Praying with Art of The Annunciation (an Ignatian Prayer Exercise)

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The Solemnity of the Annunciation, March 25th, marks the announcement to Mary that she will be the mother of God’s Son and celebrates her yes (fiat) to participate in God’s plan of Salvation. I have made a habit of entering into this beautiful moment through the use of Ignatian Contemplation; specifically Ignatian imaginative prayer. A few years ago, a ministry near and dear to my heart, Magis Women, a ministry of Fr. Spitzer’s Magis Center of Reason and Faith, held an Art event highlighting the different artistic depictions of the Annunciation and included the following meditation I wrote based on Luke 1:26-38 and Henry Ossawa Tanner’s The Annunciation for the attendees. Take a moment to place yourself in the story of the Annunciation, as a simple bystander to this miraculous event.

The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner

“It was just before daybreak when I was awoken. The Lord was calling me by name, just as He did Samuel all those years ago. In my drowsy condition, I bundled myself up in my robes, and slowly made my way to the Temple, which was just a short walk away. I felt this need to simply be in God’s presence. I had never had such an overwhelming desire to complete a task before, especially at such an inconvenient hour. 

There was a slight, yet brisk breeze blowing; it was as if the breeze was guiding me to the courtyard of the temple. I hadn’t even thought about bringing a light snack for the journey, but I did notice I was getting hungry. I won’t stay long, I thought; then I can go home and have some bread. 

The sun was barely peeking over the surrounding hills as I walked into the courtyard, casting it’s subtle radiance over the flowers and the fountains. I took a deep breath in – you could almost smell God’s presence here. I loved spending time in the courtyard, so close to the holy of holies. So close to my God – as I sat there, I pondered why He had called me here? Why had He awaken me so early? I love coming to the temple, but the errands I had to run today were overwhelming. Why today?…Why not tomorrow?…No response…I started pacing and as I turned around, a flickering light caught my eye. It seemed to be coming from one of the temple virgin’s rooms…why is she awake at this hour? It’s barely daybreak. 

I wanted to ignore the flickering, but it was captivating. I’m pretty sure it was a candle, but I couldn’t stop looking at it’s brilliance pouring forth from the window. I began to make my way towards it and suddenly felt its warmth. As I peered in the window, I noticed a young woman sitting on her bed. She looked startled, like she had just been awoken. Had she heard me come to her window? I recognize her…or so I thought…who is that? Oh! It’s Mary. I had seen her many times walking around the temple; she had recently been betrothed to a quiet but righteous man, and everyone thought there was something so captivating about her, but none of us could pinpoint it. She always carried herself with dignity…no, that isn’t the word…it was her presence that was captivating. She wasn’t self righteous or condemning like so many Pharisees; you could sense her deep humility and commitment to God. My words won’t do her presence justice, but as I watched her sitting on her bed, I noticed her gaze was focused on the light coming from the corner. I looked for the candle, but only spotted a tiny one, lit a little to her right. The light was definitely coming from in front of her, but what was it? Mary was nodding, knowingly. There was silence, but she continued to slowly nod, her hands open to receiving something? Was it a vision? Maybe she was sleepwalking, but her posture was intentional. She purposely sat on the edge of her bed, facing the opposing corner. More silence. I watched in awe for a few more minutes. The light breeze was still blowing around me, and the sun was beginning to rise. I felt as if I was interrupting a conversation, but she wasn’t talking. I backed away quietly, as to not alert Mary of my presence, and sat by the fountain. The light in her room suddenly faded away and the day began. As I tried to process the previous scene, Mary hastened through the courtyard, on a mission. I wanted to stop her, but she was determined. The wind followed her and slowly came to a halt. 

I began to walk home, wondering what had happened to her?…Where could a girl that young be hastening off too first thing in the morning?…Where did the flickering light in her room come from?…Why had I felt the need to visit the courtyard so early? The scene replayed over and over in my mind. Sweet Mary, so quiet and gentle, so intently staring at the wall…staring at the light…nodding. What was she thinking? Where did she go? I may never know what she experienced, but I knew that I had witnessed something special, something holy. My God had purposefully woken me up, so I could witness this miracle of Mary. Not as a testament to her great faith, but as a rejuvenation to my own. Suddenly, I stopped, mid stride. My God, I whispered, what is it that you want me to do for you? Where in my life have I not said yes to You? I felt an openness in my being, like I had just been stretched. How can I let you in?”

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