Mary said, “Behold the servant of the Lord. Let it happen to me as you say.”
Luke 1: 38
Stand ready to answer
if you are available for God
to become more present in your life
and through you to the world.
May you willingly respond
“Let what you have said be done to me!”
Many years ago a friend pointed out that the Annunciation exemplifies the way of human transformation. “Let it happen to me as you say,” is a disposition that, for most of us, takes a lifetime to develop. We know almost nothing of the life and formation of Mary, but we marvel at the role of this young woman in God’s plan for the world. We would love to know more of how, at the moment of the Annunciation, she had come to be able to so willingly surrender her whole being, body and soul, to what God asked of her.
How can we learn to “stand ready” to answer “yes” when God asks? Perhaps one way is to grow in the awareness that God is asking for our response at every moment. We can bit by bit grow in the sensibility that every moment is, to some degree, an annunciation that summons us to responsibility. As we develop in this practice we may come to recognize the subtle movements of our own will, of the demands we make to have things our way. At the moment we become aware of this struggle, we can then practice surrendering our own way.
Meister Eckhart says that it is at the moment that Mary gave up her own will that “she became a true mother of the everlasting Word and she conceived God immediately.” The Word longs to be born in our soul as well, at the very moment when the abandoning of our own will has left enough space for that birth.
In New Seeds of Contemplation, Thomas Merton writes: “In order to become myself, I must cease to be what I always thought I wanted to be, and in order to find myself, I must go out of myself, and in order to live, I have to die.” There is a grace in the humbling experiences whereby we are reminded that who we are is not what we want to be. Merton came to discover in the course of his monastic life that he was not the monk he aspired to in The Seven Story Mountain. How do we experience the contrast between the person we are and the one we have always wanted to be? Perhaps it is in the experience of incompetence in an area of life where we have always wanted to excel and to be seen as excelling. It may be the experience of fear about some relatively small experience or responsibility that we had always taken for granted that we would be able to deal with comfortably. It may be a powerful feeling of envy and jealousy at another’s being recognized rather than ourselves. Our readiness and willingness to go out of ourselves, being and doing the little we can, at such moments can be the way we practice surrender of our will to God’s will.
It may seem far-fetched to compare such daily surrenders to Mary’s radical self-gift. Perhaps, however, there is no other way to come to the place where we “stand ready to answer when asked,” than by seizing the opportunity every moment affords to give up our own designs for the sake of God’s will.
This is what God looks for in all things, that we surrender our will. When Saint Paul had done a lot of talking to our Lord, and our Lord had reasoned much with him, that produced nothing, until he surrendered his will, and said: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” (Ac. 9:6) Then our Lord showed him clearly what he ought to do. So too, when the angel appeared to our Lady, nothing either she or he had to say would ever have made her the Mother of God, but as soon as she gave up her own will, at that moment she became a true mother of the everlasting Word and she conceived God immediately; he became her Son by nature. Nor can anything make a true man except giving up his will. Truly, without giving up our own will in all things, we never accomplish anything in God’s sight. But if it were to progress so far that we gave up the whole of our will and had the courage to renounce everything, external and internal, for the love of God, then we would have accomplished all things, and not until then.
Meister Eckhart, Counsels on Discernment, #11