Surprised by God

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Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Annunciation (1850)

 

During the remaining of these 12 Days of Christmas, I plan to share with you further images of the Annunciation to Mary, moving on from yesterday’s post featuring the theme of Holy Fear. We might refer to these as four moments of God’s decisive intervention in human history in the Incarnation of our Lord. And in each of these four moments we may find a personal connection with our own spiritual journeys, especially as Mary prefigures the church in some very significant ways.

Yesterday, we began with the unexpected moment of Mary’s encounter with the divine presence through the holy angel, and the holy fear that such a meeting might bring. Today, we consider what may often happen next, which is introspection prompted by being surprised by such an encounter.

One of the first things that strikes me about this painting by Rossetti is how Mary’s gaze is fixed on the middle distance. And this suggests that she is focussed more upon the potential significance of what she has just been told, than upon the prior object of her attention, the angelic visitor. She is now focussed on the possible meaning of the angel’s message. And so, as she abstractly looks outward, apparently not focussed on the stem of lilies held by the angel, she looks within.

Not only does she not appear to register the significance of the lilies, suggestive as we have noted both of her purity but also of the future resurrection of her son. She also seems to overlook the potential significance of the red colored, draped, fabric upon which perhaps she may have been applying needlework, placed so prominently by the artist in the foreground. Suggestive of both a priest’s or a deacon’s stole, as well as of altar fabrics, red is traditionally the color used for Holy Week as well as for saints days commemorating martyrs. And, once again, we notice the emblem of the lilies upon the needlework.

Four details briefly worth noting: the dove depicted above the angel’s left hand, symbolic of the Holy Spirit; that Mary is draped in white, in purity and resurrection motifs; the blue color of the fabric hanging behind Mary, in what is often referred to as Marian blue; and, the way that Rossetti depicts the angelic messenger hovering above the floor.

But note her gaze! I find it arresting. Especially as we consider the reality of God having come to us, to share our nature, our being, and our lives.

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