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?
This Chinese Annunciation gives no indication of physical place, but sets the scene within a thick, uneven formation of clouds. It is as if the event were a vision, or as if the artist is saying: nothing matters but the encounter itself, and the encounter is shrouded in mystery. Unfortunately, this painting is not available to us in color; but this, too, seems fitting. All these varying degrees of white and gray may deepen our sense of mystery.
Mary kneels beside a table. She has been reading the book and praying. She is smiling. Does she already know that Gabriel is zooming toward her from above and behind? He too is smiling. In the upper right, the dove is also on its way, emerging from a cloud or overlapping it, as if the dove and the cloud are of a piece.
The most striking aspect of this picture is that a strong wind is blowing, as evidenced by the candle flame, leaning hard to the left. The dove aims in the same direction. This leads us to realize that the irregular gray and white clouds and the darkness between them represent a turbulent sky. Mary and Gabriel are untroubled by it, but they are surrounded by something like a storm. We remember that in the book of Acts, the Holy Spirit is not symbolized by a dove but by fire and the sound of a rushing wind. Now the candle flame pushed by the wind serves the same purpose, and the sailing clouds, white and dark, highlight the intensity of the charged atmosphere. For Mary, Annunciation and Pentecost are much the same. The Spirit is fierce, and will fill her with power to speak soon like a fierce prophet. And she is smiling.
The Spirit is not all gentleness. It is power and disruption—unpredictable, wild, and conceivably dangerous. We should not think God’s gift to us is in our control. We should understand that faithfulness will often be born of, and lead to, turbulence. We must be open to disruption as an instrument of grace. We must be receptive to new and surprising power within and among us. Though some of this might seem frightening, we can be fearless. In fact, more than ever, we can be filled with joy. See it again: in the windstorm Mary is smiling.
Holy Spirit—wind and fire—keep me always open to your new gifts of power, beyond what I had thought was reasonable or possible. Amen.