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. (from Annunciation, by Denise Levertov)
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Hail, favored one! The Lord is with you.” – Luke 1:26-28
Become quiet and still. Open your heart to this moment, to this image, to this Scripture, to God. Take your time. What do you see? What do you feel? What do you sense is God’s invitation to you?
See how the two figures in Fra Angelico’s rendering of the annunciation bow to each other, a sign of mutuality and respect. See the angel’s gorgeous wings, visual clue that this creature is not of this world. Here, the spiritual world comes to the physical world, and the two bow to each other.
Notice all the arches, the openings, the doors. There is so much possibility in this picture. Above the woman’s head, in faint white, is the outline of a dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, waiting to join the spiritual to the physical, waiting to transform impossibility into possibility, waiting for consent. So much hinges on how the young woman with the serious face will respond to the young man with the rainbow wings. For now, all we see is the possibility, the many openings, the Spirit hovering, the verge of transformation.
Here is what comes first in the story of the annunciation: the encounter.
In his book I and Thou, philosopher Martin Buber wrote, “All actual life is encounter.” Buber argued that humans have two ways of engaging the world. The mode of I-It is the mode of experience, and tends to be our primary way of engaging the world. In the I-It relationship, two beings do not truly meet; rather, they perceive each other as objects and relate to them in terms of how they serve self-interest. The mode of I-Thou is the mode of encounter, a relationship of mutuality in which two beings perceive and acknowledge the authentic, subjective existence of each other. True relationship hinges on encounter, on engaging others as Thou rather than It; according to Buber, this is the only kind of relationship a person can have with God. An I-Thou encounter with God transforms us, making it possible for us to begin seeing others as Thou rather than It. Likewise, an I-Thou encounter with another (whether person, cat, or tree) helps us glimpse the possibility of encounter with the eternal Thou.
In this image of the annunciation, we witness an encounter. The angel and the young woman, at the threshold of transformation, bow to each other. Their dialogue begins with his declaration of her authentic existence, her thou-ness. “Hail, favored one!”
Listen for God’s affirmation of your thou-ness. Look for ways to encounter the thou-ness of others.
Eternal Thou, help me to come to you with my whole self and to open my whole self to encounter with You. Help me to listen for and believe your affirmation of my existence.