Thursday, 15 March 2007

The virgin, the angel and choice

A childhood and early adolescence spent under the vigilant eyes of teachers of the order of Grey Nuns has been my cross to bear. Pun intended. Nonetheless, it has given me the advantage of knowing that the art of creative exegesis should not be confined within the dusty walls of the Vatican. This riff is inspired by everything the nuns taught me about what happened between Mary, Gabriel and the Holy Spirit.

The angel Gabriel had been sent to earth to find a virgin willing to become the mother of God’s son. (Yes, yes, the Royal House of Windsor borrowed the idea and went looking for Diana or someone like her.)

It seemed like a good plan at the time but Gabriel was amazed at the number of young women who did not share his enthusiasm for the project. He decided to try once more before flying home to heaven.

He appeared before Mary and said to her: “Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.” Mary was surprised and a bit suspicious about this greeting and asked for an explanation. So the angel gave her an elaborate and grandiose description of what awaited her, should she accept this holy mission.

Mary however saw a glitch in the plan. “How can this happen? I’m a virgin, you know.” Gabriel countered: “The Holy Spirit will take care of it, therefore that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.” Then he added: “By the way, God helped your cousin Elizabeth get pregnant and she’s six months along.”

Mary cried out: “Elizabeth? She must be at least 148 years old. She has wanted a baby for so long. That’s pretty amazing. Alright, I’ll play on God’s team, I’ll do it.”

This is the part that the nuns impressed upon our teenage minds. The Angel was sent to ask Mary if she would become pregnant and give birth to the Son of God. Mary said yes. She could have refused. She consented. She accepted the offer.

Now if you believe in the absolute power of God, who according to the Bible created the Universe in six days, you’d wonder why he didn’t simply wait for Mary’s wedding day, then seed her through the Holy Spirit without the bother of asking. Nine months later, it would have been revealed to her that, by the way, this bundle of joy was also the Son of God.

But God sent the angel to ask her. Mary said yes to her pregnancy.

Perhaps God, in his infinite wisdom, knows something that the anti-choice criminalizers do not acknowledge. Women do have the power to give life … or not. From the fusion of two cells, something develops that a woman’s spirit, mind, heart and body can choose to grow. Or refuse. God awaited Mary’s decision. He did not impregnate her and force her to carry a pregnancy to term. She was not an empty vessel for him to use. He respected her will, her choice. And that is what I learned at Catholic school.

First posted at Birth Pangs.

Update, March 2014: It seems that inspired exegesis of the gospel of St Luke is not that unusual. Here's a recent interpretation of Mary's conscious, affirmative acquiescence.

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