Today is the 153rd birthday of Henry Ossawa Tanner, the great American artist who painted my favorite depiction of the annunciation:
Mary is depicted as a young, humble Jewish girl encountering the Holy Spirit as light. Her expression is a mixture of fear, wisdom, understanding, and resignation. I don’t see joy in Tanner’s Mary: I see girl understanding that the gift she is about to accept comes with a terrible price. She knows that, indeed, a sword shall piece her heart, and she accepts anyway. That’s the moment Tanner captures here, and that’s the power of our Mother: that even in her youth, even knowing what lay ahead, she said yes. The acceptance of a gift this is also a burden–a cross, if you will–is what defines the Christian story, and it has its birth in this very moment.