Annunciation from the Philippines, Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth
Mosaic from the people of the Philippines, Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth. (photo by Bridget)

Catholic feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson:

“This young peasant girl discerns the voice of God in her life commissioning her to a momentous task. Exercising independent thought and action, she asks questions, takes counsel with her own soul. In a self-determining act of personal autonomy, she decides to go for it. This is her choice and it changes her life. A woman of Spirit, she embarks on the task of partnering God in the work of redemption.”

Catholic womanist theologian Diana Hayes:

Black Catholics also speak a new and challenging word about Mary, the mother of God, rejecting the symbol of passivity for the courageous and outrageous authority of a young unwed mother who had the faith in herself and in her God to break through the limitations society placed upon her in order to say a powerful yes to God, standing alone yet empowered. Hers was not a yes to being used merely as a passive, empty vessel, but a yes to empowerment, challenging the status quo by her ability to overcome those who doubted and denied her and to nurture and bring forth her Son as a woman of faith and conviction. The image of Mary and the infant Jesus is an image of strength and courage, of a mother’s determination to bring forth this child regardless of the circumstances and conditions opposing her, a situation in which many black women have often found themselves.

But why is this proof or authentication so often necessary? Historically, persons of African descent have not been seen as Catholic. Despite our more than five hundred years in the church in the United States and our two-thousand-year-old presence in the universal church, whose origins were in the Middle East and Africa, including black Africa, we are seen usually as newcomers, converts all, with little right or authority to demand what are seen as the privileges of the faith.

Annunciation from Jesus Mafa
Annunciation from Life of Jesus Mafa: the Mafa people of North Cameroon enacted biblical scenes, which were then photographed and drawn in order to provide a complete visual narrative of Jesus' life

A rather more humorous perspective from Jewish feminist biblical scholar Amy-Jill Levine:

The Virgin Mary made me nervous. When I was a child growing up in a predominantly Roman Catholic town in Massachusetts, my friends informed me that Jesus would return the same way he had come before–that is, a Jewish virgin would be his mother. Being the only Jewish virgin in the neighborhood, I might therefore become the messiah’s mother. Consequently, during much of second grade I was absolutely petrified that an angel would appear in my bedroom, say, “Hail, Amy-Jill,” and tell me I was going to be pregnant.

Poet Denise Levertov (see also my post from December):

She did not cry, ‘I cannot, I am not worthy,’
nor, “I have not the strength.’
She did not submit with gritted teeth,
raging, coerced.

Bravest of all humans,
consent illuminated her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.

courage unparalleled,
opened her utterly.

And that’s what I personally think of most often on the Feast of the Annunciation–the courage required to say “Yes” to the voice of God when it finds its way to you, in your particularity, confronting you immediately and individually and with the full knowledge you have no way of evading the responsibility of response.

From Levertov’s poem:

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.

And so I pray to resist that relief, and embrace, instead, terrifyingly outrageous authority.

Window from the Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth
Stained glass window from the Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth. (photo by Bridget)

4 thoughts

  1. There are many ways of looking at Mary’s Yes. Thank you for this sampler. My favorite is the Jewish perspective, because I can so well imagine myself in Amy-Jill shoes. Even though I had never heard that Jesus would come back the same way (and I am not Jewish either). I have felt for a long time now that Jesus will come back as a young woman :-)

  2. Is it possible to know the artists who did the Mosaic from the people of the Philippines, Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth, photo by Bridget?

    1. Guy, I’m so sorry — your comment somehow got shunted to the spam filter, and I just now realized it was there.

      Unfortunately, the information plates at the Church of the Annunciation did not provide that information — I very much wish I could help you with that!

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