or those of others. It’s why we sit a space or two apart from one another, the open cushions spelling our SOS to whomever might watch from above.
The magnificat, Mary’s Song of Praise, is recorded only in the physician’s gospel: the good news of a man who sat with suffering, knew the feeling of a crude knife through the flesh of the warm-dead as the only way to understand the living.
I have watched them fail. Self-sacrifice. Patience without end. Devotion to the other. These seem now mechanisms of consumption more than anything else. Systematic abuse for those DNA-coded for caretaking.
I am not prepared to deify obedience, to sing the praises of a girl’s meek, sexual acquiescence.
The incense doesn’t rise. I’m cold so often now.
“In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, ‘Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!’”
Are we here?
Fra Angelico, The Annunciation, 1437-46
Mary soft and silent, her spirit mild and cloaked in her undeserving. The mother of my Lord enthroned in humility, at home in the order.
“But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.”
Or are we here?
John Collier, Annunciation, 2000
Mary bookish and afraid, aware of her youth, of the world as both sexed and dangerous. Queen of Martyrs, her spirit willing from inside a flesh that has never belonged to her.
Or maybe we are here.
Virginio Ciminaghi, Annunciation, 1967
Mary disbelieving and antagonistic: “Just who did you say you are?” Tower of David, Protector of Innocents, actively undefiled.
“And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’”
Or, maybe, we are here.
Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Annunciation, 1898
Where Mary already has a lamp burning, has made her space both warm and beautiful. Observant, musing, curious but not bewildered, Our Lady of Solitude.
Her pause. Not her sacrifice but her consideration? What if Mary’s wisdom was not her yielding, but her self-possession?
“And Mary said to the angel, ‘How will this be, since I am a virgin?’”
Is she in shock? A little ditzy? She is female and uneducated after all. Gabriel obviously thought her a tad uninformed to specify the conception would occur in her womb. At what speed could we expect her critical thinking and executive function to operate?
Maybe at Godspeed. In the face of an angel and promises of greatness, Mary asks how this work—this work of God—could happen in the context of her capacity. These are my gifts, she says. They are my limitations.
And God and the angel answer: from a river of mystery, but otherwise—the miracle I miss in the dazzle— as these things usually happen. By conception, gestation, and birth: this savior will come among your gifts; among your limitations.
“And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the servant of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word.’”
And that could be, “I am only a vessel.”
And that could be, “My body is yours to do with what you will.”
And that could be, “I am willing to suffer anything.”
Or it could be, “Look. You’re right. I have understood what I was doing every time I sat shiva, welcomed Shabbat, prepared Passover —I am here on purpose. I am here of my own will. You can have the part of me for which you’ve asked— but I remember what you’ve said. A word has promises and limits. Even, especially, a divine one. I will choose to take anything aligned with what you’ve promised. But I’m not sure I can promise more.”
“And the angel left her.”
And I am left with another scandalous question: What intimacy did she have with God? What ecstasies might have been part of her singular knowledge? If the Savior of the world would not be incarnated without consent, would he be so without intimacy? Pleasure? Safety? The most divine of our human abilities: touch?
Mary, vessel of God, obedient daughter, pure of heart, mother of all saints, beatific vision, sings:
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.”
Mary, Theotokos, God-bearer, celebrates herself, and sings herself. She sings pleasure, cherishing, regard, recognition, and power. Her annunciation is truth-speaking, freedom, consent, and co-creation.
I have arrived here without a single idea what love is.
There may be a few things I haven’t tried.
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