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A Hovering Surprise

In my Christian tradition, in Luke 1: 26 - 38, the angel Gabriel makes an improbable announcement to an unlikely teen, from a backwater town, that she is carrying the child of God.

The Irish poet, John O'Donohue in response offers this poem:

The Annunciation - John O'Donohue

Cast from afar before the stones were born

And rain had rinsed the darkness for color,

The words have waited for the hunger in her

To become the silence where they could form.

The day’s last light frames her by the window

A young woman with distance in her gaze

She could never imagine the surprise

That is hovering over her life now

The sentence awakens like a raven, fluttering and dark,

Opening her heart to nest the voice

That first whispered the earth

From dream to wind, stone, sky and ocean

She offers to mother the shadow’s child

Her untouched life becoming wild inside.

No one evokes mystery and mysticism better than the Irish poet, John O'Donohue. Once a priest in the Roman Catholic tradition, he draws from it and moves beyond it, embracing a life in the Spirit that is ever expansive.

O'Donohue, until his untimely death at age 52, embraced a spiritual life that was prepositional rather than propositional. In propositional theology, the lifeblood of orthodox Christianity, the focus is upon right belief. For O'Donohue and countless others, teachings and religious traditions have their place. Yet, they are not to be seen as an end, rather as a marker, pointing towards that which is so much more.

Ancient tree, western Ireland

In contrast, this Irish poet, shaped by the wild topography of western Ireland and the nature infused spirituality of the Celts, claimed a faith that is prepositional. That is to say, focusing on what happens when we are with the Spirit and with creation.

Some years ago, my great friend Win Dolan, who died at age 100 said to me: 'The older I become the less I know, as the God I know becomes more expansive, bigger than I can possibly imagine.' He said this with humility, wonder and awe. Such is the wisdom of a mystic.

The Jewish tradition reminds us that the Divine is unnamable and uncontainable. Bigger and wider and deeper than we can imagine. Capable of creating the cosmos and of being with ordinary people like Mary (and you and me). Do we believe this to be true?

John O'Donohue's poem offers this line:

She could never imagine the surprise

That is hovering over her life now

Could it be that that same creative Spirit is hovering over your life too? Can we imagine a world in which the Creator of all that is good, lasting and true seeks to work a blessing through ordinary, unlikely ones like us?

In the Christmas story, Mary responds to the angel's announcement: 'I am the Lord's servant. May your word to me be fulfilled'. Mary's 'yes' opened her to a life that was so much more than she could have imagined.

This Christmas and New Year may we too be graced with an open heart and imagination. In doing so may we be both blessed and a blessing for others.

With you on the journey ~ Kent Harrop

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