In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, "Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you." But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him 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 ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I am a virgin?" The angel said to her, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God. And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God." Then Mary said, "Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word." Then the angel departed from her. -Luke 1:26-38
Part 1: Find In Us A Mansion
Let every heart prepare him room... -Isaac Watts, "Joy to the World"
Here's the very heart of it: ...that your Son at His coming, may find in us a mansion prepared for himself. This phrase comes from the collect for the 4th Sunday in Advent in The American Book of Common Prayer, which in turn comes from the 8th century Gelasian Sacramentary. Your heart is the womb, the inn, the resting place for the Christ. In his Father's house are many mansions, (John 14:2) where he will go to prepare for you, because your heart is already a mansion prepared for Christ to dwell. Mary, after a few questions, says yes to this indwelling. Once the urgency is perceived, how can anything else be more important? Mary! Answer quickly! (Meditation One).
But not only Mary must respond to the angel's Ave. You and I are asked to conceive the Christ within us (Meditation Two). The soul is the dwelling place, the secret, hidden room, because "the kingdom of God is within you" (Lk 17:21) and "You are the temple of God" (2 Cor. 6:16) (Meditation Three).
And so, "Answer with a word, receive the Word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine Word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal Word." Amen. -Breathe well, Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) Answer Quickly
This is what the whole earth waits for, prostrate at your feet. It is right in doing so, for on your word depends comfort for the wretched, ransom for the captive, freedom for the condemned, indeed salvation for all the children of Adam, the whole of your race. Answer quickly, O Virgin. Reply in haste to the angel, or rather through the angel to the Lord. Answer with a word, receive the word of God. Speak your own word, conceive the divine word. Breathe a passing word, embrace the eternal word.
Bernard of Clairvaux 1090-1153
Lily and angel wing, detail, Annunciation, Octavio Gentileschi, 1623
Part II: Poetry
Annunciation Poems Donne, Yeats, Levertov, Howe
Salvation to all that will is nigh ;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo ! faithful Virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb ; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He'll wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son, and Brother ;
Whom thou conceivest, conceived ; yea, thou art now
Thy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother,
Thou hast light in dark, and shutt'st in little room
Immensity, cloister'd in thy dear womb.
-John Donne 1572-1631
The Mother of God
The three-fold terror of love: a fallen flare
Through the hollow of an ear;
Wings beating about the room
The terror of all terrors that I bore
The Heavens in my womb.
Had I not found content among the shows
Every common woman knows,
Chimney corner, garden walk,
Or rocky cistern where we tread the clothes
And gather all the talk?
What is this flesh I purchased with my pains,
This fallen star my milk sustains,
This love that makes my heart's blood stop
Or strikes a sudden chill into my bones
And bids my hair stand up?
-W.B. Yeats 1865-1939
Annunciation, Rogier Van der Weyden, 1440 detail
Part III: Practice
The name “Jesus” means “God saves.” I wonder if Mary ever pondered in her heart that she should have named him “God interrupts.” When you say “yes” to God, everything changes.
The theme of interruption was popular in Medieval and Renaissance renderings of the Annunciation. In countless images Mary attempts to hold the place in her book as if she will take up where she left off before the angel appeared – a poignant, clinging gesture.
To Ponder: Has a Divine Messenger ever interrupted your life? Or, have interruptions in your life turned out to be, in retrospect, Divine?
Here are some images of hand-in-book to look at as you ponder.
Here is another practice based in the image of the Annunciation to take up or renew. On Praying the Angelus HERE
Bertram Master 1379-83, detail
Duccio, 1308-11, detail
Cleve, c.1525, detail
Memmi, c. 1340, detail
Martini, c. 1340
Martini, c. 1333
Suzanne's Meditation - trying my own hand at Annunciation poetry
Virgin of the Sign
She looks upon you She looks beyond you
She looks through your soul and into the Eternity behind your soul.
Suddenly she is a Mirror of Eternity Dwelling in Your own fragile flesh.
Virgin of the Sign (Platytera), Kiev School, 1114
Annunciation with Peter Martyr, Fra Angelico
Meditation Two (Insight) Conceive the Child
We are all meant to be mothers of God. What good is it to me if this eternal birth of the divine Son takes place unceasingly, but does not take place within myself? And, what good is it to me if Mary is full of grace if I am not also full of grace? What good is it to me for the Creator to give birth to his Son if I do not also give birth to him in my time and my culture? This, then, is the fullness of time: When the Son of Man is begotten in us.
-Meister Eckhart 1260-1328
Since Adam, being free to choose, Chose to imagine he was free To choose his own necessity, Lost in his freedom, Man pursues The shadow of his images: Today the Unknown seeks the known; What I am willed to ask, your own Will has to answer; child, it lies Within your power of choosing to Conceive the Child who chooses you.
-W.H.Auden 1907-1973 quoted from An Advent Sourcebook Liturgy Training Publications
Meditation Three (Integration) You, Yourself Oh, then, soul, most beautiful among all creatures, so anxious to know the dwelling place of your Beloved so you may go in search of him and be united with him, now we are telling you that you yourself are his dwelling and his secret inner room and hiding place. There is reason for you to be elated and joyful in seeing that all your good and hope is so close as to be within you or better, that you cannot be without him. "Behold," exclaims the Bridegroom "the kingdom of God is within you" [Lk 17:21]. And his servant, the apostle St. Paul declares: "You are the temple of God" [2 Cor. 6:16]
-John of the Cross 1542-158 The Spiritual Canticle
The Last Word How can I explain the riches and treasures and delights found when the soul is united to God in prayer? Since in some way we can enjoy heaven on earth, be brave in begging the Lord to give us his grace in that he show us the way and strengthen the soul that it may dig until it finds this hidden treasure. The truth is that the treasure lies within our very selves.
-Teresa of Avila 1515-1582 The Interior Castle
Annunciation, Benedetto Bonfiglio, 1455-60
This is fun. Saint Luke takes notes during the Annunciation.Or, prays the Annunciation. Or, imagines how it was while writing about it, as the winged ox holds the copious scrolls with patient resignation.
Annunciation, Orazio Gentileschi, 1623, detail
Annunciation poems, continued
This was the minute 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,
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
opened her utterly.
-Denise Levertov 1923-1997 Breathing the Water
Even if I don’t see it again—nor ever feel it
I know it is—and that if once it hailed me
it ever does—
And so it is myself I want to turn in that direction
not as towards a place, but it was a tilting
as one turns a mirror to flash the light to where
it isn’t—I was blinded like that—and swam
in what shone at me
only able to endure it by being no one and so
specifically myself I thought I’d die
from being loved like that.
Maretto di Nardo, 1395, detail
Master of Flemalle, 1420's, detail
Andrea della Robbia, c.1475, detail
Bellgambe, 1516-17, detail
Bernardo Strozzi, 1643-4, detail
Annunciation, Simone Martini and Lippo Memi,1333, detail