Sunday, March 25, 2012

Thoughts on the Feast of the Annunciation

Today would normally be the Feast of the Annunciation. It's March 25, exactly 9 months until Christmas, which means Christians celebrate the feast day honoring the angel Gabriel's visit to Mary. Tradition tells that Mary was invited to become the Mother of God and that she graciously accepted. We honor her for her willingness to participate in God's Big Plan. (This year, because today is the fifth Sunday of Lent, the feast is officially tomorrow on March 26th.)

"The Annunciation" - Nicholas Poussin, 1655


At Mass today, our parish priest offered another possible scenario with a slightly different feel. Suppose Mary's invitation from Gabriel wasn't as much a choice as a kind of "heads up, this is about to take place"? The Gospel reading just states that the angel said, "You shall conceive and bear a son and shall call him Jesus." He didn't say, "Hey, do you think you'd like to do this...does it sound kind of interesting to you?".

(To my theologian friends: Don't start worrying. Theologically speaking, Mary had to have a choice, of course. She had to give assent. Way back at the start of the story, God made Man and Woman, and they had free will. The whole narrative depends on it. I find it interesting, though, to think of it in this slightly different light, and it's my blog, so bear with me.)

I imagine Mary, sitting alone in her room after Gabriel's departure, reeling at the angel's announcement. It's a crazy story. He just showed up, said something like, "hello, you're getting pregnant at what could be considered a less than ideal time in your life, congrats!" and told her the baby's name. (This is just too much. She doesn't even get to decide what to name him. I have loved that part of the process with all three of our babies, and she had to miss out.) Yet these were her circumstances...so with the BIG choice out of the way (Yes, I'll participate in the salvation of mankind by bearing God's son to the world), she had two options. She could either get on board with what had just been told to her and make the best of it, or she could be miserable and suffer under what must have felt like an unbearable weight at times.

So what did she do? She sang the Magnificat.

And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name. His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”  Luke 1:46-55

Mary's choice to sing in the face of what could easily be called adversity amazes and humbles me. The facts of the situation were the same. She was still going to have a baby she hadn't expected at a time in her life when it wasn't ideal. Her choice to embrace the blessing makes her even more worthy of honor than if she had somehow decided to go and seek this situation out for herself.

With Mary in mind, I have been thinking...about unexpected blessings, about how hard it feels sometimes to rejoice over something I'm not sure I wanted in the first place. There is a choice to be made - do I embrace this blessing, or do I push it away? And the thing is, there's not just one opportunity to make that choice. There are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of them every single day. Sometimes I don't choose well. I'm anything but grateful. I'm grumpy sometimes, angry, resentful, anxious, irritated. But when I decide to, I can see that I have been chosen for something really special in my role as the mother of these people. I don't know fully what that will entail...maybe a bit like Mary couldn't have known fully what was coming when she got her news.

I wonder if she had moments where she felt discouraged, times when she wished for a moment that things were different, that she hadn't been the one chosen for this task? If she felt the burden of her blessing, was it anything like I sometimes feel? If she looked in a mirror and saw her own tired eyes, did she wish sometimes that she were still carefree and un-blessed?

I had coffee with a friend yesterday, who commented that she thought that some of my readers here would think by what I've been writing that I have it all together and have figured things out. (Clearly, anyone who thinks that has not seen the inside of our house recently!) Being one of my closer friends and knowing that to be untrue, she said her own take on it was that I was still trying to convince myself.

I think, actually, that neither of those things are completely true.

I certainly don't have it all figured out, and things are far from "together." We're doing a lot better than we were. I can get out by myself with all three kids much better than I could a month or two ago. It's still so hard, though. Some days are a real challenge just to keep moving from morning to evening.

Neither do I think, however, that I'm trying to convince myself that it's all already okay. I get that this is a process, and I'm thankful that my view of life and faith are process-oriented. Change is not easy and not instant. We are on a journey where we get time to learn to move in new ways, to develop the strength we need to carry bigger and more challenging loads. I'm somewhere in the midst of this process now with learning to be a stay-at-home parent to three, and that's okay with me (even if it is hard). I don't have to have it all together yet. Or ever.

What I think I'm doing (in this blog and in my life) is practicing. Practicing gratitude. Practicing making a choice to notice what's good and not to dwell on what feels bad. Practicing joy and practicing smiling and practicing patience and practicing choosing to embrace what has been given to me.

It's good that there are so many chances in a day to practice. I think it's going to take me the rest of my life to get the hang of it.