So once again we come to Holy Week, the days leading up to Easter. To my regret, I’ve been lazy about my spiritual practice this year during Lent—too many commitments, not enough discipline, too many distractions. But the wonderful thing about the church year is that these holy days come round once again, even when we’ve done little to prepare for them. For after all, grace comes not because we’ve earned it, but because it’s the job of grace to flow where it is needed.
Today I want to share with you a poem written by a friend of mine, Mike Norton of Traverse City, Michigan. I know him as a travel writing colleague, so I was surprised to learn that Mike is also an accomplished poet. In fact, not long ago Mike’s poem “St. Anne” won the grand prize in a poetry contest held to honor the installation of a major new sculpture at Ave Maria Oratory in Florida. His award-winning poem is part of an anthology, The Annunciation in Poetry and Sculpture, which is published by the Ave Maria Foundation for the Arts (for a copy, call the foundation at 239-352-9902).
The sculpture itself was created by Romanian artist Martin Varo, who used Carrara marble to create an image of the moment when the angel Gabriel tells Mary that she will bear the son of God. After you read Mike’s lovely poem, you’ll see why it’s not inappropriate to feature it during Holy Week.
It must have been God’s mercy made me sleep
So deep I never heard that angel walk
Into my daughter’s room. Most times, I keep
As clear an eye and ear as any hawk
On what is mine. But yes, I slept that night
And so I missed it all: the pulsing roarOf those gigantic wings, the sea of light
Surging around the edges of the door,
The awful beauty of that shining face,
Those words, more awful still: Hail, full of grace.
I can’t imagine what I might have said
If I’d been in that room. A mother’s love
So often teeters on the brink of dread;
We wish our children safe and snug above
All other things, and fearing, come to doubt
God’s goodness or the power of His grace.
In my alarm, I might have blurted out:
“Go take your blessing to some other place,
Some other woman’s daughter. Let her part
Be small — this gift of yours will break her heart.”
So it was mercy, and what’s done is done.
I see her in the courtyard now, the child
Asleep upon her lap. I watch her run
Her fingers through those sunlit curls and smile,
And would not wish away a thing so sweet.
But something moves here, dark as thundercloud:
Those purple shadows on his hands and feet,
The distant growl as of an angry crowd,
Demanding bread and miracles. And blood:
Three sticks stuck on a hillside in the mud.
Does Mary see them? Oh, I think she knows,
Has always known, and when she said, “Behold
The Lord’s handmaiden,” well, then, I suppose
She knew what she was doing. I’ve grown old
Inside and out, my faith a fretful thing,
While she for all her calm burns like a flame.
She knows the worth of him she’s carrying
And Who he is, and whence and why he came.
Each blow they give him, she will feel it twice…
But then, she knows. She knows. It must suffice.