The Annunciation is a fascinating and difficult feast in my book. It's given rise to a jaunty hymn or two "...Most highly favored lady, Gloria..." and countless tranquil paintings of a serene woman listening to an equally serene angel, both in beautiful robes. And what, in retrospect, could be better news than that God was about to come into our world and be with us?
But Mary didn't initially see it that way. She was greatly troubled at the angel's greeting, even before he announced what was to be. And it was an announcement, not a request. As Dissonant Bible points out, Mary may agree, but she's not asked what she thinks, nor does she have the chance to give permission. After Gabriel tells Mary what is going to happen to her, she can only acquiesce. I've always imagined a deep bow along with her words, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Let it be to me according to your word."
Is this joyful agreement, the "yes" of Mary that we like to think was necessary for the Word to become incarnate? Or does it take her the long journey to Elizabeth's house to come to terms with what has happened to her and praise the One who has done it?
I believe God loves our individuality. But does he always respect it? The right of a man or woman to self-determination seems time and again to carry little water with God. And yet I try to constrain God with that right. I drive bargains, I set timetables, I figure I can handle my end of the relationship all by myself. I want to say yes to God only when I know I can do so standing on my own two feet, looking God square in the face. But God often doesn't wait for a yes, doesn't wait at all, just sweeps in like a whirlwind, scattering all our sureties and catching us up in her tumult. And following, saying yes after the fact, is then the only choice left to us.
And so, in the tumult of my late night thoughts, the Annunciation and Mary's blessed (whether timely or belated) openness to God's imperative are juxtaposed with blessed John Donne, whose feast it is on Friday. Perhaps my only hope is to have all my barriers overthrown at once, to be broken, blown, burned and then made new.
Batter my heart, three-personed God; for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise, and stand, o’erthrow me, and bend
Your force, to break, blow, burn and make me new.
I like an usurped town, to another due,
Labor to admit you, but oh, to no end,
Reason your viceroy in me, me should defend,
But is captived, and proves weak or untrue,
Yet dearly I love you, and would be loved fain,
But am betrothed unto your enemy,
Divorce me, untie, or break that knot again,
Take me to you, imprison me, for I
Except you enthral me, never shall be free,
Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.
- John Donne