The angel Gabriel was sent from God to a town of Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the house of David, and the virgin's name was Mary. And coming to her, he said, "Hail, full of grace! The Lord is with you."
But she was greatly troubled at what was said and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.
Then the angel said to her, "Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son and you shall name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father, and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever, and of his Kingdom there will be no end."
But Mary said to the angel, "How can this be, since I have no relations with a man?"
And the angel said to her in reply, "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God. And behold, Elizabeth, your relative, has also conceived a son in her old age, and this is the sixth month for her who was called barren; for nothing will be impossible for God."
Mary said, "Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word."
Then the angel departed from her. (Luke 1:26-38)
Today, March 25, is the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord. It is the day when we contemplate the moment Mary was asked to become the Mother of God. We know that she agreed, and 9 months later Jesus is born at Bethlehem, on December 25. Whether or not this is the actual date of the Annunciation, and therefore Christmas as the actual birth of Jesus, is not really the point. I've met people who get all worked up about the truth of dates, especially Christmas, and they so often seem to overlook the baby in the manger. So, today we will not concern ourselves with that and instead focus on how this day can help us on our "Slow Greening" Lenten journey.
Certainly, Mary experienced a type of "slow greening" as the Child Jesus grew within her. If ever there is a literal interpretation of the "greening" or life-giving power of God, this is it. But we should remember that it all started with a question. Mary was not forced into anything, on the one hand. She was clearly given time to think about it, to ponder it, and she even asks questions of the angel. Interestingly, this is one of the few times in Scripture where an angel appears, and the human who sees it doesn't tremble in fear. Mary seems surprised, but not afraid. On the other hand, it is not that surprizing that she says "Yes." She has already formed her heart and soul into being the receptacle of God. To be able to to respond to God in a way that allows her to give even more of herself is going to be her natural answer. We also know that Mary was conceived without original sin. Other than Jesus, she is the only human being not to inherit the tendency to fall into choices that move her away from God. Did that make her life easier? Was sin less tempting to Mary because of her unique dispostion?
Not likely. There is no triumph or victory in doing something that is easy. The triumph lies in overcoming what is more difficult, what is hard. Perhaps Mary was thinking that making this offering, saying "Yes," would increase her suffering greatly. That seems likely, especially considering Simeon's prophesy that "a sword will pierce your heart." But, in a true Lenten journey that leads to the cross, the death and burial of Jesus, and the resurrection, Mary accepts and begins to walk the path. She puts her faith in God. As Pope Benedict XVI writes in Jesus of Nazareth, Mary knows that the word of God "is more real and more lasting than the entire material world. The word is the true, dependable reality; the solid ground on which we can stand, which holds firm even when the sun goes dark and the firmament disintegrates. The cosmic elements pass away; the word of [God]is the true 'firmament' beneath which we can stand and remain." So, Mary says "Yes," and places her hope and belief in God.
What is God asking you to do, to say "Yes" to this Lent, in order to experience the "slow greening" power of renewal?
We are now well into the season of Lent. Lent brings with it 3 Pillars, or traditional practices. The 3 Pillars are very simple - Pray, Fast and Give. Although we tend to think of the season of Lent in terms of deprivation, it is exactly this deprivation that gives us the space to see things more clearly.
When Hildegard of Bingen wrote about viriditas, she included physical health. She offered many recipes to assist people in returning to health, in restoring balance within them. Like most medievalists, Hildegard did not separate "body sickness" from "soul sickness." They were both integrated. If one was off balance, the other would inevitably also fall ill.
So, as we start the journey of slow greening this year, why don't we recapture Hildegard's vision? Let's reframe the idea of going without to one of seeking restoration. Take an honest assessment of your life. Here are some ideas to help you lean into the slow greening:
Is your relationship to food or drink making your body sick?
Is the time spent with your phone or other screen making your realtionships sick?
Do you spend a significant time with negative or anxious thoughts?
Do you give your comments and opinions too often and too freely?
Do you feel hopeless?
Do you feel angry?
Do you feel overwhelmed?
Do you feel anxious?
Did you pray yesterday?
Have you prayed today?
Who do you want to pray for?
How will you pray? (through words or actions or offerings or all three?)
Do you give compliments?
Do you give smiles?
Do you give hugs?
Do you give patience?
Do you give the benefit of the doubt?
Do you give your time?
Do you give your attention?
Do you give your pocket change?
Do you give from your wallet?
Do you give from your bank account?
Do you give your talents?
Do you give from your heart?
Before the new growth can appear, we have to clear out the old, dead clutter keeping it from maturing. We have to prepare the soil. Start on the slow greening journey today by deciding what it is you need to fast from, to give away or to pray for.
"The Word is living, being, spirit, all verdant greening, all creativity. This Word manifests itself in every creature.” Hildegard of Bingen
Hildegard of Bingen was a German Benedictine abbess, poet, composer, botanist and mystic. She had an extraordinarily wide view of the world and was interested in everything from music to philosophy to cooking grains. She lived in the early part of the 12th century, yet her writings and visions are still studied today. She was named a Doctor of the Church in 2012 by Pope Benedict XVI.
One of the ideas Hildegard is known for is that of viriditas - the greening power of God. I like to call it the "slow greening," because, with just a few exceptions, that is how God's greening power works and is perceived in our lives. Although we are used to everything being at the click of a button these days, the truth is that growth takes place through a process, not an instant. Viriditas means greeness, vitality, creativity, growth. Hildegard's meaning especially refers to the greening power of God within us, the divine spark that sets everything into motion and resurrection. We can remind ourselves that a baby first becomes a toddler, then a young child before more growth occurs and the child becomes an adult. It would seem truly bizarre for us to see a child one day become a 25 year old the next! We would think there is something amiss! Yet, so often we assume our interior life is different from the rest of creation. We feel that praying once or twice is enough, like fine tuning our soul is like turning on the tv. That's like watering a field once a twice, and then wondering why nothing grows.
Other writers, such as St. Gregory the Great, have also referred to viriditas in their writings, in particular when speaking about spirtual health. Since Lent begins in early March this year, why not make it a journey into veriditas - leaning into the slow greening of God that creates health within us? Along the way, we'll look at a few significant people who have lived the life of "slow greening," people like St. Patrick and St. Joseph, for example, and modern day artists like Marjolein Bastin. So take a deep breath and settle in. This is not going to be quick!
artist: Edythe Kegrize
materials :porcelain and metal
This ornament is a perfect reflection for St. Patrick's Day. The cross curves and twists into the shape of a traditional Celtic knot. These knots are always, in one way or another, symbols of eternity in that they have no beginning and no end, but are continually in motion. This is an obvious analogy for the Trinity, and it is not a coincidence that St. Patrick's example of the Trinity as a shamrock-shape came out of Ireland. The Celts were a deeply symbolic and religious people, who were very highly visually literate.
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