Many thoughts are swirling in this season of Advent and Christmas, informed by prose and poetry, by hymns and carols, words stumbled across and words given.
I return to an old favorite to read and ponder and respond:
This is the irrational season
When love blooms bright and wild.
Had Mary been filled with reason,
There’d have been no room for the child.
I am a very rational person. That is, I can rationalize just about anything.
Rational with my reasons; rationalize my excuses; ration my time, myself; rash decisions, made in haste. Mary decided almost on the spot, yet avoided rationality, the this-makes-no-sense-just-now, avoided rationalized excuse, the yeah-but and here’s-why, avoided rationing her body and belief, the I-have-other-things-to-do, avoided rashness, the knee-jerk hell-no-you’re-crazy!
And then I read Denise Levertov (from “Annunciation,” A Door in the Hive):
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. God waited. She was free to accept or refuse, choice integral to humanness. […] This was the minute 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.
How many times have I failed to consent? How many times, driven by fear or reason, have I missed out? In another section of the same poem, Levertov asks, “Aren’t there annunciations / of one sort or another / in most lives?” She proceeds to catalog our possible responses: consent…but in unwillingness, sullen pride, incomprehension; or turning away…in dread, weakness, despair, relief. And when we say no, when we turn away from that road, “Ordinary lives continue. / God does not smite them. / But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.”
Oh my God, how many gates and pathways have I willingly slunk away from? Thanks for not smiting, but oh, what might have been!
But then Aslan replies to Lucy, when she asks what might have been, “Child, did I not explain to you once before that no one is ever told what would have happened?”
And St. Benedict reassures, reminds, challenges—for it is all three of those in one message: Always we begin again.
May I learn to recognize annunciations when they are proffered. May I consent in courage.