“Nothing is so beautiful as Spring-When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;” Gerard Manley Hopkins
March is a time of change, a time of new life bursting into the world. We rejoice to see colour and brightness in the world around us as flowers erupt again from the earth, blossom drapes the trees, and beauty is awakened and seen anew as the earth re-emerges from the slumber of winter into the joy of springtime. We enter the green time of growth and opportunity but still retain our memory of the cold privation of winter.
The feast of the Annunciation reminds us simultaneously of the light and hope of Christmas and Easter as we enter into the waiting and preparation time of the mother. As we move deeper into the penitential time of Lent we are able to glance backwards and forwards in the continual cycle which constantly reminds us of the Incarnation. We are invited to walk with Mary and feel her strength and compassion, her trust and perseverance, her obedience and her joy. While we travel through Lent we are able to gratefully contemplate the gift of Christ. As we look forward to the joy of Easter the residual joy of Christmas remains with us, quietly kept in mind, and stored in the heart.
Pope Francis said “In the simplicity of the crib we meet and contemplate the tenderness of God, manifested in that of the Child Jesus.” In contemplating the Annunciation we meet and celebrate the simplicity, love and tenderness of Mary who offers no resistance to God and is therefore able to become a tabernacle for his presence in the world. As the Church prays together we share in that grace and that joy which has always been expressed in song, praise and poetry: “Jerusalem, your streets shall be paved with pure gold and within your walls a song of gladness will be raised”
St Benedict speaks of approaching prayer in openness of heart: “His presence to us is never so strong as while we are celebrating the work of God in the oratory” and we should “sing the Lord’s praises with skill and relish”. This gracious awareness of presence is remembered, re -collected, and shared every day in the singing of the Divine Office. Vigils gives an awareness of being in the darkness of the night, Lauds heralds the beauty of the dawning of the new day. The day is paused by Terce, Sext, None, for us to stop and mark the passage of the day; to increase our conscious awareness of the day that we have been given, and to sing the praise written on our hearts. Vespers marks the falling of the evening time and Compline takes us quietly and peacefully into the night in safety. There is a routine and a rhythm, a structure and framework, a calling together to pray in community which takes the Church through the year, through the highs and lows , constant and faithful in prayer, the same in darkness and in light, in a constant conscious awareness of presence and bringing that to birth.
We all have our own language of being, our own song, which can be truly heard in the depths of our own silence, when that silence is fully accepted and embraced, when we are profoundly connected with God, in the gracious place of loving unity which then has to be shared with others. Mary celebrates the work of God by visiting Elizabeth, another woman who trusts God, and they draw strength from each other which resounds in the collective prayers of both women. Mary knows the immensity of presence in the fullness of her being and Elizabeth recognizes this.
We also share in the joy of Mary in her Magnificat: “my soul proclaims the glory of the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour”. To rejoice can mean to spin around, to be glad, to make glad, to be joined. This gracious joining is beautifully expressed in the poignant poetry of both St John of the Cross: “Diffusing showers of grace in haste among these groves his path he took, and only with his face, Glancing around the place, has clothed them in his beauty with a look”; and Joseph Plunkett: “I see his face in every flower; The thunder and the singing of the birds Are but his voice—and carven by his power”.
Sarah Richards, Oblate of Prinknash Abbey