The Annunciation

Buechner describes works of art picturing the Annunciation:

AS THE ANCIENT prophecies foretold, it is a virgin who is to bear the holy child. "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee," the angel announces, "and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee." It is not old Joseph but God who is the father. Paul, Mark, Matthew, the earliest writers about Jesus, say nothing of a virgin birth, but by the time Luke wrote his gospel, it had come to seem that nothing less wonderful could account for the wonders he was gospeling. This extraordinary life could have had a beginning no less extraordinary. History creates heroes. Heredity is responsible for human greatness. Evil also evolves. Only holiness happens.

Mary pondered these things in her heart, and countless generations have pondered them with her. She is sitting on a Gothic throne with her hands crossed at her breast and the book she has been reading open on her lap. The dove of the Holy Ghost hovers in the archway above her, and Gabriel kneels close by with a lily in his hand this time, the emblem of purity, chastity, kingship.

Again Mary's head is bowed, and she looks up at him through her lashes. There is possibly the faintest trace of a skeptic's smile on her lips. "How shall this be, seeing that I know not a man?" she asks, and the angel's painted gaze turns her question back upon herself. The angel, the whole creation, even God himself, all hold their breath as they wait upon the answer of a girl.

"Be it unto me according to thy word," she finally says, and jewels blossom like morning-glories on the arch above them. Everything has turned to gold. A golden girl. A golden angel. They are on their feet now. Their knees are bent to a glittering rhythm. Gabriel's robe swings free about his ankles, and his scroll flies out from his waist like a sash. Mary's hands are raised, palms forward, and Gabriel reaches out to take one of them. They are caught up together in a stately, golden dance. Their faces are grave. From a golden cloud between them and above, the Leader of the Dance looks on.

The announcement has been made and heard. The world is with child.

-Originally published in The Faces of Jesus

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Cripples All of Us

PUSHING DOWN HARD with his fists on the table-top he heaved himself up to where he was standing. For the first time we saw he wanted one leg. It was gone from the knee joint down. He was hopping sideways to reach for his stick in the corner when he lost his balance. He would have fallen in a heap if Brendan hadn't leapt forward and caught him.

"I'm as crippled as the dark world," Gildas said.

"If it comes to that, which one of us isn't, my dear?" Brendan said.

Gildas with but one leg. Brendan sure he'd misspent his whole life entirely. Me that had left my wife to follow him and buried our only boy. The truth of what Brendan said stopped all our mouths. We was cripples all of us. For a moment or two there was no sound but the bees.

"To lend each other a hand when we're falling," Brendan said. "Perhaps that's the only work that matters in the end."

-Originally published in Brendan

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God's Grand Glory

"HIGGLEDY PIGGLEDY, WOMAN and man," she said, clapping her hands. "Is God either one of them, think you? Neither if you ask me. Or both. To my way of thinking God's more like the sun for the sun both brings forth like a mother and pierces deep like a father. Yet it's greater than either, look you, the way it draws all creatures under Heaven to its blessed light without raising so much as a thumb. Would Lough Dern itself was filled to the brim with beer so all the women and men in the land could drink to God's fiery grand glory!"

-Originally published in Brendan 

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Like Flirting or Courting

BRENDAN BAPTIZED NO others on that journey but there was more than a few he softened up against the day another of the new faith should come by. They was poor folk mostly. They'd be gathering white-stalked wild garlic or nuts as might be or grazing their bony cows on some common pasturage. He'd give them a bit to eat out of our plump sacks and tell them news of Christ like it was no older than a day. Nor did he tell it with gull eyes like Jarlath nor grinding it down to a fine dust like Erc. He'd make them laugh instead at how Christ gulled the elders out of stoning to death the woman caught in the act of darkness. He'd drop their jaws telling them how he hailed Lazarus out of his green grave and walked on water without making holes. He'd bring a mist to their eyes spinning out the holy words Christ said on the hill and telling them the way he shared his last loaf with his friends the night the bullies come for him in the garden.

It was like flirting or courting the way Brendan did it. He'd tease them along till they was hot for more and then skitter off saying he'd be back one day soon or another like him to tell them another tale or two if they'd mend their ways in the meantime. Once in a while he'd get me to join him singing psalms back and forth though it sounded more like cows calling to be milked than monks.

-Originally published in Brendan

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Tongue for Holy Things

FIRST HE LET Brendan baptize him all by himself in the deep bed of a stream with his whole kindred gawking from the banks. Then they all come wading in after him. They stood to their chests in the dark water. The children that was too small they took up in their arms. Me and Brendan sloshed among them soaking their heads one by one for an hour or more till at last the entire pack was done.

Then Brendan stood up in a grove of small-nutted branching green hazels and made them a grand speech. He told them how Christ was Prince of Light and King of the Stars and all such as that. He told them every nasty thing they ever did was washed clean away now so they wasn't to foul themselves ever doing the likes again. He told them the Holy Ghost was a gold-eyed milk-white dove would help them stay sweet as milk and true as gold. It was only Brendan with his big bottom and pointed red head talking. . . . Yet I had to own he cut a fine figure there by the river. Nor did any have a luckier tongue for holy things.

-Originally published in Brendan

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