In today’s Gospel, the angel approaches Mary to ask her if she will accept a call to become Jesus’ mother. I can’t imagine the chaos in Mary’s heart as she receives an ask she never could have anticipated. As the angel asks her, Mary asks back: “How can this be?”
“How can this be?” I am moved by and proud of this young woman who boldly asks questions of the Divine. She doesn’t shy away from asserting herself.
We can adopt both the boldness and the language of “How can this be?” for ourselves as we look at what is happening in our own hearts, in our communities, and in our world at large. It can be used in times of rejoicing and wonder, when we are awed at the nearly-impossible things that God makes manifest in our world all the time. How can this be that this person I admire has persevered so beautifully through 35 years of direct service in a food pantry? How can this be that my former students are resilient through a pandemic and determined first-generation college students, entrepreneurs, and parents?
It can also be used in righteous outrage at the chaos of our world. God, how can this be that I tried to break cycles of trauma and ended up traumatized myself? How can this be that people with privilege can turn their backs on their community so easily? These prayers, too, are heard by God.
Mary’s bold asking was the first step to her bold yes to God’s will. This yes is anything but meek and passive; Mary continues to bravely assert herself with the Divine throughout the Gospels. The next time we hear her speak in the Gospel of Luke, she sings prophetically of a world where the mighty are cast down from their thrones and the lowly are lifted up. As we pray our “How can this be?” let us prepare ourselves for our own prophetic action.
- What kinds of “How can this be?” questions do you boldly ask God, both about your own life and about the realities we see around us?
- What prophetic action are you preparing for?
Maya Jain (she/her) is a writer and educator who has taught in primary, secondary, and adult learning settings in the U.S. and abroad.