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?
One of the most unusual depictions of the annunciation created during the Renaissance, this painting is Carlo Crivelli’s masterpiece. The attention to architecture, the lush colors, the detailed realism, and his use of perspective make this an extraordinarily compelling and dynamic picture. There is so much movement and detail in this painting that, at first, it is easy to miss the subject of the painting. But there, in the front, you see them – the messenger Gabriel coming in as usual from the left, his wings extended, a lily in his left hand, his right hand raised in greeting; the girl Mary on the right, her Bible open, bending forward with a gesture of acceptance, an expression of humility on her face.
The traditional details end there. The first surprise in this painting is that there is a third figure approaching Mary with Gabriel – St. Emidius, the patron saint of the Italian town of Ascoli. He is carrying a model of the town and appears to be talking to Gabriel. This painting was commissioned for the church in Ascoli in 1482 to celebrate the pope’s declaration of partial self-governance for the town. News of the town’s new status reached Ascoli on the Feast of the Annunciation (March 25), and from then on, March 25 became a civic holiday, a day to celebrate both the Annunciation and Ascoli’s freedom.
Notice all the life and liveliness in this painting: a mix of people – Franciscan and Dominican friars, wealthy merchants, poor people, a child; a goldfinch in a cage, representative of Christ’s death on the cross; a peacock, symbol of resurrection; an apple, symbol of humanity’s fall from grace; a cucumber, filled with seeds, again representing resurrection; the Holy Spirit, as a dove, flashes into Mary’s room on a beam of golden light. There is so much going on all over this canvas – the encounter between Gabriel and Mary will happen right in the middle of it all. The sacred will emerge in the midst of the secular. The message of God will slice through wealth and power, to shine into the life of a young woman. The word will come to her in the midst of busy life.
We all need space, quiet, and time for reflection, prayer, breathing, and just being, but if we only ever wait until conditions are just right, we will miss many opportunities for encounter with the living God. By attending to the details of the present moment – whether sacred or seemingly secular, public or private, political or personal – with an attitude of attention to God, we can begin to discover and encounter God everywhere, in everyone and in everything. All we have to do is consent.
Throughout your activities today, call your mind back to God, converse with God, lift your heart to God. Let attention to the details of your day take you into a place of deeper attention to God.
God of presence and of the present, help me notice you in the details of my day.