Here is Mary, the Lady whose stands on the promontory above the dark throat of the sea. Finally in Dry Salvages we move from intimations of incarnation to explicit religious language: prayer, annunciation, and Mary, aka Lady enshrined on the fierce edge of the sea. Mary, figlia del tuo figlio, daughter of your son. Another time paradox.
I must start with Mary as a problem, the Mary of the Annunciation, although not the usual reformed Protestant problem. (But just to get that out of the way: asking for intercessory prayer is our custom, too. Every. Sunday. Morning. We’re just not asking those in the Church Triumphant to pray for us or others—although, why not? All of the “we are not Catholic” arguments come to mind, but this seems more than a bit of an overreaction.)
Mary is a problem in this era of #Metoo (and when were we not in the era of #MeToo?). The Mary of the Advent Annunciation bows her head and agrees, “Let it be to me.”
It’s not the humility that is a problem. It is the submission, the submission of a young woman to an unasked for pregnancy. Here, during Lent, Mary at the Annunciation seems quite different.
Here, when we also have the humility and submission of Jesus at Gethsemane. He is facing imminent death. No wonder Jesus asks, “if this cup can be taken from me.” And wonder of wonders he also says, “not my will.” I submit. “Not my will but thine.”
Jesus “emptied himself … humbled himself.” (Philippians 2:7,8)
Read with Gethsemane, Mary has agency. (Please may it have been that there were other Marys who said no, so this Mary’s yes is actually a yes.) If this Mary has agency then it seems to point to human participation in the incarnation or at least some cooperation between creation and creator. It may be that we assent to be bearers of the divine and then too, that we assent to our deaths.
We are all fisherfolk in leaky boats, periodically bailing out the water but the end is inevitable. Eliot is insistent that we face this. Bombs were falling all around him. Death was an inescapable reality.
The discovery of pregnancy has this in common with death. It is the knowledge that something has happened to you, to your body, over which you have almost no control. . You are invaded. You can’t stop it. Birth and death. Inevitable. But still our hardly, barely prayable prayers: “Your will be done.” “Let it be to me.”
Something changes in and for us when we do not distract ourselves — distracted by distraction from distraction — from the inevitability of death and incarnation, the still point.
It is to this moment that Eliot, the Anglo-Catholic, brings us with the death tolling bell on the ground swell that is also the call to a devotional practice known as the Angelus. The Angelus is normally announced by the ringing of a bell three times a day. On the eternally moving sea the ringing is perpetual. The sea bell is forever calling us to awareness of God’s coming and our ending/beginning. The Angelus begins:
The Angel of the LORD declared unto Mary,
And she conceived of the Holy Ghost.
Hail Mary, full of grace; the LORD is with thee: blessed art thou amongst women, and blessed is the Fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.
Behold the handmaid of the LORD.
Be it done unto me according to thy word.
Hail Mary …
And the Word was made flesh.
And dwelt among us.
The Incarnation of the Christ was/is/will be God’s annunciation, the announcement that God is in our end as God was in our beginning. Do we submit? Consent? Face and embrace the inevitable — our birth, our death?