After the breaking of the Bread and the Prayers in the house of John the Apostle, when all the others had left, Mary sat me down, bringing me water and a plate of olives. She walked quickly through the house, putting things away, straightening mats, stirring a stew she was making for John and me for dinner. Finally, after much motherly bustle, she sat down, smiling at me expectantly.
I marveled at the way her gently lined face still looked like the face of a little girl, and wished I could see all that her kind and peaceful eyes had seen.
“So, you understand why I came, and what I am working on?” I asked her.
“Yes, how wonderful!”
I took my writing materials out of my bag.
I was nervous but felt calmed by the comfortable, child like enthusiasm on her face.
She wanted to know everything about my work.
I went over with her the information I had gathered in my process of talking to eye witnesses of the events, my list of parables, details of healings, outlines of teachings, the order I proposed for the narrative, my sources, one of which I hoped would be herself.
She asked good questions, gave thoughtful replies, made helpful suggestions. She was wise, warm and encouraging.
“Luke! You have done so well already! I am sure God has chosen you for this!”
“Mother, I will need to include some truths about you that will help me show the nature of your Son, and to record events only you can tell about. Especially important is… the way Jesus was conceived, and how it came about. The Church needs that story. We need it from you.”
I could see she was troubled.
She looked out of an open window, to the quiet garden outside, to the sky above.
A light breeze moved, as if in consoling answer to her inward prayer, rustling a tendril of her hair, stirring the air, stirring my heart. I remembered what I had heard: The presence of the Holy Spirit is felt when one is with the mother of Jesus.
Then, she looked at me and smiled, touching my wrist lightly to reassure me.
“It would be easier for me if we walked. Walk with me?”
I rose, alive with excitement that I was perhaps about to hear things no one else had ever heard.
“You must pray and decide what to leave in and what to leave out,” she said, as she took her wrap and draped it over her shoulders.
Outside she put a small hand on my arm, and I saw that she still wore her wedding ring, a simple band of carved stone. It touched me to think of her love and faithfulness to Joseph. How she must miss him. How she must miss her Son.
“How can I ever do her justice?” I thought.
At times we walked in silence. At times she spoke. When I had to, I asked questions. At some of the things she said, I caught my breath and tears came to my eyes.
I had not known, no one had known, just how this conception had come about. Ah, the Angel Gabriel? Of course, how fitting. The Book of Daniel came to mind, and its implications.
She stopped and turned to me at certain points in her story, as if to make sure I heard what she said,
“He shall be great…. And shall be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord will give Him the throne of His father David! And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever!”
She would squeeze my hand, nod at me, and we would walk on while she thoughtfully considered what to tell me next.
The hardest part for her to talk about was the experience of her conception of Jesus. She almost could not do it.
She had been overcome with holy fear, she said. As Abraham was filled with godly dread in the night before his visitation and the sealing of God’s covenant with him, so it was with her when Gabriel appeared to her, and said, “Hail, full of grace!” She had not known what it meant, she had been overwhelmed, overcome completely. But when the Angel said, “Do not be afraid, Mary,” she found that she was not afraid at all. She was allowed, she said, to gaze in wonder.
In reply to the astonishing request the Angel brought from the Almighty, and the announcement about the coming of the Messiah through her, she had been perplexed. She and Joseph had felt so strongly guided by God to remain virgin. They had made a vow. How was this child to come to her?
After her questions had been answered by the Angel, she had said, in a rush of love, exultation, and understanding, “Yes! The Lord knows everything! He knows that I love Him, that I love His people!”
She stopped walking now and closed her eyes, stretching her arms forth in prayer, remembering, “Then I said, with great joy of heart, ‘Mighty Gabriel, see, I am the handmaid of the Lord. Amen! Let it be done to me as you have said.”
She rested her hand on my shoulder, we began to walk again. I thought of Sarah, and of Hannah, of daughter Zion, as a light breeze rustled the new leaves on the trees around us, rippling the hem of her veil. I enjoyed the light of both the sun and the glow of inner joy on her face.
“Holy Gabriel had said the Lord was with me. I thought, ‘I must have been made for this.’ But… I didn’t quite know what to do when the angel left me. I prayed, what happens now?”
Mary closed her eyes, her hand on her heart, our steps slowing on the path.
“I felt the great and tender Spirit of the Lord, asking me to welcome Him. I said in my heart, ‘I don’t know how. Show me. Command me to receive You, and it will happen.”
She said that suddenly her senses and inner faculties were suspended, all was still, and she knew only Love, only God, only tenderness, as if light flooded her soul, even her body; light so bright, she was inwardly blinded.
Then her soul was seized by the Lord, claimed and inhabited by the Lord.
It was a beautiful, outrageous, wonderful moment, and she couldn’t have stopped it, at that point, if she wanted to, and she would never have wanted to!
For the first time she was aware that God was One God in Three Persons, as He revealed His very nature to her- like three suns rising in her heart as one.
He never left her.
She cried trying to tell me this, and she said she knew she had not gotten it right, not expressed it as it should be told, but she trusted that I would know what to say in the Spirit.
Yes, I knew. I thought of the Scriptures about the Arc of the Covenant and the cloud of the Lord’s presence, the shekinah glory that would settle over the mercy seat in the holy of holies in the Temple. I knew what I would say. It would be simple.
I would protect the secret of her soul, except what I must write in Jesus’ Name, of what the Angel himself had said, that the Holy Spirit would overshadow her.
I understood that this was how Isaiah’s prophecy was fulfilled, that a virgin would conceive and bear a Son.
I would write it so that the well versed would understand the connections I would make in the way I told the story, and those under instruction would be given light to begin.
I looked at Mary, and was deeply moved by the love of God for her. I was filled with gratitude and wonder, and I loved her, too. I understood that Jesus wanted me to love and honor her as He loves and honors her. I smiled because He had made it so easy.
In the days to come the holy mother would tell me many more stories of the Lord. She trusted me for the sake of the Gospel.
I believe I came to know her heart in those hours spent with her in the garden behind the house of John. Some of what she said was to remain with me, some of it was a gift for the Gospel. I let the Holy Spirit decide which was which.
I am often asked about my time with Mary, the Mother of Jesus.
Christian soul, child of Mary, you may ask her in the Spirit anything you like. I have said what is mine to say.
- It has been speculated that Mary and Joseph had been dedicated to virginity together prior to the Annunciation. I like that idea so I made it that way in my story. The idea that Mary had made a prior vow of virginity (and thus responded, “How can this be?) is supported by St. Ambrose, St. Augustine, and others.
- Some of what Mary says here about her experience of the the conception of Jesus is taken in general from the descriptions of the Christian mystics of the spiritual betrothals and spiritual marriage, and from my prayerful imagination.
- Many thanks to Renee Bork for allowing me to use her beautiful sky photography.