Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Katie Snipes Lancaster

The Nativity
Luke 1:34–38 “How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Reflection on the Nativity
This passage stands at a complex and theologically potent precipice. There is a swirling of questions. Mary’s question to the angel, of course, has invited tomes of interpretation. The fact that the term Mariology exists says that we have much to learn from every passage that welcomes Mary’s voice.

What might this passage have to say to us today? First, I offer up this delightful quote from Sojourner Truth, “Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with it.” She offers a fearless, dynamic interpretation of Mary’s question, unafraid in the face of patriarchy’s powers that she was heroically up against (is it feisty? sarcastic? devastatingly honest? I don’t know, but it sure is effective).

Beyond that, I want to point out the way in which this visitation from the angel may not be a command performance—somehow declaring “it must happen this way”—but instead is conversational. Conversations naturally take pauses and make room for silence, in order to invite a response from the other. If the visit from the angel is conversational, then we can see divine silence leading to Mary having her own agency. She is not coerced into this role, but instead is given room to say “yes” to God’s invitation into the incarnation. Mary’s consent to this new unfolding mystery is written into the story in a way that gives all of us space to imagine our own “yes” to God.

One theologian puts it this way, “The silence of God before Mary is nothing less than God’s willingness to allow Mary her own space to breathe, her individual access to air as an autonomous and spiritual woman. Rather than insisting that she follow divine will, God enters into conversation with Mary…. God’s silence is a space-time offered to Mary so that she might breathe, so that she might either take up the invitation of God, or refuse it according to her own intention.”[1]

As another theologian uses her theological imagination to envision God saying to Mary afterward, “it is only thanks to your ‘yes’ that my love and my son can be redemptive.” There’s something about this interpretation of the annunciation scene that offers us the most freedom, and the most body-autonomy, and the most breathing room in our relationship with God; important life-giving matters in a world in which religion can come off as freedom-restricting, oppressive, or particularly body-shaming, especially for women (both historically and today).[2]

How then do we pray? We pray with the most freedom, the most breathing room, our bodies open to the possibilities of divine encounter. This is a gentle invitation into God’s vision for the world. An invitation to risk, yes. An invitation into something that will change the very trajectory of our lives and upend our expectations of what might unfold next. But not an invitation into a coerced relationship with the divine, or an arm-twisting “you must do this” kind of prayer. We pray, knowing that God is awaiting our “yes,” but God is first giving us breathing room to be.

Praying the Nativity
God of such unfolding futures,
may we find breathing room:
space in which to say yes
to that which will transform
not just us
but the very world.

[1]Roland J. De Vries in the collection of essays called “Luce Irigaray: Teaching” p. 149.

[2]Luce Irigary, I Love to You: Sktech of A Possible Felicity in History, p. 140.