Greetings favored one! The Lord is with you. (Luke 1:28)
Today we remember the Annunciation – the moment the Angel appeared to Mary to change her young life forever. I remember as a child being delighted and awestruck at the idea of the Angel Gabriel suddenly looming in front of Mary, declaring that she is the favored one who will bear the Christ.
Looking back now, from many more years experience of life and motherhood, it is Mary’s response that leaves me delighted and awestruck:
Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word. (Luke 1:38)
How often does God message us with a request?
How often do we hear, and reply simply, but so powerfully, “let it be with me according to your word.”
It would help if Gabriel would appear in all his angelic glory when God needs us to attend and listen, wouldn’t it?
Several months ago, my son Jake sadly admitted that he isn’t at all sure he believes in God anymore. This is my formerly devout boy who told me as a toddler that before we are born, and after we die, we live in God’s heart. The boy who once stopped in the street to pray for a lost dog, and who last year told us that he prayed all the time at school. We weren’t impressed at first: he goes to an independent Catholic school. But when we delved deeper we learned he wasn’t talking about daily Morning Prayer. He said he stopped in the halls to pray when he was having a tough day, stopped to pray when he saw another kid struggling, and prayed his thanks when good things happened.
As a youth and children’s minister, I should’ve been prepared for my own child to tell me he was experiencing doubt. I wasn’t. My heart ached. My soul trembled. I felt like a failure for not building his faith more strongly.
After a few days, we sat down to talk about it. I told him I understood what he was feeling, that most young people experience this uncertainty at some point. I told him that adults also struggle in their relationships with God, and that faith is a journey we travel our whole life, and that changes as we change.
And then he hit me with the question I’d come to dread: “Have you ever stopped believing in God?”
I dread this question because the answer hampers my credibility, especially with young people. No, I have never doubted God’s existence nor God’s influence in my life. Ever.
I told my son this, and then told him the story of why my faith has never been truly shaken:
As a young child, I dreamed of being a ballet dancer. In my imagination, I gracefully leapt and twirled and pirouetted through the world. In reality, I could catch and throw a football with the best of them, and regularly climbed to the very top of the 50-foot tree in our backyard, but my athleticism did not transfer to ballet. And the ballet teacher made sure I knew it. The ballet lessons I’d begged for and dreamed of quickly turned into my first memory of inadequacy and self-recrimination.
As it happened, the classes took place in the parish hall of my childhood church, and I quickly found I could ask to be excused and go wandering for most of the lesson without notice. I think the instructor was glad to have my two left feet out of her way.
One afternoon I discovered that the door to the back of the nave was unlocked and slipped into the deep stillness of a holy space I’d only ever known as filled with tall people who talked a lot and sang beautiful hymns that touched my heart. It was empty. The afternoon sunlight filtered through stained glass windows, sending kaleidoscopic rays to the golden pews. I tiptoed to the altar and sat down, and it was there that God came and sat down with me. And in that still small voice, God made me to know that I was God’s beloved child.
God claimed me on those quiet Wednesday afternoons, and has never let go. And because of that time we spent together when I was six, my faith has never really wavered.
And this is what I need to help my son understand; God is not in the great rock-breaking wind, nor in the earthquake, nor in the fire. God doesn’t always send an angel. God is, most often, in the sound of sheer silence (1 Kings: 11-12).
And if we listen carefully, God says to each of us in our turn, Greetings, favored one!
How does the Annunciation speak to you this year?