Friday, March 25, 2011

The Feast of the Annunciation

Rubens Annunciation 1628 AntwerpImage via Wikipedia
Happy Feast of the Annunciation. What possibilities will you open your heart to today? That is the major theme of this feast day, so consider the matter well.

Too often themes and stories and feasts from a tradition like Christianity or Buddhism are thought to be meaningful or relevant only to people who actively practice within them. If so, what a waste. If they are presented as being useful only to those who are somehow identified as being part of some club, then they are being stripped of their true value. Just because you find that the imagery and language of a tradition best suits your attempt to explore the depth and mystery of existence doesn't mean you own it or have exclusive rights to it. So this essay is meant to show how something like the Annunciation isn't just for self-identified so-called Christians.
Regarding the coming of Christ, while the theology that has developed and dominated to some extent in the West focuses primarily on the Paschal Mystery, there is also a view in which the Annunciation  and subsequent Incarnation it predicted were in fact the major events of the Gospels. In this view, it is the affirmation of God in solidarity with humanity that is the heart of the message. The Passion demonstrates the extent of this solidarity, to be sure, but it wasn't a single moment of liberation, of victory, of salvation, or whatever term one wants to use. It was the culmination of a process that began, not when the angel of the Lord announced to Mary, " Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women," but when Mary responded, "Be it unto me according to thy word." If there was a moment that changed everything, this was it. And its still true today. What will your heart say yes to today? (Opening the heart is as act of trust without knowing the exact outcome, that is, an act of faith.) How will you change the world?

The events described surrounding the annunciation are usually focused on by believers and skeptics by a strictly historical analysis, that is, through the eyes of the flesh. In particular the debate focuses on the meaning of the virginity of Mary, sometimes reasonably and sometimes to a ridiculous extent: Does the text really mean sexual virgin or merely a young maiden? Did Jesus need to be born pure by escaping a "blood curse" of sin passed down through the father (maybe it's on the Y-chromosome)? How did the Holy Spirit create the paternal DNA for Jesus? 

Given the views I have expressed here before about the relationship between Jesus and the Christ as well as the nature of the Holy Spirit, one might guess I think much of these debates misses the point. If the Holy Spirit is thought of as an awareness of our fundamental relationship with and within God, the energy of faith, then the issue falls away from the mechanics of how Mary got to be an unwed mother and the fact that she accepted this was happening to her.

On a broader level, it is her willingness to go beyond her own fears and limitations and trust in her potential to bring something wonderful into the world that mattered. In this sense, obedience to God isn't a slavish groveling and sublimation of oneself to be mindless automaton, despite what many churches teach. It is about accepting the idea that deep down we are more wonderful and powerful than our egos, i.e. the flesh or the lesser self, can or will allow us to imagine.

On an even broader level, it is a reflection of the importance of every mother and every child, each with a potential to incarnate the love of God. Imagine how different the world would be if we recognized each mother as a Madonna and each child as a precious and unique expression of Emmanuel, of God with us. What if all of them were seen as budding members of the body of Christ?

And at an even broader level, it is a reflection of the consequences of our choices and how we do or don't react to what is happening around us. I am sure Mary wouldn't have thought that being an unwed mother, who would face the possibility of a public stoning, to be the greatest news in the world when she first heard it. But the big picture being drawn is that out of what appeared to be a disastrous mess that could ruin or end a young life came something overwhelming beautiful and amazing.


On a bit of a side note, I do like the concept and title of "Virgin Mary", but not because the of the idea that sex is bad, that non-virgin women are impure or less perfect that those who haven't had intercourse, nor because I think that such virginity must be true in an empirical sense or because if it was it must have been a miracle, or any of that.

It's hard to pin down and I am sure I could take several essays to try. I think it has something to do with virgin being associated with naivety, of someone who lacks experience, yet who learns to trust in who she will become. I think it also has something to do with virgin as unexplored, indicating interior landscapes that have yet to be realized. There is also this idea of someone who gets into what looks like trouble through no fault of their own, yet accepts it and makes the best out of it. There is of course the idea of unspoiled, but in this sense I think of it more as her heart than her body.


And if you want an even more challenging spin, here is a creative expression. It isn't a theological statement or historical claim. It is an interior monologue (you could also read it therefore as diary entries) featuring the Blessed Mother-to-be and intended to provoke further reflection not argument:

"How did I get pregnant? I don't understand it. This can't be happening. I haven't known a man! Have I? Surely not."

"Is that really true? Am I being honest with myself, or am I just afraid? Am I trying to rationalize?"

"I am frightened.  And whether I am in denial or out of my mind, this is happening. Whatever I have done, whatever justifications there may be for my decisions, right or wrong I am going to have a baby. And I am not yet married. I will be a disgrace to my family, to my betrothed, and I will be put to death."

"But I will trust in the Lord. I will have faith that my life matters, and that the life of my child matters, as we have been taught by the prophets. I will trust my family and my betrothed. I will go to Joseph, and I will not be afraid. I will tell him and trust in his love for me. I choose to believe that love will triumph. I will not hide, or lie, or deny what is happening to me. I am terrified, but I will humble myself and I will live for my child. I will offer this love, no, I will be this love for him. God, make speed to help me!"


 "Joseph, he has said he will marry me and be a father to my child! I am poor and pregnant, and by all rights he could have rejected me and left me and my baby to die. My heart explodes! What is this feeling. It is unbearable! Such joy, I cannot hold it. I am overwhelmed, I feel lost in it.... swept away... Yes. I will be a mother. I will participate in Creation, like all women before me, as a vessel through which a new life will come into the world. God does not abandon the poor and weak. Good news isn't only for the wealthy and the upper class."

"My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,  for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me—holy is his name.  His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

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