A friend, who has suffered for years with the burden of a chronic illness and has tried every therapy imaginable to no avail, told us not long ago that he sometimes feels like a gangster in an old movie. After a furious gun fight, there is an eerie quiet and his house is surrounded. And a cop outside the door starts shouting to him, “You might as well just come away quietly.” The message is clear: “Give up, you’ve got no choice. Just surrender.” Surely it is an honest response but tinged with resignation, un-freedom and real sadness.
In her response to the angel at the Annunciation Mary offers us a far more breathtaking alternative. For she surrenders to God’s desire with serenity and even a quiet joy- “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word." Recall God’s very first recorded question in Genesis. God says to Adam: “Where are you? Where are you, Man?” For Adam is hiding after all, embarrassed at his lost innocence, hidden there in the underbrush. “Where are you?” Mary’s reply, centuries later, is the healing antidote to Adam’s fearfulness and furtiveness. She is utterly present. Mary stands right in the middle of the garden, small, delicate, defenseless but truly courageous. She comes forward, unembarrassed by her nothingness and she says simply, “Here I am, you called me. Behold I am your handmaid. May it be done to me. Yes. I am yours.” Imagine God’s joy for through Mary, in Mary, with Mary God can finally be what God could not be without her. In Mary God at last finds one who trusts him absolutely, one who is not skittish because of her smallness, not embarrassed at her lowliness, her nothingness, what Thomas Keating calls "the stuff that scares us half to death.” God’s heart is ravished by the beauty of Mary’s humility. She lets it be; she has nothing to hide.
Madonna and Child with Saints, Girolamo dai Libri, Italian, Verona 1474–1555, ca. 1520, Tempera and oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Used with permission.