“The Annunciation” by El Greco (1541-1614), oil on canvas, painted between 1590 and 1603, housed in the Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki, Japan. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS/PUBLIC DOMAIN

Spiritual Life

God dwells most intimately with us in difficult times

What God is asking Mary is incomprehensible. How can this be, she asks?

In her tiny village everyone knows everyone else, and many people are related to one another. Everyone knows that she and Joseph had not yet begun to live together. But they can count to nine. What will they say about her, what kind of nasty looks will they cast her way when the precious child is born too soon? What will be the consequences for Mary, Joseph and their families?

While not spelling out how, Gabriel reassures Mary that in the midst of this messy situation, God will bring forth blessing, holiness and salvation for all. Nevertheless, Mary must have still harbored anxiety and inner turbulence. But she believed that “nothing is impossible for God.”

So, without knowing how in the world God and she would accomplish all this, Mary opens a space for God to dwell within her, enabling the divine to make a new home within all humankind. She responded, “I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according your word.”

These words represent a willingness to believe what is not immediately apparent, a readiness to be used in risky, painful ways. When Mary said yes to God’s plan, something in the universe shifted gears. A new light entered the world; darkness is dispelled. Mary makes a physical home for the Holy One in her womb; hers was a unique role in all of history.

What does that mean for us? We too are asked by God to make a dwelling place within ourselves and within our world for the Christ. The circumstances are often messy. It is not in beautifully adorned buildings or among the rich and famous, but in the humblest of persons, in the most difficult of circumstances that God takes up residence. God chooses to live in ordinary people like you and me.

The irony is that in trying times we may feel abandoned by God, or question why it is that God is punishing us, or why we have lost God’s favor. It is precisely in such times that God dwells most intimately with us, assuring us that we have received grace, asking us to trust that God can and will bring forth blessing, even if we cannot see how.