Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word” ~ Lk 1:38
Luke does not tell us exactly what Mary is doing when the angel Gabriel appears, but artists from Italian Fra Angelico in the 15th-century to the British Pre-Raphaelite John William Waterhouse in the 20th-century portray her in quiet reflection, an open book nearby.
Whether she was actually in solitary reverie—an improbable scenario, given the demands daily life placed on the impoverished in ancient Israel—or interrupted in the midst of sweeping the dirt floor or grinding the flour, Mary is receptive to the unexpected messenger. She stops what she is doing and gives Gabriel her full attention. She listens, reflects, questions, listens some more. And at the end of her encounter with the envoy of the living God, she accepts the divine plan for her life, despite not fully understanding its mystery: “How,” she asks Gabriel, “can this be?” The syntax of her assent embodies her surrender to God: in using the passive voice—“Let it be done to me”—she models peaceful acceptance of God’s will.
In the story of the Annunciation, Mary shows us qualities to seek in our prayer life: receptivity to the divine word, thoughtful reflection and finally, the subordination of our wills to God’s wisdom. We have many dreams and ambitions for our lives; in the end, however, it is not our privilege but God’s to determine our place in the history of salvation. As Jesuit priest Father Alfred Delp wrote during his imprisonment by the Nazis in World War II, “Only by voluntary unreserved surrender to God can we find our home.”
Lord of all creation, Grant that through genuine engagement in prayer I may hear your word and align my will with yours. Amen.