The source of love, she thinks, is mourning

Fra Filippo Lippi, Annunciation, 1445-50

The Annunciation
This is the honest grace of her body:
that she is afraid, and in this moment does not
hide her fear. That as the pink-robed angel
bends before her pure with the power of lightness
she wants to turn away, she cannot look
into the angel’s graven face. Because the child
meant to form in her will change her.
Because all she has known will dissolve,
pulling back from her like water.
For there is so little softness in me,
she thinks, and my hands are simply empty,
my hands that don’t know how to fill.
I am no more than these shadows now
darkening the garden, no more
than these rigid, frightened hands.
She bows her head; her arms are crossed
against her brittle ribs. The lilies
should have closed by now, she thinks,
and still they have not closed.
Look how they breathe, such white hungers,
white mouths. And she, who must enter
the fear of her waiting, the door
of her waiting, no longer wants to see them
breathing, their smoothness like the angel’s
steady face. She would lie down on the stone floor
and curl up there without thinking.
Until in the cave of her body
she might feel without willing it a tenderness
begin to form. Like the small, ghostly
clover of the meadow; the deer hidden
in the hills. A tenderness like mourning.
The source of love, she thinks, is mourning.
That wordless loss by which we come to see
the opening of these lilies, this doorway
arching onto gardens, the child that will soon form
inside her body, this loss by which we come
to bend before the given, its arms that open
unexplained, and take us in.
Laurie Sheck

and it is not robed in majesty

Then Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I do not know a man?”
 And the angel answered and said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.
Andrei Rublev
Luke 1: 34-35  (NKJV)

The angel's "therefore" seems alarmingly significant, the seed of what Christian theologians have for well over a thousand years termed the scandal of the Incarnation.  It also resonates with my own life.  When a place or time seems touched by God, it is an overshadowing, a sudden eclipsing of my own priorities and plans. But even in terrible circumstances and calamities, in matters of life and death, if I sense that I am in the shadow of God, I find light, so much light that my vision improves dramatically. I know that holiness is near.

And it is not robed in majesty. It does not assert itself with the raw power of empire (not even the little empire of the self in which I all too often reside), but it waits in puzzlement, it hesitates. Coming from Galilee, as it were, from a place of little hope, it reveals the ordinary circumstances of my life to be full of mystery, and gospel, which means "good news."

-Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith

Praying today that my life would be overshadowed by the the power of the Highest, and that his light would show my ordinary life to be full of the good news of the incarnation...that my own little empire would be toppled.

jesus and the stomach flu

On Tuesday night, 8 pm, I heard a barbaric yawp from my daughter’s bedroom.  Untamed, and untranslatable, yes; but nothing to sing about, in my opinion.

In other words, the stomach flu had arrived, and visited itself first upon my 3 year old daughter, the one who still has two rows of stitches in her head from recent encounters with a park bench and a farm dog.

I spent the next two days honing my ability to predict the exact moment when a child will vomit (I am an EXPERT now).

Then Friday morning dawned, and both of my kids were still sick, and I had to face reality: I called to cancel my flight to Denver Friday evening.  It was supposed to be my Christmas present, a long weekend in Denver with my two best friends and newborn baby Etta (also two husbands, a dog named Macaroni, a brother and sister-in-law, and hopefully an aunt and uncle and cousins too, but I digress).

I had been dreaming of long talks over drinks with my lifelong friends, of seeing the mountains again, of shopping and indulging and relaxing. I had even been dreaming of the eight hour transit time each way (shuttle, airport, airplane): time to read a book without interruption, time to actually listen to Silver and Gold all the way through, time to write a Christmas newsletter, time to buy a mocha and drink it before it got cold.

the kind of gallivanting girls we are (or used to be)

I had not been dreaming of endless vomit-stained laundry. But I knew I shouldn't risk taking my germs to that sweet baby Etta.

I cancelled the trip, and spent the day awash in self-pity.  On Saturday night, when we were supposed to attend a good old-fashioned carol sing around the piano, instead the virus finally hit Jack and me, too, and I... I will spare you the details. Suffice to say that by Monday morning the whole family is fine, a bit exhausted and achy and weak, but fine.

In the midst of depression and self-pity, I updated facebook, hoping for some sympathy:
This happened at least once today: Owen vomiting into my hand while Rosie, 2 feet away, doesn't even blink, keeps going, "Pretend you just got a package and you didn't know, but you were so surprised to see that it was a tiny bird, and when you touched it, it turned into the queen kitty..."

So much of motherhood is like this.  Physical, dirty, overwhelming, demanding, sensory overload. Both children clamoring for your attention at once, and even if they're being charming, what you really need is to go clean up the mess in your hands. And all of it happening while you're sacrificing your own desires and plans. 

I thought a lot about Mary this weekend.  How Mary, teenage mother, faced both the common challenges of motherhood and the challenges of raising the divine.  How she surrendered so much of her own hopes and dreams for her life to God with “let it be.”  How she probably had to repeat that "let it be" to God over and over throughout her life, re-affirming her submission to his plan.  

And I thought about Jesus, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing  by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

I thought about Mary, and Jesus, and I prayed; I prayed that my own tendency to self-pity would be scrubbed out of me, and that I would more willingly take on the nature of a servant.  

So here I go. After my intimacy with the toilet bowls this weekend, I’m fully aware of how much they need scrubbing, too. I’m off, singing a song not of myself, but of the One who teaches me how to keep saying let it be.

the implanted word, which is able to save your souls

Sometimes when I think about Mary, I remember Phuong.

Once upon a time, in a faraway land, Phuong was captured by Love, transformed by mystery.  Like Mary, she whispered “Yes” to the promises beyond belief, receiving with meekness the implanted Word.  When I told her that she was a part of God’s family, now and forever, she cried with wonder that such a thing could be true. Let it be, she said.

Phuong told everyone about the Love that had found her.  She couldn’t stop talking about the mystery that swept her heart. But, like Mary, Phuong had an experience of God that was not aLways accepted by her culture. 

Mary traveled to Elizabeth, looking for someone to help her understand God at work in her.  Phuong too looked for others who had experienced the miracle, people who shared her native language who might confirm her experience of the Word of God.  She traveled to them, by train, through the night.

Months later, they came to visit her too, but this time they were followed.  The authorities called their beliefs illegal, took their books, threatened their families and livelihoods. Friends betrayed Phuong, family didn’t believe what she believed.  Threats reigned, community scattered.  

I wonder if Mary knew how the Word implanted in her would tear her apart, in every way. I remember Phuong telling me, early on, that she was counting the cost, and she had made her decision, but how could she have known?  

How can we ever guess at the demands Love will make of us?  How can we ever believe our hearts will heal, and that they will heal open wider than before?

{Phuong is not her real name.}

“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May it be to me as you have said.” Luke 1:38
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. John 1:14
...receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. James 1:21

Mary Visits Elizabeth

Ein Karem
CC photo courtesy of

I wonder where I would go. If my own family rejected me, as Mary’s family might have rejected her, if they wouldn’t or couldn’t believe me when I said I had encountered God, to whom would I run?

If my experience of the divine was too unbelievable. If my encounter with love too fantastical.  If my heart and soul were too hot, inflamed.  If what I had seen was impossible.  If what I had heard was nonsense.  If God had troubled me with promises too great for me to comprehend, and yet I believed them. If my spiritual experience was not acceptable within my community, where would I go?

If I weren't sure what had happened.  If there weren't a simple test I could take, a plus or a minus.  If it would be three months before I could say anything with certainty.  If it was a season only for waiting.  If I couldn’t expect them to believe it because I could still hardly believe it myself.  Where would I go?

Over the mountains to Hebron. 90 miles.  At least 10 days, stony paths, the early nausea and exhaustion of pregnancy setting in.  She went to see someone else who had experienced a miracle. She went for confirmation, for someone who would reassure her: “Yes, this is God, and God-in-you.”

Because Elizabeth had experienced the miracle of Love giving life, she was full of grace to receive the improbable, full of faith to believe the impossible, full of the Spirit to recognize Love’s approach. (Haven’t I experienced that miracle, too?)

(Luke 1)