The events of many of the great feasts we celebrate can become so familiar that they seem almost offhand. Year to year they may not always touch us where we live…until they do. Then, everything about them comes alive, sharp and vibrant. When that happens, if we have the courage to loosen our grip on our notions of what the future was supposed to look like—if we have the presence of mind and the courage to say, “Be it unto me according to your word,” then, and to God’s glory, we will be let into a future we had not expected or asked for, but that everything has prepared us for. If we have the courage to inhabit a space God opens up as though from nowhere, edged about as it may be with fear and uncertainty, even—as for Mary—with the threat of death, then the One Who Is will be there, the One whose word makes what is not to come into being.
The whole thing had to be for Mary something like what Julian described:
“God showed a most excellent spiritual pleasure in my soul: I was completely filled with everlasting certainty, powerfully sustained without any painful fear....This lasted only a while, and I was changed and left to myself in such sadness and weariness of my life, and annoyance with myself that scarcely was I able to have patience to live. There was no comfort nor any ease for me except faith, hope, and love, and these I held in truth (but very little in feeling).
And immediately after this, our Blessed Lord gave me again the comfort and the rest in my soul, in delight and in security so blissful and so powerful that no fear, no sorrow, no bodily pain that could be suffered would have distressed me. And then the pain showed again to my feeling, and then the joy and the delight, and now the one and now the other…I suppose about twenty times.”
God does not despise these terrifying experiences of sensory alteration, lowliness and fear, but always, always meets us at the lowest point of our need. If I may spill over the bounds of today’s Gospel a bit, so it was that Mary was given the unlooked-for gift of reassurance from her cousin Elizabeth as soon as she entered her house, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me!?” Because of Elizabeth’s perceptive gift, Mary’s tongue was loosed and she was able to say “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my savior.”
If we can say “Be it unto me according to your word” these gifts all unlooked for will come to us and see us through the times of terror when it is easy to forget what we have seen and heard. And almost beyond hope, we also will be able to say “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Blessed are they who have believed that what the Lord has said he will do.