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.”
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?
We should remember that creators of works like this one did not think they were painting biblical scenes as they actually looked or according to what literally happened. The artists were not that dumb. Their challenge was to suggest somehow visually the realities and processes that are invisible and mysterious. To this end, they used not only conventional symbols, but inventions and tweaks of their own. In the case of the Carmelite friar, Filippo Lippi, indicating that Mary conceived by the Holy Spirit required far more than the presence of a dove in the room. Take a look at what he has done.
At the top center of the painting, a right hand and forearm are reaching into the space, angled toward Mary. With the first two fingers extended, the gesture is of blessing. Lippi is stressing that more is at work in this event than Gabriel, Mary, and the sent Spirit. Above it all and in it all is the blessing and guidance of the Eternal One.
Less obvious to us is that the artist has added many tiny flecks of golden light, emanating in transparent pulsing circles from the hand of God to the dove. They don’t show up well on a page but are visible when the painting is viewed in person. The dove is in front of Mary, at the level of her womb, and has Mary’s full attention. From its open beak comes a spray of these miniscule specks of light. And wondrously, from Mary’s body in front of the dove, a little stream of this same golden light moves horizontally forward through a small opening in her tunic, to meet the light emerging from the dove. Wow.
Think of it: the light of God given to Mary is met by the light in Mary given to God. What a beautiful way to imagine how the miracle of the Word-make-flesh begins.
In your waking lifetime, no winged angel will appear to you, no dove will come to flutter in front of your belly, no gigantic hand will slide through your ceiling to bless you. But light? Light shines from your eyes, and it shines from your life—or can, if you let it. Think of your prayers as flecks of outflowing light. Imagine simple acts of self-giving love as gleaming dots of light converging and streaming out from you. And imagine the Holy Spirit coming to meet the light your life has shined, to meet it, celebrate it, and join it into the Eternal Light, made all the brighter in you and through you. That’s how it was with Mary, and maybe also with us.
Holy Spirit, bearer of light and new life to my soul, help me to do my part in in letting the light of my love be joined to yours. Amen.