Annunciation

The art misleads
Across centuries,
Its European light,
Soft foliage,
Pale golden stone
A gentler brightness
Than the harsh
Blue sky
The glaring whites,
The angular palms
Of my human world.

I did not sit
Blue-clad,
Cool,
Suspended
In passive innocence.
Blue sucked colour
From my dark skin.
In my rose-brown shift,
Rough, old,
Sweat-soaked
By roof-chores
Under
The relentless sun,
I was ambushed
By unimaginable choice.

The messenger, too,
Was wingless.
Clothed, yes,
Beautiful,
But no gorgeous youth.
Clad in all-colour,
No-colour,
Glowing impression
More than man.

The words,
The message,
Were as described,
Save only
That he spoke
Not aloud
But in the sudden
Silence
That drowned my heart
In fear,
Doubt,
Bliss,
A sword-thrust’s pain,
And drove
From my soul
That all-changing
Yes.

Do not be afraid

Why should I not be afraid?
Why not fear this hurried incursion,
this impertinent disruption of my settled thoughts,
my carefully crafted equilibrium?
Why should I not feel terror at this  tartaned stranger
with his gilded words and improbable wings,
who speaks as if from God,
as if  I should hear from God,
as if God should have something to say
to this no-one, no-place, no-hope nothing.
Why should I not recoil
from words that make such demands of me?

Why not?
Because there is something about it all that thrills me,
something that has been unsettled in me
since that strange, dumbstruck moment
when Elizabeth’s husband met with another such impertinent intruder.
I know I spoke of equilibrium,
but the truth is more like
a sleepless, anxious, disoriented longing,
a sense that something is about to come to an end,
or – no – to come to a disrupting beginning.
Falling-rising, table-turning mercy,
from now on and from generation to generation
and starting right here, right in the heart of this ‘nothing’.

I might just have to say ‘yes’.

[Simone Martini’s Annunciation of 1333, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons]

Leaping for joy

Her eyelids fluttered like the wings of a butterfly as the cocoon of her deep sleep was pierced by the sharp spear of a bitterly cold morning.

Tears flowed from her eyes.

As fear coursed through her veins and tightened around her, her mind and body relaxed at the sudden memory of the night before. An ember of warmth flickered and glowed inside her as she remembered. That gentle, resolute voice, those perplexing words pierced her very soul. She heard  those words echo inside her, like a melody floating on a summer’s breeze as the early morning light pierced the surrounding veil of darkness.

Her heart leapt as the warmth in her stomach spread like fire. A smile in the lightening darkness gave way to laughter.

My spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.

Photograph courtesy of  Gordon Nichol Photography.

now is the acceptable time

“Thank God!” he cried.  The Angels jumped in alarm. He didn’t usually ask to be thanked like that — not straight out. But still, they covered their faces, bowed, and sang a tricky Sanctus that Jophiel had been teaching them.

God looked distracted. For days, he’d been hovering over Galilee, watching the girl.

How many times had they practised this over the centuries? Watching child after child — sometimes right into old age— so that they could catch the right moment, when hope was greater than fear. Surely they were ready. But God kept holding them back.

It was going to be Gabriel this time. God was quite clear about that.
“Only fair,” he muttered, “terrible job I gave him in the garden.
This time he gets good news. I want him to hear her ‘yes’.”

The angels didn’t really know what God was talking about, but they were used to that. They nodded and smiled, and went back to naming the stars.

The stars. They were in on this too.
There was one in particular that God kept fussing over:
“You’re sure you understand? You know your course?
You will not get there too soon?”
The star dimmed a bit in indignation, then sent out a puff of light.
“I will be there. Eastern sky. Stable.”
“I’m sorry, dear friend. I know you will.
It’s just that I’ve waited so long.”

But now, it seemed, the waiting was over.

The Angels leaned out over the cloud to see what God had been watching. It was the girl again. And that young man. Nothing new there. They were talking and laughing as they sat in the grass.

And then, they saw it: Joseph took her hand and said to her,
“Are you sure? You want this?”
“You know I do!” she said, as she threw grass at him and ran off up the hill.

“It is time now,” God said, as Gabriel rose to get ready.
“I didn’t want her to have to do this alone.”