“Every particle of our being
is a mouth to drink your Love.
Through that Love
even the bitter becomes sweet.”
As a small child I received a beautiful book called The Glorious Impossible, written by Madeleine L’Engle and illustrated with frescoes by Giotto. I don’t remember much about the written content, but I do remember how it began:
“An angel of the Lord came to Mary.”
“The Annunciation to Mary calls us to recognize that the creative action of God is limitless. The Gospel account of Luke also affirms this: “For with God nothing is impossible.””
Surah 19 of the Qur’an, known as Surah Maryam, tells the story of the annunciation as well, and parallels Luke fairly closely:
“She said, ‘How can I have a son, when I have not been touched by any man and I am not unchaste?’
[The angel] said, ‘Just like that! Your Lord says, ‘It is easy for Me. And We will make him a Sign for people and a Compassion from Us.’”
Surah Maryam 19: 20-21
It’s tempting to be caught up in the biology of such a mystical encounter and fall into the binary of insisting either that “It happened just in this way,” or “It never happened at all.”
Speaking personally, do I think God could have caused this to happen? Sure! Do I think God did make it happen? I really couldn’t say, and it doesn’t matter much to me. I’m far more interested in what the story tells us about the nature of God, and the character of Mary, the “highly favoured one.”
Much has been made of her virginity, a category which is in itself rather dubious. But surely Mary’s lack of sexual experience was not the sole reason God chose her for this. Her response to the angel, which really shimmers in the King James Bible, says a lot about her:
“Behold, the handmaid of the Lord: be it unto me according to thy word.”
“Completely she surrendered, in full trust, to the unfolding of what was to come, which she alone would bear. …We have been given will to accompany the unfolding with the best effort, eyes to discern the best way to proceed, hearts to know by longing, and ears to hear the Words of guidance that have been given through all manner of beings – the angels, the bees, the intimations of roses and wild flowers, the roar of the lion and the song of the nightingales of God, calling us to let go of the baggage weighing us down – the encumbrances of the wayward, resistant ego.”
What’s so fascinating about Mary’s surrender to me is not only that she opens herself to the wild fullness of God, but that unlike other prophets she does not hesitate or say, “O my Lord, please send someone else,” (Exodus 4:13) or “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy” (Jeremiah 1:6). She also freely accepts that if she has been chosen to do such a thing, it’s because God thinks she can. This demonstrates profound ego-lessness. She will do it without worrying about what others think, or whether she can do it prettily or even particularly well. None of that matters, because she’s been waiting for a moment just like this: a moment of ultimate surrender to Love and Love’s purpose.
“Does anyone write something on a place
that has already been written over,
or plant a sapling where one already grows?
No; [they seek] a blank piece of paper
and [sow] the seed where none has yet been sown.
…Be bare earth; be a clean piece of paper
untouched by writing, that you may be ennobled by the pen of revelation,
so that the Gracious One may sow seed within you.”
[Rumi, Masnavi V: 1961-64].