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?
The Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere, first built in the 4th century and then replaced in the 12th, is the oldest church in Rome dedicated to Mary. The apse inside the church glitters with the gold of 12th– and 13th-century mosaics, including several scenes from the life of Mary created by Pietro Cavallini, whose work represented the first significant departure in Italian art from the traditional Byzantine style of mosaic. Cavallini’s use of space and light was unprecedented in Italian art; in this mosaic, we see his innovative use of perspective to create a three-dimensional throne-building.
Tucked into the curve of the apse, this scene would be easy to miss amidst all the other dazzling gold mosaics, but once you spot it, it’s hard to look away. The bold black, red, and white wings of the angel are lifted with strength, energy, and urgency. The angel comes striding forward with his right hand extended ahead of him. His hand is extended in blessing, and the blessing is vigorous and determined, almost forceful. He moves towards her with such purpose and power. The Spirit, too, in the form of a dove, is already on its way, whooshing down from the Father in a rush of blue.
Mary, meanwhile, ducks her chin and holds her hand to her breast. But notice her eyes. She does not break eye contact with the stranger stepping towards her. She is taking this in. She is listening. She is not yet leaning in as he is, but neither is she leaning back; she is holding her ground.
Some of us have a tendency to say “no” to any new invitation that comes our way; change is threatening and often calls for sacrifice. Others of us have a tendency to say “yes” to everything; change is exciting and often distracts us from other commitments; sometimes we say “yes” out of obligation. In this image, Mary reminds us there is an option other than the defensive “no” or the impulsive or obligatory “yes.” We can engage. We can stay in the present moment – the moment of listening, of watching for God’s invitation to us. Sometimes the invitation can feel like too much. Sometimes a blessing can feel like a threat. Sometimes we can’t know the difference unless we take the time to listen and think, to find our freedom to say an authentic “yes.”
Today, try to find the ground between defensive and impulsive, between the too-quick “no” and the too-quick “yes.” Try to take a moment longer than you otherwise would to respond to whatever is happening in your life. Take a moment to breathe, to really listen, to engage, to discern, to be.
God of blessings that sometimes feel like threats, help me today to breathe and to be, and to find myself held up on the breath of your Spirit. Amen.