‘Hail, space for the uncontained God’
From the Agathistos Hymn, Greece, VIc
We know the scene: the room, variously furnished,
almost always a lectern, a book; always
the tall lily.
Arrived on solemn grandeur of great wings,
the angelic ambassador, standing or hovering,
whom she acknowledges, a guest.
But we are told of meek obedience. No one mentions
The engendering Spirit
did not enter without consent.
She was free
to accept or to refuse, choice
integral to humanness.
Aren’t there annunciations
of one sort or another
in most lives?
undertake great destinies,
enact them in sullen pride,
when roads of light and storm
open from darkness in a man or woman,
are turned away from
in dread, in a wave of weakness, in despair
and with relief.
Ordinary lives continue.
God does not smite them.
But the gates close, the pathway vanishes.
She had been a child who played, ate, slept
like any other child – but unlike others,
wept only for pity, laughed
in joy not triumph.
Compassion and intelligence
fused in her, indivisible.
Called to a destiny more momentous
than any in all of Time,
she did not quail,
a simple, ‘How can this be?’
and gravely, courteously,
took to heart the angel’s reply,
the astounding ministry she was offered:
to bear in her womb
Infinite weight and lightness; to carry
in hidden, finite inwardness,
nine months of Eternity; to contain
in slender vase of being,
the sum of power –
in narrow flesh,
the sum of light.
Then bring to birth,
push out into air, a Man-child
needing, like any other,
milk and love –
but who was God.
The father of Denise Levertov was raised as a Jew but converted to the Church of England. He became an Anglican minister, and must have been very influential on Levertov. She decided she would become a writer at the age of five, and published her first poem at the age of seventeen, having received two pages of advice from T.S. Eliot five years before. She moved from England to America when she was twenty-five, after writing her first book and serving as a civilian nurse in World War II. The themes of her poetry are nature, love, protest, and in this case, faith. Her lack of formal education makes her poetry easy to understand and to the point.
Here she describes the Annunciation, and the many feelings Mary must have felt when given the good news. Her courage is evident as she took on the difficult task. Also, she speaks of how completely ordinary both Jesus and Mary were, like us in every way but sin. This gives us hope that all of us can be like them, ever faithful to God. As she said, we often try to turn away from our destiny, but like Mary we must take up the strength and choose light instead of storm, the narrow path instead of the wide road. Hard these choices might be, and weary the travelers, but only this way can one achieve everlasting joy.