The Feast of the Annunciation: Bishop Susan’s Reflection
[Feast of the Annunciation 3.25.2020] This is the Annunciation Icon at Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Scottsdale. The iconographer is Laura Fisher Smith, and as the vicar of Nativity, I worked with her to commission this remarkable icon. I hoped for a depiction of Mary that would show her not as the Queen of Heaven, but as an ordinary brown-skinned peasant girl from Galilee. Laura’s Icon does not show the angel; it shows Mary experiencing the angel’s message. I am glad, for I have never seen a picture of an angel that could display the awesome and terrifying presence of such a creature. We humans often resort to beauty and golden wings to signify what angels must be like. Yet we know from scriptures that angels can be terrifying; the first thing they often say is “Do not be afraid.”
When Laura brought me the completed icon to show it to me for the first time, she thought I would not like it. “She just had to be born,” Laura told me. Then she unveiled the completed work, and I was stunned by its beauty and its grace. The icon Laura created has such extraordinary spiritual power that people are often overwhelmed by it. We see the simple peasant girl at the moment of transformation, experiencing the presence of an angel, and opening her hands to receive God’s unexpected grace. We see Mary absorbed in prayer, bathed in heavenly light, and hearing the angel’s words of blessing, challenge, and hope. We see the moment that God started the salvific work of bringing Jesus into the world. In the transformation Mary experiences, as she listens to God’s words, we experience the transformation of creation as the Word becomes flesh. The moment of Annunciation appears as the “still point of the turning world,” in the words of T.S. Eliot (“Burnt Norton”), as Mary descends into silence and allows God to speak.
And perhaps this moment of Annunciation has something to say to us today too, in this odd moment of solitude we find ourselves in. We have stilled ourselves, at least outwardly. We are in a kind of solitude often relieved only by the voices of family and the electrons on our screens. We are waiting for something we can’t describe: a moment when the world will start up again; a message that dispels our fear and loneliness; a signal that we are safe and that we can touch each other once more. We are at the still point of the turning world, a quiet place where none of us imagined we would be. We look toward Easter and we realize that though it is long past, it may also be long delayed.
Yet here we are, on the day of Annunciation, stilled, in the presence of God. And perhaps today we can find that in our stillness, our expectation, our hope, God will bring new things to birth. Perhaps what God will bring is a new sense of connection to those we cannot see in person; perhaps God will give us a new hunger for God’s Word; perhaps God will plant in us a new longing for the Incarnational touch of the Son of God in the church community and the sacraments of our faith. Perhaps, in our stillness, what we will hear from God is simply the assurance the angel shared with Mary, the assurance we need now more than ever: Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you.