But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’ Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have not known a man? – Luke 1:29-34
Grow quiet and still. Open your mind and heart to this image, to the Scripture, to the divine Presence. What do you see? What do you feel? Can you sense an invitation to you from the Spirit? What might it be?
We don’t even know the artist’s name, only that he studied with the Dutch painter, Rogier van der Weyden. This painting is very much like one by his master, but in some ways, it is more captivating.
Again, our attention is drawn most of all to Mary’s face, which is near to the viewer of the painting, and is full-on facing our direction. There are certainly other matters of interest: Gabriel’s kind and patient gazing at her; the woman we see through the window tending a potted tree in a garden (the flourishing of new life?); the man beginning a journey, walking-stick in hand, headed away from the city (into the new future?). But the main thing, as usual, is Mary, and what her body and face communicate.
In this week’s devotions so far, we see Mary expressing curiosity, mystification, joy, fear, confrontation, objection, and dancing. But the Mary we see here is visibly expressing herself in a different way. We notice that her torso is leaning in Gabriel’s direction. The gesture of her raised left hands seems to be telling the angel: “Wait”—and, in fact, he has the look of someone who is patiently waiting.
Now study her face. Her eyes are slightly open and gazing to the side, though she doesn’t seem to be focused on anything there. Her head is very slightly bowed, but in this case, not in shyness or deference or submission. She is thinking. Considering. Pondering. Reflecting. Turning over in her mind what all of this news really means, and how it is to unfold, and what it will cost her, and what it will mean for her world. This is why she has gestured for Gabriel to wait. She has seen him and heard him, and now she must turn inward in silence, and contemplate, and then emerge from reflection, ready to respond.
This picture is true to what Luke says of her more than once: “She pondered what sort of greeting this might be.” (Luke 1:29) “But Mary pondered these things in her heart.” (Luke 2:19) “His [Jesus’] mother kept all these sayings in her heart.”(Luke 2:51. This is a most faithful way of responding to the Mystery of God: to contemplate, to take what is disclosed to us into our deep interior selves, to ponder. The awed question, “How can this be?” is allowed to descend into long, silent, prayerful consideration.
Why not give this some attention, especially in this busiest and most distracting of seasons? Enter more often into quiet and receptive contemplation. In a way, that’s what you’re doing by reading these devotions and considering them and accompanying them with your own prayers. But very few of us would not be helped by diving deeper into silent thoughtfulness and reflection. Mary gives the best of invitations to that kind of living. It will likely bear fruit as it did for her: in bearing Christ more embodied into the world.
Oh God of deepest truth, help me to follow you into that long and best journey that leads from the head to the heart. Lead us into the patient practice of pondering your truth, and from there, to the practice of living it. Amen.