Monday, December 10, 2012

Annunciation, Courage, A Little Commentary

My favorite Advent poem is Denise Levertov's. I wrote a bit of commentary at the bottom.


‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, VIc

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?

Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,

More often
those moments
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.

God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked
a simple, 'How can this be?'
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –

but who was God.

A breath unbreathed,

She did not cry, "I cannot, I am not worthy,"
nor "I have not the strength."
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
raging, coerced.
Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

We Protestants, most of us, do not spend a lot of time engaging with Mary. If we do, we learned how from someone else, someone whose tradition offers a slant different from that of our own.

Maybe one of our children died, and someone said to us, "Mary." 

"No one mentions courage."

Courage is required: To accept a pregnancy, to push a child into the world, to let go of a small hand and watch it wave from a classroom door, to deposit a pile of luggage at camp, or college, or the airport.  Such commonplace events; no one mentions courage.

Courage is required: You do not know.  Until you do.

When I was in first grade in Florida, a little boy in my class suffocated on a balloon at a birthday picnic at the beach.  I remember the sound of the siren as the ambulance raced past our house that evening, before we learned what had happened.
This past week-end, a family lost a boy to suicide. "And so this is Christmas . . .".  One of my friends lost her son in the same way on Christmas Day itself, almost eleven years ago.

And for us, for me . . . Without Mary's courage, from Annunciation to Easter, what would there be?

You open to what comes.

You hope that there are iridescent wings.


  1. Such deep wisdom...speechless in the best sense of the word.

  2. Oh, Robin, this is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing this (not only the poem, but your thoughts). Love, peace, and all courage to you.

  3. Thank you for posting this. Mary has been a light on my path since Katie's passing.

  4. Courage....of the many emotions I have felt as a mother, courage is perhaps the most frequent, and unrecognized.I won't say in a public place when my courage as a mother has been most challenged. Perhaps when you are here in March we will have time to talk. I walked a very fine line between life and death of a child...and only now, on occasion, can let this child go without fear that one choice made would be the last.

    1. Hard as it may be to believe, there are places in my life where motherhood has called for tremendous courage which remain completely unbloggable - which are spoken of only where the highest standards of confidentialty apply.

      I wish desperately that such hands were dealt to no one.

  5. So beautiful, and once again Robin, you have found a way to light a small light on my path in a place that I hadn't even realized needed it.

    Thank you. Much love.

  6. Profound astonishing truth. With your permission, I would like to put a link on facebook for my friends to read this.
    Much love to you and yours, and gratitude for your insight.

  7. Courage is the word spoken in Italian to me by many mothers after Sarah died in Italy. Coraggio....spoken over and over by strangers...all mothers as I stood outside the glass room that held her body in the mortuary. They would place their hand on my heart and speak this word so softly with tears in their eyes. Many gave me something that was of Mary--a card with Mother Mary, a short prayer chain with the Mother Mary on it... That began my journey with Mary in a more intimate time...pondering her own son's death in wonder and the mystery. I felt her love and care for me. Every time I have traveled now in Italy, my room always has a picture of the Mother Mary holding her son. Touches me deeply. Your words in this post touch me so. Thank you Robin for using your gift of words to bless so many of us. I love you.