"How shall this be?"

Happy Boxing Day, web-world! We're still enjoying the season's abundance and togetherness around here but the empty boxes, the carpet of crumpled wrapping paper, and the perpetual snack grazing are all starting to feel past ripe. I'm fighting the need to gather up all the holiday over-the-top-ness and revel in the stark simplicity of starting over. (Just me?) Anyway, one last holidayish post before we head into the flurry of the New Year.

 Annuniciation, Dante Rossetti

Annuniciation, Dante Rossetti

She cowers on the bed as a young girl would, introduced--by an angel, no less--
to an overwhelming assignment/challenge/blessing.  I feel for this Mary, the initial weight of the impossible evident in her slouch and gaze. 

Moments later she straightens her posture and says “be it unto me” and “behold” but I love that the artist* paints this humanness of Mary’s initial “how shall this be?”

Every year I find something different in the nativity passages of the New Testament to identify with: the seeking wise men, the dazed shepherds, the distracted inn keepers. This year I’ve lingered over the figure of that young Mary and her “how shall this be?” keeps ringing in my ears.

I have had several “how shall this be?” moments in my life.  They happen (for me) in that margin between the advent and the acceptance of a challenge or opportunity, especially when things don't go according to plan. Part wonder and part panic, these thoughts are evidence of the gap between my faith and knowledge, the difference in perspective between the microscopic view and the vast one. 

There are times when I simply can’t see how shall this be.  And really, doesn't being a parent sometimes feel like one big universal how shall this be proposition, from the moment the little quick pregnancy test stick says "+" to beyond those moments when our kids pack up their things, wave goodbye, and transition into their adult lives? Every day is a how shall this be?

Each holiday season nudges me to learn it again. That’s why I love this young, pausing Mary—she’s at the brink of realizing how wonderful and weighty it really shall be.  It's the just-right bridge for me between Christmas and New Year's Day for me, too, as I turn my thoughts to possibility, change, and the hopeful audacity of resolutions. [Finish dissertation? How shall this be?] 

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*By the way, the artist Dante Rossetti used his sister Christina as the model for the painting of Mary above. And Christina Rossetti was a writer in her own right and wrote In the Bleak Midwinter.