Today is the Feast of the Annunciation, the day when the church remembers the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary, bringing the good news that she will give birth to a child who will be called the son of God. The scene is one of the most portrayed in Western art: the heavenly messenger hovering above or kneeling before a young woman who radiates holiness even before the Holy Spirit has come upon her. While artists such as Boticelli and Fra Angelico depict Mary sitting idly when Gabriel makes his appearance, my favorite paintings show the young woman interrupted in the act of reading. In one she uses her finger to mark her place on the page, in another she holds it up as if to indicate, “Just let me finish this chapter,” while in the Merode Altarpiece, Mary seems so engrossed in the book in her hands that she doesn’t notice the angel sitting at her feet.
It may seem incongruous to have this reminder of the nativity in the middle of Lent, but for me the practices I take on and the space I create during this forty day journey allow me to be more aware of the annunciation moments in my own life. Of course unlike Mary, the invitations I receive don’t come via an angelic messenger who has the good sense to announce himself with the words, “Do not be afraid,” before proposing the Holy’s latest plan. But that doesn’t mean that the messengers aren’t there. They appear as a phone call from a friend from out of the blue, encouraging words from a stranger on the street, an article on my Facebook feed that is an answer to something I’ve been pondering, or a nagging idea that I just can’t seem to get rid of. God continually invites me to bring the body of Christ in the world by doing the work of God in the world. It is just up to me to put down my book and say yes.
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