Art work: 'The Annunciation' by Henry Tanner
by Denise Levertov
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 courage.
The engendering Spirit did not enter her without consent.
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
Infinite 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,
needing, like any other, milk and love –
This was the minute no one speaks of,
when she could still refuse.
A breath unbreathed, Spirit,
She did not cry, "I cannot, I am not worthy,"
nor "I have not the strength."
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
Bravest of all humans, consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
Consent, courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.
(Source: "Annunciation" from The Stream and the Sapphire, by Denise Levertov. New York: New Directions Publishing, 1997)
Take time to listen to The Angel Gabriel from King's College, Cambridge
The Angel Gabriel