One of my favorite things about our crew at St. James Mission is the theological diversity among those present and the willingness they all have to explore the tough questions of faith and reality.
This week’s Bible study happened to fall on March 25th, which is the Feast of the Annunciation. It comes every year, exactly nine months before Christmas. (I guess that means Jesus wasn’t a premie!)
We reflected on Luke 1:26-38, which can be read by clicking here.
What the people of our community noticed most was Mary’s faith in accepting the angel’s invitation. Some people remarked that they long for that kind of faith. They want to respond to God in that same kind of instinctual and immediate way.
The next logical question to explore has to do with the definition of faith itself. What does it mean to “believe in God”? One woman was honest (and brave) enough to admit that she had trouble accepting the idea that Jesus was literally born of a virgin (i.e. without a biological father contributing his portion of the DNA), but that she too wanted to share in Mary’s faith. This is a bold thing to say in the middle of worship. I was elated to hear someone speak so openly about doubt. What’s even better is that I believe this person, in her honest doubt, was able to draw out certain truths from this text that would have otherwise remained unspoken. Truthfully, I think this text readily lends itself to a definition of faith that transcends an acceptance of certain facts and cuts deep into our souls.
If faith is simply a matter of acknowledging established church doctrine, then Mary herself fails the test immediately. We read that she too was ‘perplexed’ and we see that she began by questioning the angel’s proclamation: “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” If doubt truly is the opposite of faith, then it’s helpful to know that we who doubt stand with the Blessed Virgin herself in the company of the faithless.
However, I believe that true faith is something that encompasses doubt and welcomes it as a partner in the journey. Mary is unafraid to show her cognitive noncompliance with the royal decree of heaven. Even in the presence of an angel, she has the cojones to shake her fist at the sky. And the ironic thing is that her challenge of the divine edict did not disqualify her from participating in God’s plan, but confirmed her place in it.
Deep in Mary’s heart, with all its doubt and perplexity, there lived (and still lives, I think) a profound openness toward God. Her open-mindedness prepared her to accept that truth which reaches beyond mere fact. It is in the incarnation of that mystery that she takes up her calling as the Theotokos, the God-bearer.
If we say that we too want to share in the faith of Mary, I think it is her openness toward God, not the mere acceptance of church doctrine, that we should pray for.