“Mary was greatly troubled at his words…” (Luke 1:29)
I think hearing from God can be a wonderful thing. In the past, I’ve been known to say that I heard from God, and though I have only grown more guarded with such ways of framing my sense of the Spirit’s voice, I think it’s still a communication that changes you in good ways when it happens. But hearing from God is not an entirely splendid event. God says things that upset the soul.
I think to Samuel, one of my closest biblical friends, and when he was called, he didn’t know what was going on! He ran around the temple at night, looking for his teacher, waking up the temple servants, trying to find out what it was he heard. And even then, the message he received sent the ears of Israel tingling.
Sometimes, when I’m praying for people who have said that they want clarity from God, I ask that God upset that person’s soul. When I say that in my prayer, I have Mary in mind. I have in mind the unhinged way I imagine this girl to be.
In my mental vision, she is not the staunch woman, leaning near her firstborn when he dies on Calvary’s cross. She is not the woman who shakes away the words of Jesus at that wedding in Cana, right prior to his first miracle. No, this Mary is different. This Mary is a girl. This Mary is just beyond childhood. This Mary, in my vision, trembles at the gripping phrase from the angel’s lips.
She is tutored in Jewish identity. She knows the scriptures. Mary has heard the story of Samson’s parents when the angel told them how to feed and raise him. This Mary recalls those stories from “just days ago,” and this Mary is hardly thrilled. This Mary suffers, if just for a moment from an upset soul. She is stricken by the healing but troubling tone of perfect Love who comes to enlist her in God’s plan to reclaim all things. That reclamation, it seems to this Mary, begins with her.
And she does not run to it. She pauses, maybe stops altogether. This Mary knows that feeling of tense, unsurrendered tightness lodged between her shoulder blades. She knows the “No” lifting up from the bottom of her belly. She knows the control she thought she had over her future, the label she wanted for her first child, the future she planned for him whenever he’d come.
Perhaps she sees a bit of the picture in front of her son, the treatment he’ll receive because of his teachings, the broad and deep ways he’ll be offended and mishandled because of his claims for justice, liberation, and salvation. Perhaps Mary sees the entire problem that is his upbringing, shrouded in mystery, and his ministry, cloaked in the clear-headed direction of a world redeemed from anguish and poverty and oppression. Maybe she didn’t want that future.
The Samuels and the Marys of scripture do not entirely run to God’s plan and desire. They get to it, eventually, but they are probably not the swift-footed heroes we make them out to be in our fiction. No, I think they are obedient and cautious. They are no less surrendered in that eventual practice of God’s purpose, but they always are people whose hands have to learn to relent and release. They are people, not characters. And all people war with God when they see God’s future for them.
Can you relate to this Mary during this Advent season? Can she be as much as exemplar as the other, most robust Mary, older by all those years living toward the fulfillment of the angel’s prophecy? Might you need to wrestle with the troubling words of God? Can your God handle your reactions, each of them, to God’s words?