Motherhood, an Astounding Ministry

Annunciation, Philippe de Champaigne (1644)Annunciation, Philippe de Champaigne (1644)    

Spiritual Sunday

Here’s a poem by Denise Levertov for Mother’s Day.  I dedicate it to my own mother and to the mother that I’m married to.  I also dedicate is to Maurine Holbert-Hogaboom, at whose funeral I read it ten days ago.  It was one of her favorites.

Levertov imagines the moment where Mary agrees to carry Jesus.  The poet sees the moment as symbolic of those times in life when we are presented with momentous choices.  Often we turn away from them.  Levertov challenges the traditional depiction of Mary as meek and describes her rather as courageous.  It takes a brave woman to step into destiny.

So here’s to the courage of the mothers who carry us and give birth to us.  They are participants in an event that it no less miraculous for being common.  

The Annunciation

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
The engendering Spirit
did not enter her without consent. God waited.

She was free
to accept or 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,

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, spelt
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 sum 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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One Comment

  1. Julia Bates
    Posted May 11, 2010 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    A ministry. What a nice way to put it. Or beter than nice—a deepening way to look at the process I went through to raise children. A replication of my own childhood–the best parts, and a shifting away from anger, the dark parts of my past. What a jungle exploration it all required! And now to have children that don’t share the same scars that I bear. And how to understand their world and escape the dark parts that still haunt me. So a mission. A mission both inward and outward. For some greater good that will take me out of my shell.


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