20 Contemplations #4: Magnify

Dante Gabriel Rossetti – Ecce Ancilla Domini (The Annunciation)

But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.
(Luke 1:29)

Magnify, soul. Let mind expand; let heart
Take in what cannot be contained. Discern,
Yet know the limits of your thoughts. Return
Again, again, to faith. Take humble part
In grandest story. This is just the start
Of nations in upheaval; kingdoms burn
Beneath this unexpected cosmic turn.
Take heart. Take faith, though angels will depart.

What will this mean when Joseph hears the news?
Or when the labour pains make all this seem
Confused, a blur, too far-fetched for a dream?
Remember Sarah, Hannah. Look back on
The stories of this mystery-grace, beacons
Of the secret glory now contained in you.

“She pondered all these things in her heart” (After Luci Shaw’s “Mary Considers Her Situation”)

The virgin sat,
the angel's words
shimmering around the room. She fancied now that Daniel
might have shared her trembling heart
when Gabriel had spoken truth which did not fully sooth. The prophets spoke of shoots from stumps
and virgins bearing Israel's sign,
and yet she'd never heard her name connected with such wondrous things,
too wonderful for her to bear
and truths too great for words. She sat, a vessel soon to burst,
the weight of truth not settled yet,
the sword not yet descended.

Uncertainty (After Luci Shaw’s “The Annunciatory Angel”)

As we begin the season of Advent, I thought it would be fitting to begin with some Advent-themed poems. The first is based on Luci Shaw’s “The Annunciatory Angel”, which itself is a response to Fra Angelico’s painting “The Annunciation”. Though inspired by Shaw’s poem, I have gone back to the original painting and written my own response to it. I hope that it can help you also to focus on the amazing Christmas story this Advent.


Uncertainty (After “The Annunciatory Angel”)

Bent forwards, finger to lips as though
A secret is about to be told,
Crested with gold, saurian wings, more
Bone-like than feathered, halo at the side,
Cone-of-silence-like, to keep the secret:
The angel whispers,

And Mary waits, Medieval fringe her veil,
Hands clasped to chest – does she cradle herself
Or cover her breasts? Blue modesty drapes itself
Around her waist. Wooden floorboards must feel
The shake, the suppressed tremble
As the Angel’s pursed lips disclose a truth
Shocking to the ears, to the senses, to logic,
Then as much as now.

And, wandering beneath the stars,
At stage right, three figures, one haloed, the others not,
Descending a hill towards – something? Towards what?
Fra Angelico does not show,
The only light a glow about
The Angel’s feet and face, and Mary,
Glowing in uncertainty, the prospect
Of scared obedience.