Denise Levertov’s poem “Annunciation” is a moving meditation on Mary’s submission to the Spirit’s announcement of her strange and mysterious destiny.

Annunciation -Waterhouse

As Levertov suggests, we all have “annunciations/ of one sort or another” in our lives. We have moments when the Divine seems to reach out and point the way ahead for our journey. We must decide whether we will follow the flow of that deep inner prompting or continue to live by some lesser rhythm.

In her poem, Levertov asserts the central place of consent in the spiritual life. Every day we face circumstances that challenge us to decide whether we will struggle to assert our determined will over the circumstances of our lives or whether we will choose to consent to the Divine Reality at the heart of all circumstances we confront.

Advent challenges us to consider the possibility that there is a dimension of our being that is deeper than all our discontent, unhappiness, and turmoil.

Mary’s response to the angel’s announcement of the miracle to be born in her body invites us to ask ourselves whether we desire to live from that place within ourselves that is deeper and more real than all the changeable uncertain circumstances that so often create turmoil and uncertainty on the surface of our lives. Will we seek to live from the depths of our being that transcend the constant flux of circumstance?

If we follow Mary’s practice of consent, we will find as she did, that we carry in our inner being “Infinite weight and lightness..” Then, from our “hidden, finite inwardness,” will be born the one who is God.

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(Levertov’s poem is printed below. There is a line in the poem I find quite incomprehensible. Read the whole poem and see if any line strikes you as puzzling. I will tell you at the end the line that troubles me. I welcome brilliant insights about its meaning, even dull inclinations would be welcome.)

Annunciation
(Denise Levertov)

‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’ (From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, VIc)

We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.

But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
courage.
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent.
God waited.

She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.

__________________

Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.
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.

_________________

She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.

Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
only asked
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
perceiving instantly
the astounding ministry she was offered:

to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sun of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –

but who was God.

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Who is Levertov describing, or what situation is she imagining, when she writes:

Some unwillingly
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
uncomprehending.

Annunciation

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