Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I have not known a man?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” Luke 1:34-35
Grow quiet and still. Open your mind and heart to this image, to the Scripture, to the divine Presence. As you gaze, what do you see? What do you feel? Can you sense an invitation to you from the Spirit? What might it be?
She sits cross-legged on a low wooden platform, not a pose we expect. Her body leans slightly backward. Her face is lifted, her eyes closed, her mouth slightly open. Her arms are outstretched, with fully opened palms. This picture is unapologetically sensuous. Mary is in spiritual ecstasy. She is in the thrall of the divine presence—opening her arms to welcome and receive into herself what is now to be given by the Holy Spirit, symbolized by the large dove that is hovering just above her.
Sometimes when a painting tells a story, different scenes are compressed into one picture, giving the impression that everything happened at once. So, on the right side of this canvas, the angel declares that the Holy Spirit will come to Mary, and on the left side, she is receiving it. It appears that the prophecy and its fulfillment are simultaneous, which is not in the biblical story, but in a way, is fitting. God’s promise and its fulfillment are so certain that they can be seen as a single event.
The biblical story says nothing about a dove, but Annunciation depictions traditionally include one as a symbol of the Holy Spirit. Tomorrow’s devotion will say more about why doves are symbols of the Spirit, but for now, consider just one aspect of the dove pictured here. The annunciation dove is most often shown as flying through the room toward Mary, but the dove in this picture isn’t flying. It’s hovering. Its body, in full length, is almost vertical and seems motionless except for the beating of its wings just above Mary’s head. We can see this as representing Gabriel’s promise: “the power of the Most High will overshadow you.” But the action of the dove also connects with what the Spirit did in the creation of the world. A good translation of Genesis 1:2 is that “the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” That verb is used elsewhere to describe a bird hovering/brooking over its young. Now the Spirit is once more hovering as a brooding dove might do—this time not over the waters, but over a young woman—and once again it is to bring new life, a new creation.
Notice most of all that Mary is expressing active desire for what the Spirit has come to give. Her face is lifted and her hands are open in a gesture of welcoming readiness to receive. And look at the angle of her downward-slanting arms. They are positioned in a way that makes them the mirror image of wings of the dove. The Spirit’s gift and Mary’s desire to receive it are a perfect match to each other. She is not at all passive in this divine event. She makes herself an eager and outreaching partner in the miracle.
Ask yourself: Do I want the new life in me that the Spirit comes to give. How can I cultivate such desire? How can I best reach for the Spirit’s gift to me and fully, gladly welcome it?
Spirit of God, deepen my desire for the gift of new life. Help me to open myself to the wonder of your life alive in me.