Saturday December 8th a handful of us gathered for what turned out to be a beautiful Advent Retreat. We spent the morning talking and praying and listening. We enjoyed time eating and talking with one another, time for intentional silence, planned activities and finally a simple celebration of the Eucharist- reminding us that when we gather and break bread together, God’s love is always palpable.
One of the many gifts that morning was the offering of a poem I have loved and read this time of year over the course of many years titled, The Annunciation. Written by the prolific and profound poet and activist Denise Levertov the poem so beautifully captures the mystery of Mary’s role in the story of Jesus’ birth. As it was being read, I called up a version of it on my phone to follow along and made a remarkable discovery. Apparently, when the poem was published in the collection of her poems titled, The Stream and the Sapphire, the editors accidentally omitted the last full stanza of the original piece. We discovered those last lines together that morning- and even read them aloud a couple of times because of their beauty and power.
So as we turn the corner and head into the fourth and final Sunday of our Advent season; the Sunday when we hear of Mary and her encounter with her cousin Elizabeth, it seems only fitting to offer this beautiful poem in its fullest form. Take the time to read it and linger on the last stanza as we ask ourselves if we too are willing to offer our “consent” to God- to be used in new and perhaps scary ways for the sake of the Gospel- believing that we are indeed made in the image of God.
Come home this Sunday and say yes to the God who beckons us near- close enough to stand at the edge of a stable on a cold dark night as together we wait and watch and wonder.
May you never forget that you are loved.
Annunciation (by Denise Levertov)
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience.
No one mentions courage.
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
She was free to accept or to refuse, choice integral to humanness.
Aren’t there annunciations of one sort or another in most lives?
Some unwillingly undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride, uncomprehending.
More often those moments when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman, are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
She had been a child who played, ate, slept like any other child–but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous than any in all of Time,
she did not quail, only asked a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered: to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness, nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being, the sum of power– in narrow flesh, the sum of light.
Then bring to birth, push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other, milk and love–but who was God.
This was the moment no one speaks of, when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed, Spirit, suspended, waiting.
She did not cry, ‘I cannot. I am not worthy,’
Nor, ‘I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth, raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans, consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light, the lily glowed in it, and the iridescent wings.
Consent, courage unparalleled, opened her utterly.