In December, I led an Advent Retreat for our church in Colorado Springs. It was a one-day Saturday retreat at a nearby monastery. During much of the day, we took time to pause and think about Mary’s feelings when she was told she would soon be carrying the Son of God in her womb. It was life-giving to have permission to use our imaginations to ponder how dumbfounded and fearful she must have felt; to enter her own chaotic human story. There surely would have been many who would have talked about her with disdain and condemnation at being pregnant before she was married to Joseph. Can’t you just hear her telling some neighbors or casual acquaintances, “Well it is not Joseph’s child. No, we have not even slept together. I have conceived this child by the Holy Spirit who came upon me.” And they would have replied, “Oh sure Mary, that is a good one. I have never heard that line before. Shame on you. And we thought you were a respectable, God-fearing person.”
In spite of the responses of the people around her and even the negative, doubting voices in her own head, Mary was able to continually surrender her will in hope of a promise fulfilled. We are aware of Mary’s initial resistance to God’s divine intervention in her life. She replied to the angel Gabriel by saying, “how can this be since I am a virgin.” She was certainly entitled to ask a few questions about this divine intervention that would turn her and Joseph’s, not to mention the whole world, upside down. But what gave Mary the ability to surrender and move forward with openness and hope towards this unexpected, unimaginable plan?
Two things strike me that must have helped Mary surrender and move forward with hope. First, she was able to let God be God and allow Him to have his own plan even when it totally messed up her own. There must have been a willingness to sit back and allow him to continue preparing the way for the extraordinary story he was writing in her own womb. Secondly, Mary seemed willing to open her heart, her life plans but also her physical womb to receive and hold the very presence of God. As we see in this picture, Mary seems to sit in a quiet prayer of both surrender and openness, as this seed of light and grace grows stronger and larger within her. If we can just stop and see that it was not necessarily because Mary was such a woman of great faith, but rather that she had a very simple, human willingness to open her body, heart and soul to the very Presence of God. And what a journey that must have been for Mary over nine months. Each day, all day long, being attentive and aware of the divine Presence growing within her. Isn’t that a simple picture of what God wants from all of us each day, to live integrated lives and to remember that the Presence of God is residing in each one of us? He is in our very bodies, hearts, souls and minds desiring more room to grow and expand his divinity, ever more integrating with our humanity.
As we begin a new year, we can remember Mary’s openness and surrender toward hope with her simple words, “let it be unto me according to your will.” Perhaps we can begin this new year taking time throughout each day, to simply look down at our own bodies, our center and remember that the divine, the holy, the eternal presence of God is residing inside of each one of us. Maybe this simple awareness, attentiveness and openness can lead us forward on our journey this year, like Mary, toward a great hope. “For the people walking in darkness are seeing a great light.”
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David Sachsenmaier, MDIV, Counselor, Spiritual Director is Vice President of Ministry Development at Potter's Inn, a beautiful 35 acre spiritual formation retreat center in Colorado Springs, CO. David and his wife moved to Colorado Springs in 2009 with their six children after pastoring a church in southern England. He has spent the last 25 years working in both banking and full-time pastoral and counseling ministries in the US, France and the UK. As a certified spiritual director, David helps lead retreats, meets with individuals and couples in Colorado Springs for counseling and spiritual direction. Contact David Sachsenmaier at email@example.com.