Saturday, December 06, 2014

"The Annunciation" by Tanner Awakens Advent Thoughts

For a spiritual retreat sponsored by "The Pilgrimage" society at St. James' Episcopal Church, Marietta, our guest leader The Rev'd Laura A. Bryant brought us a print of "The Annunciation" by American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner (d.1937):

The painting elicited a great deal of thought and feeling from the twenty or so people there.

We then practiced lectio divina (a process of "divine reading") with Luke 1:26-38.  I personally was struck this time by Mary's ambivalent response to the angel's greeting her as "favored" by God.  She wonders "what sort of greeting this might be."  Then it hit me:  Whether the news is good or bad, it's going to mean change.  

By synchronicity, I'd awakened early this morning from a nightmare about judgement, and sat up in bed thinking a line from a letter by Petrarca, "My life must change."

During our quiet time, I combined that thought and Tanner's image with Luke's line about the angel's greeting, and edited the mix down to this little poem:  
Why wonder what sort of greeting this might be?
Whether its the angel's promise, 
A verdict, or a diagnosis,
The messenger will leave you alone in the dark
Fingering the thought
My life must change.
Rev. Bryant then introduced a wonderful retelling of Luke's story from the angel's point of view imagined by Frederick Buechner (who wrote my favorite of all novels The Book of Bebb), and a poem called "Annunciation" by Denise Levertov that made me want to read more by her.  Like Buechner, she emphasizes that Mary was free to say "no," the way most of us do.  God would not "smite" us, Levertov writes, "But the gates close, the pathway vanishes."

This was a somber thought to emerge from a stimulating retreat -- just right for the season of Advent. 

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